Riverbend Community School
During the last 5 weeks I have been lucky enough to be featured as a columnist on CBC Information Morning with Jona Brewer. They created a series called "Learning Outside The Box" and asked me to come in to the studio and discuss important topics in the world of learning disabilities. I felt very honoured and proud to be asked to contribute my opinions and knowledge on this huge and overwhelming topic. As I prepare each week for the segment, I draw most of what I need to say from within the walls of my school. Getting ready for these segments has caused me to reflect so much on the last 2 years. Not a day goes by that I'm not in awe that I'm running my own school. I feel so grateful that this group of parents took a leap of faith, saw the benefit of the type of education we wanted to offer and signed up. I get to teach kids in a way that works for them. I can stop and teach something 10 different ways until it clicks. We can change the pace of our morning, extend a class if we need more time - do whatever works for these kids to really "get it." It's beautiful and I get to witness it everyday. I get to see these kids who were sinking, who didn't fit in and who most importantly didn't think they were smart - make UNBELIEVABLE progress and come to life as students right in front of me. How incredible is that? Jordan and I were two young teachers passionate about helping the underdog, but we never dreamed that we'd be running our own school this soon and that it would be flourishing the way it is, but we are and we're in teaching heaven.
Although the last 2 years have been unbelievably exciting and incredibly rewarding, it's probably been the most challenging and exhausting 2 years of our lives as well. The 9 students that attend full time school here, represent a huge majority of kids on the learning disability spectrum. I see all of them struggling to be successful in such a variety of ways. I have students in grade 3,4,5,6 and 8 all in one class - together. It's like a one room school house. Meeting their needs as individuals each day involves an unbelievable amount of planning and creativity, but what motivates me is that they deserve it. They really do. As I speak each week on CBC, I'm reminded of how much these kids are really facing in order to be successful. That's why I feel so obligated to them and their families to help them succeed. Because once they learn how to make learning work for them and master the skills they need academically, there will be no stopping them. Without the foundational skills they need and an opportunity to rebuild their confidence here in the safe, small space of our school - I fear they would be lost.
This week's topic on CBC is about Attention Deficit Disorder. Almost all of my students with learning disabilities have it and so do I. Which makes for a lot of distracted "squirrel" moments in our classroom and lost pencils, ipads, coffee cups (mine) and overall distractibility. I've had to work really hard as an adult to find strategies that work for me to keep me organized and on track. Many of these strategies are only things I discovered as I got into my THIRTIES! So I really feel for these kids who are struggling to handle their wandering minds every day. However, I will come right out and say it - it's one of the most frustrating parts of teaching. Trying to navigate 9 different learners who really, genuinely can't follow your directions is exhausting. But, no matter what, it's my job to find ways to help them remember or use strategies to know what to do each minute of every day. There's a ton of re-explaining, drawing pictures, writing instructions, giving video explanations, one direction at a time. And still, many students still aren't sure what to do and have to ask again. I completely get they aren't doing it on purpose or not "listening" - their brains just can't take it in. It doesn't mean I don't want to say, "Seriously?? I just told you - 25 seconds ago" (which I have been guilty of). What I have to do is find ways to make sure they can take the information I've given them - and help them with a strategy for remembering that will work for them. One student I have will take a homework sheet or piece of writing that needs to go home and but in his HAIRY binder (their homework binder) and I make him say "HAIRY,HAIRY HAIRY,HAIRY,HAIRY" until the sheet is safely in his binder. It's crazy,but it works for him. That's what's so incredible about this journey is that the kids and I are on it TOGETHER. I know there will be days that they way I taught something didn't work - but we'll talk about it and figure out a new way to try it. I'm learning from them just as much as they're learning from me and it's awesome.