Today, I presented a keynote talk and two breakout sessions at the Special Education Pre-Conference, which forms part of the annual conference of the Oregon Confederation of School Administrators (COSA). The talks took place in Seaside, Oregon, which is a beautiful coastal setting perfect for a conference like this one.
The focus of all three presentations was neurodiversity. In the keynote, I gave a general introduction to the idea of using neurodiversity as a powerful tool for helping students with special needs flourish in the classroom. I shared five basic principles of neurodiversity, and seven key components of what I call ”positive niche construction” – or creating environments within which students with neurodiversities can succeed.
In the first breakout session, I focused on strength-based assessment tools that special educators can use to discover the strengths of students with special needs, and in the second breakout session, I looked at how this model can be applied to typical Common Core standards, to the development of IEP goals and objectives, and to the running of IEP meetings using Appreciative Inquiry.
The breakout sessions were in particular, great opportunities for these special education administrators to share their ideas, strategies, and concerns related to the material we covered. One participant recommended the use of Motivational Interviewing, as a great way to talk to students about their strengths, interests, goals, and aspirations. Another suggestion was that we tap resources in vocational education for inventories, checklists, and other assessment tools for getting at students’ strengths.
A major concern of the special education administrators in the second breakout session on the Common Core and IEP goals and objectives, was how to prepare students with special needs for the high-stakes tests being used in Oregon, which themselves have little flexibility, and yet are prerequisites for these students being able to get a high school diploma, which is essentially a ticket to future opportunities, including post-secondary education in community colleges. A suggestion was that educators who are dealing with this issue engage in conversations with interested parties that have a stake in these decisions, including teachers, parents, students, administrators, policy makers, and those who are responsible for creating the tests themselves. By engaging in meaningful dialogue, there is always the chance that practical means may be discovered for developing creative solutions to helping students with special needs succeed. One superintendent of schools who attended this breakout session provided a big picture view in suggesting that our ultimate goal is to educate students (all students) to be successful and productive adults, and that maybe the limitations and obstacles that are being placed in front of these students, are not the best way of achieving this goal. So any dialogue on the specifics of high stakes testing, should include this broader view.
Because the handouts for this session were reproduced in miniature, many of the pages, including the references and the Neurodiversity Strengths Checklist, were too small for the participants to read. To remedy this difficulty, I have made the handouts for all three sessions available on Slide Share. Here are the links, for those who would like fresh copies that can be reproduced (with my permission) in a larger format. I would especially like to invite participants (and those reading this blog) to utilize my strengths inventory, and let me know what kinds of results are obtained from its use.
Click on these links to go to Slide Share: