On April 24 I was honored to participate as a panelist in the 2018 Special Education in Connecticut Summit sponsored by the Klebanoff Institute and the University of Connecticut Neag School of Education.
The keynote speaker, Dr. Renee Bradley, Deputy Division Director, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, presented “Equal Access to Opportunity: Do We Have What It Takes?” She asked questions of us that I often ask. Why are we doing what we are doing? Some of our problems in public education have been here for decades. What are we currently doing to address the problems? How are we approaching what we need to change?
There is plenty of educational research and an army of dedicated educators to guide us in changing public education for the better, but as Dr. Bradley stated it will take courage. Change is not easy, nor popular.
Dr. Bradley spoke about the importance of the mindset of teachers and that the further we get from the teacher-student relationship the further we get from what will improve student achievement. In Suffield we address the teacher-student relationship by fostering growth mindset and highlighting that teacher growth equals student growth. We invest in our teachers because we too believe that teacher quality is the number one factor in improving student achievement. This is why district funding supports professional development led by curriculum leaders, teachers, and outside consultants and we provide collaborative time for teachers to discuss student data and share practices. The entire district has worked diligently to accomplish improvements in the past three years. The continued education of teachers and parents is vital if we are to let go of old practices and beliefs. Progress doesn’t occur without change.
Being a member of a panel titled, “Promoting High-Quality Academic Outcomes for ALL Students with Disabilities, it was clear that while parents, researchers, practitioners and attorneys may have their own perspectives, our goal is the same. We all want a positive nurturing educational environment and teacher practices that respect each child’s abilities, differences, and interests resulting in high-quality outcomes. Student centered learning is no longer a dream for our schools, but a necessity in order to provide each individual child with the knowledge, skills and dispositions to succeed in life.
Howard Klebanoff, a long-time respected special education law attorney in the state of Connecticut, closed the summit speaking of the need for open dialogue in these challenging times of fiscal cutbacks and lack of staffing. “If we leave today with one commitment, it’s that we will try to encourage flexibility, openness, candidness, and transparency.” I couldn’t agree more with Attorney Klebanoff. I would only add that as Dr. Bradley said, it will take courage and I hope our courage will be met with trust.