Profiles of great people I've met over the years who are making a difference with the world's children and youth.

Archive for the ‘Youth’ Category

SuperPal 3: Gordon Porter

Dr. Gordon Porter: Architect For Inclusionary Education

“Inclusive education means, simply put, that all students, including those with disabilities and other special needs, are educated in regular classrooms with their age peers in their community schools”

 For my next SuperPals profile, I’m turning the spotlight on a man from my home province whose educational leadership has had a deep impact here and in jurisdictions across Canada and internationally.  His name is Gordon Porter, and for some thirty years he’s been at the vanguard of those dedicated to the establishment of an inclusive education system.  New Brunswick was among the first education systems to abandon programs that segregated children based on ability (or in many cases, perceived ability), and it is widely acknowledged that Gordon has been a visionary for successful, fully evolved schools that consciously embrace inclusionary practices as fundamental to their existence.  If every child is not experiencing success, he believes, then the school as a whole cannot claim to be successful.

 But Gordon Porter’s influence extends far beyond that.  To label him a visionary is simply inadequate.  As educational leaders, our lives are very much about generating and communicating ideas, about seeing how things might be better, and about sharing these with colleagues.  Our world is full of people with big ideas, but few have the stuff to fuel change, and to witness the actualization of their vision.  Gordon Porter is one of the few.  For three decades his voice and his actions have been courageously sustained in the face of political, societal and operational resistance.  He believes inclusive schools are both possible and good, and his professional life has very much been dedicated to helping others navigate the challenging terrain.  It is this combination of vision, voice, action and resolve that deserves our respect. 

 “We need a new wave of principled school reform that will contribute to accommodating the diversity of our student population, to inclusion as a guiding principle, and to school improvement on a broad basis for all our students.”

 Gordon has been a classroom teacher, school principal, district leader, university professor and author of numerous writings on inclusive education.  He has received many awards for his groundbreaking work, including our nation’s highest civilian honor, The Order of Canada, as well as an honorary Doctor of Education degree from the National Pedagogical Univerisity of Peru.  He is currently the Director of Inclusive Education Canada, an initiative of the Canadian Association for Community Living, and is editor of their website.  He is former chair of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission, and is currently Special Advisor on Inclusive Education to our province’s Minister of Education & Early Childhood Development

 Few issues in New Brunswick’s educational experience can evoke such intense emotional and spirited debate as does the discourse around inclusion.  Simply put, the day to day challenges inherent in inclusion are among the toughest that teachers and school leaders face. Issues around funding and professional training are constant sources of frustration.  Further, parents (who sometimes feel marginalized and overwhelmed by the pressures of raising a child with special needs), often have expectations that the school system is unable (or sometimes unwilling), to meet.  Inclusion is a political issue.  It is a legal issue, which, at the school and district levels, has the potential to exhaust and demoralize, and to cast fear among professionals who often feel helpless when threatened with legal and human rights challenges.  Inclusion is tough stuff.

Looking back over those thirty years, however, it is easy to see how we’ve grown as a jurisdiction.  The challenges remain, but we’ve gotten much better at generating solutions.  Our experience with each child informs our attempts to serve others, and as we recognize that inclusion is more of a human art and a commitment than it is a purely scientific practice, we are slowly finding our own way through the significant challenges that are an unfortunate reality in our evolution as an inclusive society.  Despite the many hurdles we continue to face, New Brunswick is an undisputed international leader in inclusive education.  Gordon Porter’s sustained, grounded and understanding leadership has brought us to this place of prominence, and it continues to inspire confidence in the field.  He is architect, builder and laborer, and I am pleased that he accepted this invitation to be featured on SuperPals.

Herewith, my interview with Dr. Gordon Porter.

 

Many people have strong beliefs about how a system could be improved, but few are driven to act with the sustained commitment you’ve shown in the field of inclusive education. What was it that inspired you to such determined action?

Two things inspired my commitment to inclusive education – a sense of what is right and my commitment to effective schools for every child. The rights’ focus came from growing up in a small village where success in school was clearly a factor in having a chance to have a secure future. I could see my classmates depart as we moved up through the grades.

It seemed to me that they all left with some sense of lost opportunity. My cohort of 42 students in Grade 6 had been reduced to 11 survivors at the end of Grade 12. I felt privileged to have had success. However when I became a teacher, I slowly developed a sense that school success should not be a privilege for the few but a benefit every child should have in our democratic society.

The rights’ agenda became clearer when I became a board member of the local segregated school run by parents as a charity. The Charter reinforced that perspective. The reason I have stayed focused on inclusive practices is that they are consistent with having an effective school. I would argue that inclusive practices are essential if a school is to achieve high levels of success.

Inclusive practices include:

  •  Collaboration and instruction that meets needs at different levels
  • Identifiable support structure for teachers so they can meet diverse student needs
  • Effective problem solving
  • Maintaining partnerships with parents

A school that is not inclusive either has a capacity deficit or a big gap in shared principles.

With the challenge of making rights real and achieving high quality for every student, I have found the “inclusive education agenda” a worthy effort.    

 

New Brunswick has been called a model of inclusive education. To what extent do you believe that term is justified?

To say New Brunswick is a model of inclusive education is justified, but of course model is a relative term. New Brunswick has been working towards inclusion on a systemic basis since 1986 and we have accomplished a great deal. Kids can go to their local school and most are included most of the time. Degree of inclusion varies of course, and the supports are sometimes not what they need to be, but overall we are doing well. We can do better and I am confident we will.

There are select parts of Canada – schools and a few districts – that do well, but New Brunswick is still a leader. Internationally, New Brunswick is even more of a leader.

The wealthier nations have highly developed special education systems that are not inclusive and they have many special interest groups who resist change. Developing countries provide very minimal levels of education to students with special needs, and little progress has been made under the “Education for All” campaign.

So yes –New Brunswick is a leader, but we still have a gap between what we can do and what we are actually doing

 

How has our society’s thinking changed since the early days of inclusion in New Brunswick schools?

New Brunswick teachers support inclusion as a practice. To some extent I think it is taken for granted. Twenty five years ago, there was passion on the matter from all sides. The advocates – parents and educators supporting inclusion – were passionate, and the concerns of those unsure about the approach were equally strong.

My perception is that there is a consensus now that inclusion is a good idea, but we need to make sure we get the support for teachers and students in place to make it successful. Discussing support systems is a much more constructive conversation than justifying the concept of inclusion.  


Philosophically, it is easy to embrace the ideals of inclusion. The operational challenges, however, often result in a weakening of that commitment. How can we encourage fidelity to the principles of inclusive education, while acknowledging that it’s a complex and difficult reality to create?

I believe that the integrity of the vision of a “quality school for all” is the key to fidelity to the principles of inclusive education. There will be exceptions to our ability to support inclusion for every child. However such exceptions need to be few and “true exceptions.” We need to make sure that exceptions to inclusion are not caused by lack of skill or capacity, or worse – a lack of commitment to value every child.

 

What practices concern you most, that you feel undermine a school’s commitment to inclusion?

Commitment to inclusion is undermined if schools do not effectively support classroom teachers. There will be challenges and problems – that’s fully predictable.

The questions for a school are:

  • Does the school provide systemic and effective support to teachers?
  • Can teachers count on professional assistance in figuring out what to do?
  • Will teachers get help in getting new strategies up and running?

I find too many schools are unable to meet teacher needs. If Resource & Methods (R&M) teachers are able to help them, there is a good chance things will work satisfactorily. If the R&M teacher spends all day, every day, working with kids one-on-one or in small groups in the resource room, I wonder about who will provide teachers with the professional support they need.

Another practice I worry about is the over reliance on paraprofessionals to handle all the work with a child with special needs. We need paraprofessionals and they play a valuable role in our schools, but the teacher must stay at the centre of the child’s education.

Finally, when inclusion works best, it is obvious that the school principal is clear about the connection between developing inclusive strategies and the effort to make the school a better learning environment for all students.

 

What causes you to be hopeful about inclusion in New Brunswick schools?

I am hopeful about inclusion in New Brunswick schools because I meet so many parents, teachers and students who demonstrate they have the principles of inclusion internalized. There is now a whole generation of young New Brunswickers who have grown up with inclusive schools. Some of these students become teachers.

New Brunswick has a strong base on which to build and there is a resolve to address the challenges we face and do better. After all, our provincial Motto is Spem Reduxit or “hope restored”.

 

Who inspires you?

I am inspired by people who put their all into what they do, that is, people who combine hard work, perseverance and grace.

I am particularly inspired by the parents of children with disabilities I have met who display those qualities.  I am amazed at their capacity to meet significant challenges and keep going. I continue to be inspired by the patience they have for those of us who might have more empathy for their challenges and the courage they show every day.

 

Between SuperPals … Thoughts!

Thanks to all who left comments or sent emails about my first SuperPals profile on the incomparable Jennifer Corriero.  Her work with TakingITGlobal continues to amaze me, and her energy and passion for youth empowerment is an inspiration.  I encourage all readers to visit the TIG website, and for teachers and school leaders to participate in the many meaningful projects that are available there.

Up next, my extraordinary friend, Peg Herbert, the founder and executive director of Help Lesotho.  There are a few people in this world who have such a beautiful, caring spirit that one can almost touch the goodness around them.  One of these is Peg, whose Canadian NGO is literally saving lives in the tiny African kingdom of Lesotho.  I am so proud to share her story, as I know that you, too, will be touched by her kind heart, her persistant commitment and her ability to deliver help in one of the most impoverished countries on the globe, a nation racked by the AIDS crisis.

My profile on Peg Herbet will be posted in the days ahead!  For now, please enjoy this video that highlights Help Lesotho’s incredible presence in Africa and in the world.

Kgotso!

SuperPal 1: Jennifer Corriero

Co-Founder & Executive Director, TakingITGlobal

 

“This generation is in a position of both great vulnerability and great potential. Since movements of oppression as well as movements of liberation have been fuelled by the energy and dynamism of youth, it is critical to channel that energy positively.”

The first time I encountered the incomparable Jennifer Corriero, I was attending  Microsoft’s 2010 Asia-Pacific Innovative Teachers Conference in Singapore.  I was immediately taken by her energy, enthusiasm and commitment to engaging a new generation of young people in meaningful dialogue around leadership for a better world.  A few months later, she was a keynote presenter at the iEARN International conference in Toronto, where she was also the lead organizer of this organization’s important youth summit.  I was immediately struck by her powerful character, and I knew that I was encountering a woman who is, quite simply, making the world a better place.

Her Twitter name is Jenergy, and it’s no wonder.  Since 1999, when TakingITGlobal (TIG) was an idea shared with Michael Furdyk (the young entrepreneur she would later marry), Jennifer has become a star on the international youth leadership circuit.  TIG, a respected Canadian NGO whose vision is “Youth everywhere actively engaged and connected in shaping a more inclusive, peaceful and sustainable world,” has attracted close to a quarter million young members from over 260 countries, all inspired by the call to meaningful connections through emerging technologies, while they work together to address some of our most pressing global problems.  Jennifer is a tireless visionary, as comfortable with international leaders as she is with groups of high school students, and her advice and wisdom are widely sought at important summits and conferences.

“We need to unlock the potential of the new generation” she says, and her active participation in youth leadership initiatives backs up her beliefs.  “My message for principals and teachers is one about the need to design schools as a place for learning through discovery, dialogue and community, where technology is integrated across subject areas and where the classroom includes students from all over the world.”

Herewith, an interview with my  inaugural SuperPal, Jennifer Corriero.

What inspired you to devote your professional life to your work with young people?

I have committed the past 10 years to developing programs that promote youth leadership through the power of technology, because young people are influential, they are active, they have access to unprecedented information and resources via the internet, and they are the future of our society. My motivation derives from my own experience as a teenager where I learned so much about my own voice and potential to contribute to the world through volunteerism and participation in social action projects and advisory groups.

How can teachers make a difference?

We need to unlock the potential of the Net-Generation (N-Geners). Our current and future generations of students are growing up in a digital age where school is a place that is at risk of becoming irrelevant.

One of the other greatest challenges is ensuring that resources reach young people in all parts of the globe, not just in the big cities. We need to push ourselves to design and create inclusive, participatory mechanisms that can reach those who are most vulnerable and isolated. This can be achieved through creating inviting and interactive spaces both online and in-person where youth can co-create learning experiences and new discoveries to improve communities.

An effective online global classroom brings together students from diverse geographic, cultural and economic backgrounds to share information, resources and experiences, preparing them to become effective, compassionate leaders in adulthood. The global classroom represents the future of learning – and the future is now!

What factors have propelled TIG to achieve such broad and enthusiastic success with the new generation of leaders?

N-Geners view their community in a global context, and are ready to engage with peers around the world as never before. Through social networks like Facebook and MySpace, young people are moving beyond the “posse” or “clique” model, which focuses on conformity, rules, and exclusion, into a “social network” model, which is flexible, porous, and inclusive. TakingITGlobal is based on this social network model as it allows youth to socialize and interact with their peers, but for the purpose of social good. We are often referred to as the “social network for social good,” because we provide youth from around the world with real opportunities to engage in decision-making, analysis, and creating change in their communities.

Success can also be attributed to our multilingual team as they are constantly striving to make TIG more inclusive by increasing the number of languages that TIG is available in. Currently we are at 12 languages and will be adding Bengali and Swahili soon! Over time we have learned that out greatest success is the dynamism and commitment to the team we attract, volunteers, interns, staff, advisors and board members.

What are you most proud of in your work?

I’m really proud of my efforts to ensure that children and youth are an integral part of designing, shaping and creating a more sustainable future. I recently led an initiative called the Youth Task Force with the World Economic Forum, which gathered responses from over 3000 youth aged 8-25 on these questions:

  • What if you could redesign the world?
  • What would it look like, act like?
  • How would it work?
  • What would you focus on and what are your solutions and suggestions on how best to go about fixing the problems?

I then had the amazing opportunity to present the responses to world leaders in Davos. The next step is for world leaders and senior decision makers in corporations who are focused on shaping initiatives to redesign the world, to make the commitment to include youth as part of the design and solution implementation process. One of our advisors at TIG (Don Tapscott), put it well when he said, “Youth have powerful new tools for inquiry, analysis, self-expression, influence and play … They are shrinking the planet in ways their parents could never imagine.”

How do you stay optimistic about the future, when we are constantly reminded of the negative forces impacting our world?

I remain optimistic by focusing on the power we have to create positive change. This generation is in a position of both great vulnerability and great potential. Since movements of oppression as well as movements of liberation have been fuelled by the energy and dynamism of youth, it is critical to channel that energy positively. Youth are often known for having a sense of idealism and hope – I have witnessed first hand how youth can channel their hopes and ideas into creating positive change, often through the use technology. Through this I am able to remain very positive and optimistic about our future.

Who inspires you today?

Young leaders inspire me each and every day. The United Nations Population Fund has revealed that over 50% of the world’s population is under the age of 25. This upcoming generation represents a portion of the world’s population that has the power to transform the world in new ways! I am inspired by the work I have already seen them doing, and am excited to see what comes next!

Natasha Sahijwala is an example of an inspiring young leader. She is a recent Sprout alumni and Pearson Fellowship participant who developed a project called the Green Machine. Her project aims to inspire students pursuing engineering/vocational courses in Mumbai to use their skills and knowledge to create innovative utility products that can provide a low-cost replacement for an everyday activity/inefficient product. Natasha’s project will increase awareness among all stakeholders about environmental sustainability while revolutionizing small-scale manufacturing in Mumbai.

What are your goals for TIG?

At TakingITGlobal our task is twofold: to comprehensively improve the access of youth to critical tools of social change, and to nurture the idealism and hope of youth, empowering them through meaningful learning opportunities to leverage the tools at their disposal for social good. In both cases, information and communications technologies present the potential to fill gaps in formal education systems and civil society, and connect youth with the knowledge, skills and networks they need to create change in their own lives and communities. Our goal is to continue offering these opportunities in the most effective way possible!



http://www.tigweb.org

Welcome To SuperPals!

John McLaughlin

Hello world, and welcome to SuperPals! I am the Superintendent of School District 15 in Dalhousie, New Brunswick, Canada, and the purpose of this project is to introduce you to some of the very fine people I’ve met over the years who are making a real difference in shaping Education for the new millennium.  These people, who come from all corners of the world, work tirelessly to inspire our children and youth to be effective leaders in this 21st Century.  Our paths have crossed at conferences and workshops, through collaborative projects, in courses I’ve taken, and even just by happy happenstance!  In any case, I am proud to share their profiles with you, and to tell you — from my perspective — why they are truly among the most important educational leaders at work today.

But before that, here’s a little about me, and why I feel it is important to write this blog.  I’ve been superintendent of our school district since 2003, and in that time I’ve come to appreciate the tremendous responsibility we have to educate our students for a world that is facing so many significant challenges.  Our graduates must be problem solvers, critical thinkers, collaborators and strong global citizens, and we have an obligation to nurture those talents and traits while they are in our system.  Here are a few of my own professional interests:

  • New Millennium Learning
  • Information Technology in Education
  • Global Citizenship
  • International Collaborative Projects
  • Inquiry Learning
  • Curriculum & Evaluation

On a personal level, my wife, Cathy, and I have been married for 27  years, and we have four beautiful daughters, Courtney, Meaghan, Mauryah and Kathleen.  We live in Bathurst, on the pictueresque northeast coast of New Brunswick, Canada, where life is pretty sweet!

My first SuperPal will be Jennifer Corriero, co-founder and executive director of Taking IT Global. I’ve met Jen a few times, and I am always impressed by her energy and her commitment to “inspire, inform, involve!”

I’ll be posting this first profile in the next few weeks.  Till then, have a great school year, everybody!

Cheers, folks!

John

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