Site Leader, Hornsby Middle School
Educator Torrie Dunlap gave a TEDx talk almost a year ago where she discussed the harmful side of this segregation between special needs and “normal” students. As she talks about the different models used to view students with disabilities (~6min.), it becomes clear that there is a lot of room for altering our approach to these students. The model that she suggests we need to be moving more towards is the biopsychosocial model in which it is recognized that the disability and diagnosis are important to the identity of the person, but that the environment plays a role in how the students function.
Personally, I think there is great benefit in having the special education classrooms for the necessary individualized education. But, I do think that within the special education classroom we can make adjustments that are directed to ensuring the special needs students do not feel so segregated from their peers. I doubt the environment that is created by the separate classrooms. Granted, every educator is different and has a different approach to working with special needs students, but unfortunately I think more often than not we have educators who marginalize the students and make them feel less worthy than they are. I see the problem as one that exists within the special education classroom that ultimately creates the divide that Torrie Dunlap talks about. So how do we go about fixing this?
Chris Ulmer has created a positive environment in his Florida special education classroom that gets right to point of raising the self-worth his students have, and that self-worth has further benefits in the classroom. This is one way to create an environment in which special needs students can function to their fullest potential, as is the aim in education. Chris starts each day by spending the first ten minutes of class complimenting his students. His approach with his students showcases in a positive light their differences, and this has a tremendous impact on their attitude throughout the day.
Whether it is ten minutes of compliments at the start of the day, or altering the entire model of how we approach students, there is room for improvement in special needs education. There is no reason that special education students cannot reach their full potential, just as is the goal of other students in school, but the environment they are in may be inhibiting this.