Today marks a historic day here in Jinja Uganda, with the first ever Special Education Foundations teacher training! The school term is about to start at the St. Ursula School, but before it does the 10 teachers, most of whom are new and all of whom have never received any special education training before, will be trained in the basics of special education.
I have returned to Uganda to co-lead the training and am lucky to be joined by a dear friend and special education super star Sadie Struss. I would be lost without her, literally.
Our first challenge was determining what most basic knowledge we could equip these teachers with to get them through the first term. The decision came down to this: to teach special education you need to believe that every child, no matter what, has the ability to learn. Seems obvious, right? Unfortunately not, as it directly contradicts what most believe in Uganda about children with intellectual disabilities. But you can bet our teachers will believe it, and that’s a start.
Challenge two – how? That question mocks us all with how short it is. But after months of discussions and research and two weeks of preparing the decision was this:
Day 1: Basics of Special Education
o Description of common disabilities
o Basic teaching techniques – repetition, positive praise, etc.
o IEP foundations
o IEP Goal writing
Any special educator who just read that is currently shaking their head saying “impossible, way too much”. True it was a lot of information, but we condensed it, focused on critical knowledge, and made it through. The Goal writing was the main focus of this training. Goals are critical for success in special education. First they set the tone as a statement of belief. The teacher believes the child is able to learn something specifics (I mean if you didn’t believe this there would be no point to even writing the goal in the first place). Second it’s a guide for learning, something to strive towards. The idea of a finish line is so important. Some tasks seem impossible in special education. Part of a goal is taking these big steps and breaking them into little steps that are easier to achieve. Third, since the finish line is set in place there is the opportunity to measure progress. So crucial!
Unlike in the US where goals may be year long objectives we are focusing on near term goals. One to three months at the most. We did this because we need the teachers to see real progress and understand success early. Plus these goals will influence teacher evaluations. Progress towards goals means real teaching has happened and encourages creativity. If one method isn’t working the teachers will need to come up with something new. They no longer have the excuse that the child “cannot learn.”
We are one step closer to my goal – proving all children can learn!