Setting aside the ego

 

Tim Loreman - an inspirational teacher for today

Tim Loreman – an inspirational teacher for today

Shuba the second source of today's inspiration

Shuba Thomas the second source of today’s inspiration

 

“Make your ego porous. Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

When I began writing this blog I wondered if anyone would bother reading, let alone respond. One of the strange things about writing anything for publication is that you have little idea about who is reading your work or what they think. It is therefore heartening to find that some people have returned to these pages several times and it is even more rewarding to find individuals posting comments and giving me the opportunity to learn from them.

Yesterday I wrote a piece under the title “The Labels of Expertism” – yes, I know, I’ve already apologised for that ghastly word! In this brief discourse I suggested that in some ways the assignment of a label that implied a teacher was an expert in special education or the promotion of inclusion, could actually establish a barrier to achieving the very progress that we have hoped to see in the furtherance of inclusive schools. This was not to imply that such specialists don’t have an important role to play, neither was it intended to challenge the expertise of individuals who bear certain titles, such as special educator or resource teacher. My concerns were more about the possibility that other teachers, perhaps feeling less secure in their knowledge of how to address the needs of children who may challenge their approaches to teaching, may end up either off-loading these children onto the specialist, or in some cases resenting their presence in their classes.

Two colleagues posted thoughtful replies both of which indicated the importance of debating this issue. Both caused me to think further about the ways in which we attempt to support teachers and why we so often fail to achieve the results for which we had hoped. Let me introduce you briefly to these two perceptive respondents.

Tim Loreman is Dean of Research at Concordia, University College of Alberta, Canada. I have known Tim’s work in the field of inclusion for many years. His book Inclusive Education: Supporting Diversity in the Classroom, written with Joanne Deppeler and David Harvey is one to which I often refer students who are looking for a source of practical advice on developing inclusive approaches to teaching and learning. A second book Love as Pedagogy provides readers with an understanding of the empathetic philosophy that underpins Tim’s important contributions to education. Shuba Thomas is an Indian student on the MA in Special and Inclusive Education Programme on which I teach in Bangalore. She is an experienced teacher, with a passion for mathematics and a profound commitment to children who have been left on the margins of classrooms as a result of finding difficulties with learning.  Both of these individuals have contributed significantly to my learning and continue to shape the ways in which I look at education.

In his reply to yesterday’s entry on this blog, Tim wrote “Where challenges for the inclusive classroom arise our specialists can help us to pinpoint the issues and then solve them through collegial dialogue. But only when they explore the context with us first. This might seem a bit of a naive view, but I don’t see why we can’t set our egos aside and just be educators”. The term collegial dialogue is one that particularly appeals to me as an important condition that we must strive to achieve if we are to be supportive of teachers who may be less enthusiastic about inclusion than we are. Shuba’s equally perceptive view that “Empowering teachers with necessary skills to work with SEN kids and involving the Special educator in various aspects of the general classroom whether it is lesson planning, assessment etc will help reduce the notion of “expertism” and reduce further marginalisation of children with special needs” presents a similar argument to that expressed by Tim.

Both of these valued colleagues highlight the necessity for the specialist to depart from their current domains and to enter the classroom alongside teachers in order to support a process of change. Tim’s suggestion that the specialist needs to explore the context is critical here. Whilst the specialist teacher may have knowledge and understanding about special educational needs that is not common to many teachers, this is of little value unless they understand the context in which the general teacher works and can provide support that is empathetic and practicable in the classroom situation. As Shuba states, the actions we take must be seen to be empowering and enable teachers to gain confidence in their craft. For this to happen we must indeed set aside our egos in order to be seen as team players alongside others rather than experts who remain aloof.

The need to continually review the way in which we approach teachers is paramount. If we set ourselves on a pedestal as the possessors of unique understanding or as guardians of knowledge then we will surely alienate the very individuals who can make a difference for the inclusion of all learners. We must show some humility here and begin by recognising that the vast majority of teachers have levels of expertise and commitment upon which we can build and share in the development of a blueprint for inclusion. The significant points made by Tim and Shuba about the relationship between the “expert” and those upon whom they would wish to impart their expertise need to be explored further by all of us who claim to be supporting the route towards justice in education and more inclusive schools. I am grateful to both of them for adding to my learning opportunities and hopefully enabling others to think about these matters.

8 thoughts on “Setting aside the ego

  1. Hi Richard,

    Your blog continues to challenge perceptions and encourage learning. What a privilege it is to share in this.

    Could teaching be considered an act of altruism?
    The central endeavour of teaching… to selflessly nurture children’s strengths and overcome their challenges…

    To engage them in our love of learning may require a sharing of different or more ‘expert’ knowledge and skills.

    They (the children) may be our greatest teachers, their needs nurturing our expertise; encouraging us to grow as teachers.

    The outcome shouldn’t be self serving. In 1925, anthropologist Marcel Mauss published The Gift where he suggested that reciprocity and exchange are the basis of all human relationships. Could expertise be conceptualized as a form of gift giving where the giving does not anticipate immediate return?

  2. Hi Miriam,
    It seems to me that reciprocity and exchange should be at the core of all that we do as teachers. I think it is important that we don’t deny expertise, but rather consider the responsibilities of the expert and the ways in which this expertise is utilised for the benefit of others.

  3. I do believe that labels, as Richard has pointed out, can build barriers and not really allow inclusion. There have been many cases during my work in a Montessori House of Children where children with special needs were the responsibility of the special educators. I used to have a tough time getting through the Montessori adults in the environment and actually have them give presentations. A colleague of mine who was the Montessori adult would conveniently forget to give presentations to this one child who I used to work with as a special educator. I had to write reminders in bold and put it on the soft board for her. It was like I was working with a Montessori Adult with special needs! This experience made me realize that if you want inclusion in the real sense, do not have special educators to be responsible for the child. At Pramiti, all adults are responsible for all children and the special educator actually receives feedback from the adults wrt what the child needs extra help with. Even in the Elementary programme, the subject teacher is sometimes the special educator and vice versa. This has worked so far primarily because there are no barriers. Practical training from experts is indispensable as one definitely needs guidance, constant feedback and help.

  4. Nothing is easy.and education is the most challenging.It is not to bring about a change in oneself but also to have a capacity to share without becoming an evangelist.hence education of the non average is a greater challenge.
    The three streams of the parents,teachers and the special educators seem to run parrallel.They meet only in some crisis and again turn back to their habits.If we can see that we are all human with different capacities and our responsibility is a child,then may be we will celebrate the diversity.

  5. Hi Again, Richard. Deeply flattered by your kind words. I have to say anything I might have contributed is the result of the kindness and mentoring of many. I hesitate to name them as of course I will leave someone out, but Jo Deppeler, Chris Forlin, Umesh Sharma, Judy Lupart, and Michael Peterson have all been wonderful friends and colleagues who have made huge contributions, pushing me to think further and abandon bad ideas for better ones. Others like Roger Slee, Spence Salend, Phyllis Jones, Di Chambers, Donna McGhie-Richmond, Jen Snape and on and on and on have all been massive positive influences. And although you may not know it (because I don’t think I ever told you) your work and encouragement have been key. Love as Pedagogy would not have been written were it not for your kind encouragement with Phillip Garner in Hong Kong to ‘follow up on this love stuff’ after a presentation (as an aside you also put me on to the work of Rabindranath Tagore for which I will be ever grateful).
    Anyway, all this gushing kind of speaks to my point. I am certainly not the brightest kid on the block, but this community of support has enabled me to make some contributions to the conversation around inclusion. I think it is safe to assume that everyone I have mentioned above would blush or demure at being called ‘experts’, and while they most certainly do have enormous expertise they adopt an attitude of humility and generosity and give this expertise freely rather than putting forward their titles as professor of this or that which only really act as barriers. This makes them accessible, and given that collaboration becomes easy.
    So, this is what teachers can do. Adopt an attitude of humility. Mentor each other as friends and partners. Reach out and share. Everyone brings different knowledge and skills to the table.
    By the way, isn’t this a great conversation? I know there are online inclusion discussion groups around but they often tend towards the banal or boring, or they peter out. I wonder if there is some way to provoke a rich international conversation around these issues?

    • Hi Tim,
      Your contributions to this discussion are both perceptive and encouraging. The names you mention have had a profound effect upon all of us working in this area I am sure. To be mentioned alongside them is an honour which I am not sure I deserve. I like the idea of provoking discussion around this area. My intention in starting the blog was firstly to encourage my good colleagues and students in India to consider some of the issues raised.Every time I am there they teach me more about the ways in which we may rise to the challenges of creating justice in education. I also hope to move our thinking into slightly wider issues – hence some postings may appear more off-beat than others. (the latest I am about to post may well be an example of this). Should others wish to join the conversation it would be good to hear their views. I am sure that there are many “out there” who will disagree with some of the ideas expressed. Their contributions are as likely, or even more likely to move our thinking forward.
      Thank you for your kind words and your inspiring work.

  6. Hi Satish,
    The notion of crisis here interests me. Do we still perceive special educationaql need of disability as a tragedy? I think you are right about the need to celebrate diversity. However, this will only happen at such time as we all accept that as educators we have a responsibility to all learners. Maybe if we pay more attention to our own limitations as learners we may develop a greater understanding of the needs of others.

  7. Very nice to see Satish Uncle here! Understanding one’s own limitations in learning is the key to understanding the needs of others in various aspects. Don’t we realize that each of us faces a difficulty in learning something at some point of time and yes, learning is continuous. What I was unable to even connect to ten years back, I’m able to understand today simply because I’m learning or looking at the same thing differently. The need is to look at each individual as an ” individual” and not a s a group / class / section. The need is also to put aside labels and look at matters in a different light. We cannot slot anybody. In my work with children with special needs I have never been able to group children with Autism together or come up with one strategy for five of them. Each child again is an individual.

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