After our Symposium, our presentation at Wits, we were all asked to write a Changemaker Pledge that addressed the following questions:
Here is my Changemaker Pledge!
I want to be more reflective within myself and who I am as a person and as an educator. I’ve learned how important it is to truly understand your background and who you are in order to understand how to reach your own students. In order to create that connection with students, parents and colleagues you have to understand where you're coming from so that you can understand the backgrounds of others and where others are coming from as well. In order to make sure my solutions are sustainable I think you have to try it. Try and see what works and keep on trying. If it isn't a right fit or if it doesn't work out as planned change it up. My main goal is to keep trying these solutions until one of them works for everyone and in the way that I hope. I think collaborating with parents, teachers, and students and working together as a team is also a great way to keep each other accountable and making solutions sustainable. In order to be the best Changemaker I can be, I plan on self reflecting on my own teaching and continuously learning what I should be doing or can do as a Changemaker.
I loved being able to work with my group and really connected, but I defintiely would've loved more time togetehr to keep discussing the amazing ideas we all had. I also really enjoyed hearing what other groups had to say and wish we could've started smaller discussions based off of their work as well. Overall, I was able to leanr from so many didn't people in different positions and locations.
Before it was hard for me to really reflect and think about who I was in order to learn fully from others , but with the help of my team we were able to pull it out of each other and really connect on an educational level. It was amazing to see how education really connected all of us and how passionate we all are. After this experience I realized just how important collaboration/good collaboration is for a school environment and in general. It was an incredible learning experience.
Amongst the beauty that is South Africa, the real beauty was working with the amazing educators that live there. Working with these educators and presenting on the work we found, not to mention working and traveling with the most incredible group of people was an absolute life changing experience. I wouldn’t change this experience for the world and am so grateful I was able to be a part of it. Being home for a fews days let me reflect on what a life changing experience it truly was. I could scream it from every mountain top! I look at pictures and I automatically go back to feeling immense joy. If I could I would take this class every time it was offered because of how much I feel that I gained personally and professionally from this trip. I hope that one day, sooner rather than later, I'll be able to go back (Next week??). This is not a goodbye South Africa, it's a see you later!
After working hard throughout this entire trip and then being inside for most of the conference, majority of us set off for our first excursion on the Cape Peninsula! We started our morning eating breakfast together down in the lobby of our hotel, but as the time passed and we got our 2 cups of coffee in, we wondered where our ride was with the rest our tour. We found out that the bus wouldn't be able to pick us up at our location because they thought we were staying at a different Stay Easy. As we all freaked out a little we rushed to our phones to call a few Ubers to meet the rest of the tour at the starting point, Hout Bay. Luckily we actually beat our tour there and had the most amazing ride along the coast with the sweetest Uber driver, so it all worked out and we were stoked to begin our tour! Our first stop was Hout Bay where we hopped on a boat and rode out to Duiker Island where the seal colony was. It was a lovely way to start the morning and the seals were everywhere! They were swimming around and jumping off of rocks and the views were spectacular. Our next journey was to take Chapman's Peak Drive. We all got out and walked to the edge of the mountain to look out onto the water that we had just been on and were in awe. The gorgeous blue water up against the luscious mountains was a sight to see. We hung out for awhile and enjoyed the view before heading off to our next stop, Boulder Beach. Here we saw the Penguin Colony. It was so strange to see so many penguins huddled up together on the sandy beach. There were babies cuddled up with their mom and others running into the cold blue water. We also ran into Dr. Jez and Dr. Hauth while we were there! Great minds think alike. At our next stop, the Cape Peninsula Nature Reserve we got out of the bus and rode bikes along the path. We had views of the water and beautiful plants and flowers as we rode down a path we had all to ourselves except for a few antelope and ostriches. We took a quick lunch break before making our way to my favorite part of the tour: Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. We hiked up to the Cape Point Lighthouse and then made our way along the mountain taking in the beautiful views of the ocean and sat up top before making our way down to Cape Point and the beautiful rocks below. It was an amazing day filled with beautiful sights and memories I will never forget.
Our final day at the conference! What an experience this has been. Being able to listen to other educators around the world speak on so many aspects of education and inclusion. It's crazy that it's all coming to an end.
On the final day we arrived for the first speaker of the day and the last keynote speaker of the conference. Speaking this morning was Dr. Alfredo Artiles from Arizona State University. He spoke on Inclusive Education in Developing Countries. Artiles (2018) discussed how inclusive education is not a place, but a system and in order to create change anywhere we have to change the entire system that it sprouted from. He discussed many challenges within inclusive education: the system itself, the fact that there are so many minorities in Special Education, and that the idea of some nations is that inclusive schools exclude those who need more support, by way of separate classes. Artiles then went on to discuss what it really means to implement inclusion in locations where the government is unjust. Artiles (2018) said that with inclusion, everyone has to feel that sense of belonging, but for many families in unjust locations, they fight with the idea of sending their children to school when they need their help at home. If they spend money on getting them to school or having them walk to school and face the possibility of sexual violence and then continue doing that until high school, what happens after? Do students with special needs even have this option? The reality in these locations is that even if they were to get an education their family would be pushed to the limit, there is no job security and then there is no hope (Artiles, 2018). Artiles (2018) also talked about the fact that general education teachers have trouble making the curriculum accessible because it's not just the curriculum that needs to be changed, it's the entire system.
His talk was definitely one of my favorites of the weekend, especially because following his talk my cohort and Dr. Jez all had a follow up conversation of how exactly we can change the curriculum in order to make it more inclusive for students with special needs. It was nice to hear real tactile pieces of advice that we could incorporate in our future classrooms. Also the fact that we were all able to start that conversation with each other and that we are all so eager to learn more was the perfect way to wrap up this amazing conference and overall opportunity.
Today is our Changemaker presentation day!! A bit nervous, but excited to see how everything works out. We spent most of our morning working together as a group to finalize who would say what and what exactly we wanted to touch on. All of our work led up to this moment (crazy!). Our presentation focused on our findings, both quantitative and qualitative, and results of our entire project. From the beginning with our emails to each other back and forth discussing the achievement gap and how we reach each of our students in our classroom, our convening day where we worked together to find real solutions to issues we had in the classroom, the Ignite Day in which we presented with the other educators, and finally the last email we sent asking each educator from USD, Marymount University, Limpopo and Soweto what their Changemaker pledge was and what they would take back to their own classroom and communities. With the guidance and dedication of Dr. Rebekka Jez and all of my fellow classmates, including: Kassidy Brown, Shelby Dorrance, Stephanie Giertsen, Jeffrey Hilbert, Kadesha Martin, Eleni Stang, Antonio Marques, Sarah Eichler, and Amelia Hobart, we presented as a united front and it went extremely well! We all worked so hard and were very dedicated to this project and I believe it definitely showed today at the conference.
Not only did we have the privilege of presenting today, but most of us also had the privilege of listening to Hannah Godfrey and Dr. Lawrence Meda present about Learning Support at a South African School. (Godfrey & Meda, 2018) Hannah is a student from Capetown University that we were so lucky to have met so we were all excited to hear about her work. (Godfrey & Meda, 2018) found through their work at a school in South Africa that the only way to truly implement inclusion into a classroom, there has to be support in order for it to succeed. That's to say you can't expect to implement this if not everyone is on board with it or if everyone doesn't understand what has to be done in order for it to work. They found that differentiated academic support improved academic performance and individualized support was very beneficial. In addition, learners helping learners benefited both; those who needed the help and those who aided in helping others. In their study they also saw the need to support the schools and learners financially. The learners needed to have basic necessities like transportation to and from school, a meal and even clothes or shoes. In conclusion, they found that no standards should be lowered in order for the learners to get over these barriers, they and their school just need more support. Dr. Rebekka Jez added that South Africa and California specifically both share the issue of needing support. We both share the multiple languages, poverty and need for resources and when we are able to bridge those similarities I believe that, and as we have learned through this project, we can help each other in finding the best solutions and ways to truly implement inclusion.
The first day was so exciting! I was so eager to see what the day had in store for us at DISES International Conference 2018: Embracing Inclusive Approaches (Division of International Special Education Services) and it definitely did not disappoint. We all started the day together in the largest conference room listening to a group of amazing African drummers while enjoying our morning coffee. First up was our keynote speaker for the day, Professor Phasha. She was the author of one of the books we read for this class so we were all excited to see what she had to say. Phasha (2018) discussed how in the current special education approach, it doesn't leave room for any African perspectives or aspects. The acknowledgment of ones culture can do so much good and is so necessary within a classroom setting and can help with previously marginalized knowledge. Phasha (2018) also spoke to the importance of a community and how important it is to receive support in all aspects free of discrimination. It is an issue of human rights, it's as simple as that. Phasha (2018) discussed the three pieces of African culture that need to exist in the classroom: humanness, interdependence, and communalism. All factors that would better any child's education, not just those in special education, but in general education as well. Her final words that summed it all up, was that culturally insensitive education creates rejection to education (Phasha 2018). It was a perfect way to start this conference on embracing inclusive approaches.
Among the many speakers I saw this day, one of my favorite was Dr. Brenda Barrio from Washington State. She spoke on incorporating cultural considerations into IEPs. Barrio (2018) started off by reminding us all that in order to get to know your students, their families and the community you have to reflect on your own beliefs and know yourself to the full extent first. When doing this you are better able to identify the family's needs and their values in order to incorporate that in their child's IEP. Barrio (2018) emphasized how important it is to focus on student's strengths when planning as well as getting the student involved in their own plan. Ask the student what is and what isn't working for them in the hopes that it will help them move forward. Give the student the option to change something if it isn't going well. We all know as educators that one size definitely does not fit all. Barrio also provided us with a format that we could use in our own classroom. It was called the Culturally Responsive and Relevant IEP Building or CRRIB. I would love to be able to use because as Barrio (2018) explained, it can help you build off of the student, family and community background and what's important to them, it allows you to have check-ins and look at goals and also helps bridge the gap between special education teachers and general education because everyone is able to understand the framework and overall have a better understanding of what that student needs.
We visited a school on our way to the airport before we headed off to Capetown. It was a school built by the King in this specific location for his best and brightest students. It truly was incredible. The structure was huge with open spaces, as well as beautiful buildings for learning in any scenario, with a library I wouldn't mind living in. Everything seemed so grand; The smaller class sizes, the multiple elective options and the care that went into creating this school and taking care of its students. I was taken aback by the beauty that was Lebone, but was brought back to reality when my friend Sarah mentioned how sad she was. It made her upset to see all of this money go into this school when so many other schools and children were not getting the same education, not even close. If I needed an image of what the achievement gap looked like, it would be this. I needed that reminder. The achievement gap is so present and especially here, right in front of our eyes. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to inspire students who weren't able to attend this school that they were special and important enough to accomplish what they wanted in life and get an education. This is not to diminish the experience of any of the students that attend Lebone, it just showed me how important it is to make each and every student feel as though their education specifically, is seen as important by their community and most importantly their own teachers.
What an amazing ride! Our sunset and sunrise safari were definitely among my favorite moments on this trip. It was so incredible to ride among the beautiful scenery and spot all of the Big 5 animals (so lucky!). As we adventured along the rode every few moments I had this overwhelming feeling of "I can't believe I'm here right now. I have never been so happy to be anywhere sharing this experience with such an awesome group of people". It was such a surreal time. We saw giraffes, zebras, hippos and white rhinos. At sunset all of the jeeps stopped for a few drinks and some snacks. Where we stopped, there was a covered walkway and lookout onto the water. Being able to enjoy a drink surrounded by such beautiful scenery was absolutely dreamy.
On our sunrise safari we were all a bit tired, but equally as excited to see what the ride had in store for us. We saw a leopard, which not many South Africans even see, as well as a lion and lioness. We stopped for coffee and biscuits at a different lookout location and this moment is one I will never forget. Just as we are about to leave, out of nowhere, we see 2 or 3 elephants walking out the bushes. Then 10, then 20 and upwards of 30 elephants walking out of the bushes going to drink water and feed on the plants nearby. We were absolutely in shock and truly couldn't believe our eyes. Our driver stayed an extra 30 minutes for us (an angel) and let me tell you, this is a moment I will never ever forget.
Today my group and the rest of the educators all presented at Wits University in Johannesburg. My group started off by leading the audience in a little sing-a-long that required collaboration with everyone. Then, we went right into our presentation about the importance of collaboration in schools and a few ways we thought could foster that idea. Throughout the day we listened to each other's ideas about how to better help our schools from the perspectives of so many people. I learned just how similar we all are even living across the globe, how important collaboration of any kind is, and how blessed I was to get the opportunity to hear what each group of educators came up with.
One of the educators there read a quote I quickly jotted down. He said, "Before you start judging me, step into my shoes and walk the life I'm living and if you get as far as I am, just maybe you will see how strong I really am". It really struck me and reminded me of some of the most important things we learned so far, which is to always try to understand where the other person is coming from. Whether that means personal life, socio-economic status, family life or anything for that matter, in order to begin a relationship educationally or personally, understanding must be at the forefront and that was an idea that definitely shown through working with these amazing and diverse educators.
The day has come to officially start working together with the educators from South Africa and D.C. that we have been emailing with over the past few months. We all started off by getting together and working through a few issues we found in our own schools. Each of us gave a little insight into where our schools were located, what they looked like in terms of structure and how long we had been in the education system. We were all over the board which helped us find out what we could fix and focus on. It was amazing to hear about the issues that we all shared in our classroom even across the world. The education systems between the U.S. and South Africa are so similar and even though we had read about it before arriving, it had such a bigger impact hearing it from educators in their own country. There wasn't a single moment of silence, we all were sharing information and working together and even ended up doing an exercise with each other to show how important it is to collaborate with each other, which is what we ended up focusing on.
We worked until lunch and then tried to wrap up how we wanted to present our information and tried to sift through the many solutions and problems we discussed. We all left feeling so excited for the next day and I personally felt lucky to be working this wonderful group of educators. Working with them definitely jumpstarted my excitement for the rest of the trip and made me realize just how much I was going to learn from the days to come.
This June I have gotten the opportunity to travel to South Africa to observe policies and practices of the education systems. I will be working with students and educators from the U.S. and South Africa on a Changemaker Project. Our hope is to bring awareness to the different types of diverse learners in the U.S., South Africa and all over.