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Professional Learning Communities Sharing Knowledge and Leadership: Collaboration Creates and Inclusive Classroom

Marion Huffman, Darryl Whitney, Jan Skillen

Members of a professional learning community in Kawartha Pine Ridge are discovering that inclusion is good not only for students, but that it benefits teachers as well.

Last spring the special education resource team at Newcastle Public School volunteered to participate in a professional learning community project that  paired  special  education  resource teachers (SERTs) with classroom teachers.  The initiative transformed the traditional role of the SERT with the aim of improving learning for all our students, but in particular for those with special needs.

This was a boardwide  initiative:  we  were among 87 teachers at 41 schools in the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board taking part.

Newcastle PS has been involved in pilot projects for a number of new research-based learning initiatives. We  welcomed this project as another opportunity to be “leaders  in learning” in our board.  We  have  received  two  Positive  School awards  from  the  Kawartha  Pine  Ridge  ETFO Local,  in recognition of our collaborative work and our school spirit. We were fortunate to have several interested staff members with similar professional outlooks and a wealth of experience.

A VISION OF INCLUSION

Traditionally  the  special  education  resource teacher has needed to work with small groups of students in a resource classroom because the students were being withdrawn from more than one class. In this new model, both the SERT and the  special  needs  students  are  integrated  into specific classrooms. The result is increased teaching capacity in each of these classrooms.

To create the teaching partnerships, individual SERTs approached classroom teachers. Newcastle PS has 620 students and three SERTs. Although the emphasis was to be on grades 3 and 6, we were able to also include a  grade 1 and grade 1/2 class, giving us two two-person partnerships and one three-teacher team. The grade 5/6 class had 24 students;  the other three classes had 20 students each.

THE INCLUSIVE CLASSROOM

Each partnership creates its own way of working together. Students work in groups and individually, as appropriate. Special needs students may be in the class for the whole day or just part of it. One teacher may lead the class with the other providing support. One or both may be working with small groups while still other students work independently. Both may facilitate whole-class small group work. The roles are defined by the needs of the students, the requirements of the curriculum, and the teachers’ goals. The SERTs work with all the students in the room and share the responsibility for special needs students with the classroom teacher.

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