Saturday, July 26, 2014

New School Year Commitments

Last month I had the honor and privilege of participating in the 2014-2016 Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council convening in Seattle.  During my stay there, I learned about the various educational initiatives of the Gates Foundation whose goal is to make all students college and career ready.  What was continually emphasized was that teachers' voices matter; teachers help the Gates Foundation stay grounded in what they do.  All the master teachers in attendance were valued and held in the highest regard.  It felt like a week-long elevation and celebration of teachers. Simultaneously, our opinions on education reform and advocacy were embraced.  We were brought into the trusted inner circle of the Gates Foundation.  No words can express how that feels.

I absolutely love teaching; there is no better career in the world.  Where else can you find joy in watching a 3 year old deaf-blind child finally understand that the sign you have been trying to teach her means "more" or celebrate with a hard of hearing high school junior, that you have known since he was in the first grade, as he is accepted into the National Honor Society?  Only a teacher can experience these precious moments every day and know he/she has made an impact in a child's life.

As I reflect on my experience at the Gates TAC convening and my love of teaching, I begin to think about what my next steps are as an educator and a leader.  How can I take what I learned from the convening and from my reflections on the book Turning the Tide: Making Life Better for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Schoolchildren to make me a better educator and leader? How do I grow to collaborate with others to ensure that all students who are deaf and hard of hearing have a quality education that makes them college and career ready?  I know that I alone cannot fundamentally change the way we educate these students.  I can, however, commit to do what I can to support and collaborate with teachers, parents, administrators and others as we embrace effective teaching, the Common Core, and college and career readiness.

Dr. Vicki Philips, Director of Education at the Gates Foundation said, "Go bold with innovation."  As I contemplate the upcoming school year, here is how I plan to GO BOLD.
  • I promise to offer more opportunities this year for my students to interact with other DHH peers and adults.  I plan to innovate by arranging social events throughout the year, such as bowling or roller skating.  I will use technology (i.e. FaceTime) to have my students talk to Deaf adults.  I will encourage all my students and their parents to attend Deafestival, Deaf Spelling Bee, Hands Alive, Explore Your Future and other events in our region.
  • I commit to supporting parents as they navigate through the forest of deaf education.  I would love to set up sign classes again so that these parents can learn to communicate with their children.  I hope this can happen.
  • I promise to investigate how to set up a weekend camp for DHH children and their parents as a way to offer support and education to parents and to provide social connections for DHH children.
  • I commit to support my DHH teacher colleagues as we begin the new Teacher Professional Growth and Effectiveness System.  I know I need the support as well.
  • I vow to continue the quest to reduce the isolation of DHH children because of the educational placement decisions made.  I hope through working with key individuals we can educate decision makers that there is legal precedent to having DHH students educated with their DHH peers at a nearby school that is not necessarily their neighborhood school.  Collaboration among teachers and administrators is vital to the education success of DHH students.  
All my professional commitments above cannot possibly happen through me alone.  I am surrounded by dedicated and awesome DHH teachers, interpreters, and assistants who all do what they can for our children.  Only when we collaborate can great things happen!

What are your commitments to your students this year?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Let's Turn the Tide

At the start of each summer, I browse through Amazon to see what new professional books need to become part of my library.  I just finished reading one such book: Turning the Tide: Making Life Better for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Schoolchildren by two Deaf researchers Gina A. Oliva and Linda Risser (2014).

While reading this book, I felt angry, excited, humbled, overwhelmed, validated, and inspired.  My book is filled with countless page tabs, holding the places of key information and statements made by the authors that I do not want to forget.

Yes, many of the suggestions for educational and social improvement the authors recommend are ones me and many others have been suggesting for years.  Others are new and energizing.  However, what make this book unique and exciting is how the suggestions came about.  You see, this book is actually a qualitative study of the experiences of deaf and hard of hearing adults ages 18-34 who spent at least 5 of their K-12 years "alone in the mainstream".  This means that there were no other DHH students in their classes, school, or even district.  Over 100 Deaf adults shared their mainstream experiences either via focus groups or online surveys.

I have read so many professional journal articles and books talking about the plight of deaf education and what needs to be done to make it better.  In Turning the Tide, however, we hear it straight from the horse's mouth.  We learn firsthand of how it is to be mainstreamed alone.

As a hearing professional, I am fully invested in deaf education reform; I spend many hours of my personal time doing what I can to improve the lives of DHH children.  However, I have never experienced what my students go through daily.  Only after reading this book do I get a glimpse of what life is really like for those "solitaire" students we itinerant teachers serve.

This book is full of personal experiences of the trials and tribulations that these DHH participants experienced as they struggled through their mainstream education.  I cannot possibly do it justice by summarizing it here.  However, I can say that their "saving grace" was the opportunities they had to get their "deaf fix". Whether it was summer camp, weekend programs or special trips, all participants cherished the opportunities they had to be with other DHH children.

Social Capital
I have been preaching and blogging about the social isolation DHH students feel as they are educated at their neighborhood school. Here is what the adults share in the book:

  • Only 25% of the survey participants said they had hearing friends in school, which means a full 75% of the DHH respondents felt they did not have any hearing friends throughout their schooling!
  • Only 12% of the surveyed DHH adults had other deaf and hard of hearing friends while in school, most met at summer camps or other events so that the friends lived out of town or out of state.  88% of these adults went through their schooling without having a DHH friend!  Can you imagine going through most, if not all, of your entire educational career and not having a friend that is just like you?  This also conflicts with IDEA that says students are supposed to have opportunities for direct communication with peers in their primary language.  This includes DHH peers!
Social capital - building friendships and relationships - is crucial to the educational experience of all children.  It is through these relationships that much incidental learning occurs in children.  If a child has minimal social capital, just imagine how much incidental learning they are being deprived of.

"The major different between friendships with deaf peers and friendships with hearing peers were that the deaf student was able to (a) be a full and equal participant; (b) converse with ease; (c) feel respected, accepted, and valued; and (d) feel emotionally safe and supported. (p. 35).

Don't we want all children to have friendships where they feel equal contributors in the friendship, that are not merely superficial due to limited communication, and can feel like they truly belong?  If so, then why do we continue to educate DHH children in isolation?  Why do districts still think it is OK to have the 3 elementary-aged DHH students go to 3 different schools instead of the same school?  Why is going to the neighborhood school still more important than the psychological well-being of DHH children?  There is legal precedent that allows DHH children to be "clustered" in one school.  We just need to let administrators know that it is OK to do so.

Pooling Resources
 Ever since the passage of IDEA an ever increasing number of DHH students are being served closer to their families in their neighborhood school, whether or not this is the most appropriate placement for them.  There was a time when the Kentucky School for the Deaf had over 400 students.  Today there is a little over 100.  What this means is there is a significant need for more DHH teachers and interpreters throughout the state to serve all these students being educated in their neighborhood schools.  Kentucky only has one teacher preparation program that graduates a handful of DHH teachers each year.  It also has only two interpreter training programs whose graduates may choose to enter PreK-12 interpreting, adult education or community interpreting.  Therefore with the current system, there is a high demand for teachers and interpreters, yet there is not enough supply to meet the demand.

Oliver and Risser share a study conducted by Carol Schwietzer of Wisconsin which studied itinerant teachers (pgs 109-111).  She found that:

  • 70% (1,500 out of 2,200) DHH students in Wisconsin were being served by itinerant teachers.
  • 1,000 of these students were alone in the mainstream

After calculating for travel time and actual service time, it was determined that the students were not being served well in the itinerant model.  Some itinerant teachers were spending up to 50% of their work day traveling!  (I wonder if this has been done in Kentucky.)  The stakeholders were then brought together to find a solution - creating cluster programs throughout the various geographical areas of the state.  By creating these programs, resources were pooled together to ensure that there were sufficient and quality DHH program team members, including DHH teachers, interpreters, SLPs, and assistants.  They were better able to support the families and the students' academic and social needs.  They had participation and support from special education directors from the very beginning.

The clusterization of DHH students is not a new phenomenon in the U.S.  Several states have gone this route.  Educators and other professionals working with DHH students realize that in order to truly provide a continuum of services options for all DHH students, to provide them with social capital, and to allow them for direct communication and instruction in their natural language (not through an interpreter), creating clusters/regional programs in conjunction with the school for the deaf is the best way to ensure all DHH students are afforded a high quality education in their primary language so they can be college and career ready.

If you care about the education of students who are deaf and hard of hearing, then you must read and fully digest this book.  Only then will you truly understand what we are doing to these students by educating them "alone in the mainstream".

It is time for Kentucky and other states to strengthen their schools for the deaf and create regional centers so that DHH children are no longer isolated and that they can finally receive high quality education!

In my next blog I will share what I promise to do to improve the education of my students.  What will you do?

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Whole New World

In the past sixth months, my world as an educator has widened like the Grand Canyon.  I believe I am very knowledgeable in the field of deaf education and try to keep abreast of the latest research and effective educational practices.  I do what I can to serve my profession well and to be a voice and leader to the key people in the field: parents, students, teachers, interpreters, and others.  However, my field of vision has been very narrow.  Little did I know about the vast Teacher Leader Movement happening around the U.S.  That all changed this past January.  Yes, I got a taste of this movement while serving as the KY Elementary Teacher of the Year, but I had no idea the depth and breath that Teacher Voice was taking hold all around me.

In January, right before being invited to attend ECET2 (I wrote about attending this convening in "Don't Be Isolated"), I stumbled upon the website for CTQ (Center For Teaching Quality).  This website brings teacher leaders together from throughout the U.S. to engage in dialogue on various educational issues.  I have joined their CTQ-KY Collaboratory and have lurked and participated in some bold and innovative discussions.

While at ECET2, I learned about Hope Street Group and the Prichard Committee, two organizations promoting transformative educational policy with teachers' voices at the forefront.

I also learned how teachers are using Twitter to expand their PLN. Since January my PLN has expanded exponentially.  I am connected to almost 100 teachers and teaching organizations around the U.S on a daily basis.

  • I follow links to blog posts from many teachers on various topics.  
  • I follow links to education articles that my PLN has shared.  
  • I read Op-Ed pieces that teachers have written as a way to elevate their voice.  
  • I keep abreast of happenings at the Department of Education and the various organizations I follow (both deaf ed and non-deaf ed).
  • I learn about new Apps and other technology that I am eager to try with my students this fall.  
  • I hear about educational books about teacher leadership, differentiated instruction, UDL, and numerous other topics 
  • I live vicariously through teachers as they attend conferences.  For example, I was not able to attend this year Let's TALK conference but was able to follow along on Twitter as teachers shared photos, quotes, and other take-aways from the conference.  
  • I occasionally attend Twitter chats on Thursdays by following #kyedchat.  Leaders create a topic and pose questions for participants to answer.  There are a multitude of education-focused twitter chats happening weekly.
The list goes on and on.  Twitter has become my instant professional development.

My eye opening experiences don't end there.  Two weeks ago I had the honor of traveling to Seattle as a new member of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council.  There I learned the true meaning of Teacher Voice and Teacher Leadership.  I learned how to be a stronger advocate for educational reform.  I discovered that there are teachers everywhere with innovative ideas, doing what they can for the sake of all students.  I left with an indescribable feeling: to feel valued and respected enough to be entrusted with the innovative initiatives of an incredible philanthropic organization that keeps itself grounded by Teacher Voice.  I hope to write more about this experience in a future post.

I recently discovered that there is a new movement called Teacher Powered Schools.  "[T]eacher teams have secured authority to design and run their own schools. They make the decisions on aspects of school such as curriculum, budget, selecting personnel, and more. In addition to full schools, teachers can run a department within a school or a program that spans several schools."  What an incredible concept.  Can you imagine what would happen if teachers of the deaf and hard-of-hearing at a school for the deaf or in a region of a state were able to do this?  They are the experts and true leaders in the field of deaf education.  Maybe then all DHH children will become college and career ready.

Needless to say, teachers should no longer be teaching and learning in a silo.  There are countless avenues for teachers to collaborate, innovate, and celebrate.  If I kept my blinders on and never clicked on the FaceBook post about CTQ that appeared in my News Feed last January,  I would have never discovered this vast world of Teacher Voice and TeacherLleadership that is running rampant all around me.

Join me in expanding my PLN by signing up for Twitter and following me @heidigasl.  I hope to one day have enough DHH teachers in KY and around the U.S. as part of my PLN to start our own Twitter chat.  It takes a Village!