Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Supporting Teachers to Work with Children with Exceptionalities

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Supporting Teachers to Work with Children with Exceptionalities

Article excerpt

Introduction

Educators and researchers in Ontario often find themselves in a precarious position, eager to jump into the world of inclusion only to find themselves held back by the tether of an out-dated medicalized model of special education (Kalambouka, Farrell, Dyson, & Kaplan, 2005). Although recent Ministry documents have voiced the intention of moving towards inclusive and more equitable education, the reality is we have two clearly delineated streams, general and special education. In Ontario, teachers are often constrained by legislation, terminology and board practices that do not fully embrace the shift towards a reconceptualization of schooling that supports inclusive learning environments for all children. Until legislation changes we must work within a system that has enough room for adaptations, yet few explicit requirements for accountability regarding inclusion. As such, the researchers in this study aim to support teachers in accomplishing what change they can within the current structure of their classrooms and schools.

One of the main challenges to the understanding that all children deserve and should be included in the regular education classroom may be the Additional Qualifications (1) available in special education. Maintaining this separate form of qualifications for teachers to enable them to work with children with exceptionalities (2) has unfortunately contributed to the misperception that there is some body of knowledge that the general educator does not possess and is therefore unqualified to work with children with exceptionalities. In the current structure of the Special Education AQ's the focus has been on legislation, assessment, strategies and administration. The College of Teachers has developed another series of Additional Qualifications in Inclusive Education, which is geared towards a definition of inclusion that encompasses all students who may find themselves on the margins within educational contexts. There is some discussion pertaining to disability but the knowledge and skills related to specific exceptionalities are not part of this series of courses.

The most popular Additional Qualification courses in Ontario are those designed to support educators in meeting the needs of students with exceptionalities. Many of the individuals who enroll in these courses do so to build their capacity to effectively meet the needs of diverse learners within the regular education classroom (Killoran & Jordan, 2011). Others enroll in order to qualify to teach in special education withdrawal, segregated class programs or resource roles that involve working collaboratively with colleagues.

The purpose of this study was twofold. First, the College of Teachers wanted to further explore possible revisions to the Three-Part Schedule D AQ courses in special education. (3) Second, the authors wanted to identify ways of supporting practicing teachers in fostering classroom inclusion for students with exceptionalities and to determine if a virtual network would be a viable and welcome tool in doing so. Educational stakeholders convened at the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) to discuss further revisions to the revised AQ course guidelines (Killoran & Jordan, 2011), and to specifically identify gaps in teacher knowledge, skills and practices. Stakeholders also discussed ways of supporting the implementation of the guidelines. The main discussion revolved around the possibility of a provincial virtual knowledge network that would support revised Special Education AQ course guidelines and build capacity for teachers working with children with exceptionalities.

Building Educator Capacity to Work with Children with Exceptionalities

Within Ontario, there has been an increasing focus on inclusive education since the latest Special Education AQ courses guidelines were released in 2003. The Ministry has identified building capacity in areas such as differentiated instruction and assessment as a priority (Ministry of Education, 2009a). …

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