Three days ago, KathieC left a comment that I can't get out of my mind.
"I wish," she wrote. "How much of my son's life have I spent saying those words "I wish"... My little man is Bud's age and I often feel, when reading your blog, that I am reading about him. That is, until I get to the posts about his supportive educational environment. Reading this particular post, fresh on the heels of chaperoning my little man's postponed Valentine's dance was too much for me. I spent the hour and a half watching him dance and twirl by himself. Watching the other kids point at him and laugh behind their hands. Watching my sweet, loving boy surrounded by a margin of empty space that no NT child would enter. You and Bud are so incredibly fortunate. I wish ..."
My heart breaks for KathieC and her son. I want to give advice. I want to be able to say, "okay, here's how we did it...," but, truly, all I can come up with is this:
First find a teacher who is flexible, creative, and insightful. It would help if she has had experiences in her life that make her understand your son from the inside out.
Then add a paraprofessional who is working on a degree in education and who approaches her work as both teacher and student, as eager to learn from Bud as she is to teach him.
Throw in a special ed team who collaborate well and are quick to think outside the box. Let them start working with your child in Kindergarten and continue to work with him as he progresses through each grade. Choose people whose smiles and enthusiasm would suggest that they are neither overworked nor underpaid, even if you suspect that they may be both.
Then add a room full of children who have grown up in a positive, affirming school environment. Put them in a school in which, when you walk through the halls and past classrooms, you hear the warm responsiveness of teachers who never seem to raise their voices in anger, even when they don't know you can hear them.
I know. I might as well be saying "click your heels three times and sprinkle a little fairy dust." I might as well be saying "just keep wishing." KathieC is right: Bud and I are so incredibly fortunate.
It may have been luck that landed us in this school with these people, but still - it's NOT luck that makes these people do what they do. Their actions, their attitudes, and their approaches are intentional. They do what they do for a reason, and it works. Or it doesn't work - and then they recognize it, rethink it, and try something else.
I would like to believe that many teachers whose classrooms are not working for our children are willing to try a different approach, but don't know where to start. Maybe they just need some great ideas - some things to get them started - a few sure-fire successes that will set their classroom communities in motion and build their confidence to keep on trying.
So, what do we have to offer them? If you're a parent, what has worked for your child? If you're a teacher, what has worked in your classroom? If you're just a person who has great ideas, what great ideas do you have? What do you wish more people were doing?
Let's try to be concrete here. Let's give people some actual, tangible ideas of things they can pick up and start implementing next week.
I'll go first:
A couple of months ago, Ms. Walker and Mrs. Nee started a program called "Bud's Buddies." Each week, one child in the class is Bud's "buddy." That child goes to the school door with Mrs. Nee to greet Bud in the morning (since Bud arrives a little late to avoid the big crowds) and also walks out with them at the end of the day (since Bud leaves a little early to avoid the big crowds). The buddy partners with Bud here and there throughout the day and throughout the week - on math, on reading, on whatever activity presents the best opportunity, always under the guidance of Mrs. Nee or Ms. Walker. Through their one-on-one interactions, Bud and his buddies get to know each other better and come to understand each other more. "Bud's Buddies" is an optional program. So far, no child has opted out.
Okay, folks, it's your turn. You are the wisest people I know. Let's come up with a few great ideas, so that if teachers Google "best practices in inclusive classrooms" and land here, or if parents stumble onto this post wishing their child's class could be different, they'll walk away with a plan for trying something new or with a suggestion to offer that might help make their wishes come true.