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I spend a lot of time exploring organizational change. In my work coaching organizations toward increased inclusion, one thing synagogue professionals and lay leaders often ask is some version of this: “How do we change the culture of our community to one where individual members recognize and value inclusion?”  

Organizational culture change is a complex process that demands a clear vision and a focused leadership team committed to create, anchor, and support change over time within the institutional culture. In other words, it is anything but a “quick fix.”

The Eight Steps of Organizational Change, as outlined by Professor John Kotter of the Harvard Business School, can serve as a framework for organizational change in the Jewish community. 

Here are his eight steps, along with some commentary of my own:
    1. Establish a sense of urgency – Without a shared sense of urgency, the process typically goes nowhere. I’m coming back to this in a few moments.  
      2. Create the guiding coalition – None of us, NONE OF US, can do the work of inclusion alone. We need partners, and to do this right an organization must assemble a team from the very beginning. Assembling the right team matters, too. 
        3. Develop a vision and strategy – An organization’s vision provides aspiration, motivates a community toward change, and establishes a framework for making strategic choices. A clear strategy is grounded in the vision with a rational understanding of the organization and provides a logical path toward realizing that vision. In other words, know your why.
          4. Communicate the vision – Be transparent. Share, share, share. I can’t begin to describe the number of congregations I have encountered over the years that believe they are inclusive because they host a once-a-year Shabbaton focused on inclusion or they have a committee/task force focud on issues of inclusion, but the vast majority of people in the congregation know nothing about these efforts. 
            5. Empower professionals and volunteers for action – This is about ensuring that there are changes that can be made and identifying the resources needed for implementation. 
              6. Generate short-term wins – I typically refer to this as grabbing the “low-hanging fruit”. These are the things that can be done easily and which give a team quick reward for their efforts, thereby helping to build morale and momentum around continued change. 
                7. Consolidate gains and produce more change – This is often the point where small, incremental gains are celebrated as the conclusion of the larger effort rather than used to propel momentum forward. This is the place to re-commit to more significant goals and push them forward. Communication and transparency are particularly significant here. 
                  8. Anchor new approaches in the culture – This includes structural changes such as changes to by-laws, job descriptions, and/or new program objectives. This is also the place where an organization assesses the attitudinal and behavioral changes that have taken hold within the community.
                    I have said it before and I will say it again: inclusion is not a person or a place or a program; inclusion is a mindset, a way of thinking, and it needs to be who we are as much as it is what we do.

                    Which brings us back to the beginning of this list and the question I am so often asked, “How do we change the culture of our community to one where individual members recognize and value inclusion?” If we are to embrace this process and commit ourselves to the work, we need to identify what it means to “create a sense of urgency.”

                    A number of years ago a colleague made the following statement that has stuck with me, “There are no emergencies in Jewish education.” It is a profound truth to recognize, especially in education, that your urgency is NOT my emergency. This is not to minimize the things that absolutely require our immediate attention, but rather it is a way to enable us, as leaders, to slow down and give reflective process its due.

                    And yet, here we are talking about creating a sense of urgency around increased disability inclusion. How do we do this in a way that sparks meaningful change but doesn’t provoke anxiety and a misguided sense of immediacy? Urgency can motivate us, urgency can help others commit to our vision, and urgency can compel us to act.

                    So how will you create a sense of urgency in your community?

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                    In Ditch the Clips (Stop Using Behavior Charts Part 1), I shared how much I dislike traditional classroom behavior charts. I believe they do absolutely nothing to model and support appropriate student behavior.

                    It’s worth taking a look at the responses to that post:
                    “I have to disagree that clip systems are 'always' harmful and shaming to students. I use it in my classroom. All students begin the day on green (middle of the chart) and throughout the day, they can clip up or down depending on the choices they make. It is NEVER used to punish “mistakes”.

                    Shall I follow this teacher into the faculty room for lunch? Let’s say she’s having a particularly tough day. Maybe she cuts off a colleague in the middle of a conversation or snaps at someone trying to hand her something. I go to the chart and move her clip (or expect her to do it) down from green. She won’t feel embarrassed or shamed by this? I don’t buy it. Not a punishment? That’s exactly what it is.

                    Here’s another:
                    “Behavior charts work great for my Autistic daughter. Expectations are clear, and she gets a visual cue when things aren't going well. As a mother, I can ask her, “How was your day?” and not get an informative answer. However, I can say “What color was your card?” and get an answer. We can go from there to, "Why was your card yellow? What happened right before the teacher switched it to yellow? What words did your teacher say to you? I'm a fan.”
                    I will never discount the value of strong parenting, which is exactly what this demonstrates. There is absolutely a way that a teacher could create such a system for this one student, in partnership with the parent, ensuring that it is private and used meaningfully.

                    The alternative is forcing parents to have to explain these systems in ways that their children can better understand. How about when this happens?

                    “__ would come home every day & tell me who was on the sad face and that they didn’t make good choices. Then I would have to talk to him about how they aren’t bad, that they are good boys/girls but they may have a hard time sitting still, or don’t know how to use their words so they hit, bite, etc.”
                    Let’s be real, not all parents can do it this well. Many parents can’t do this at all. And what about for all those kids who internalize the pain without saying anything?

                    Finally, there are the teachers who say to me, “I would NEVER publicly shame my chickadees, cubs, little lambs (Side rant: CHILDREN ARE NOT ANIMALS! Just call them learners). I put these charts on each one’s desk, not at the front of the room.” Seriously? Are they not visible? Are you really telling me that children do not see what’s on another child’s desk and understand? 

                    We need alternatives!

                    There are compassionate, positive ways to teach children how to engage in appropriate behavior. One such option is to develop a system of Celebrating Mistakes. Here, students come to recognize that no one is perfect and understand that mistakes are a healthy, integral part of learning and growing. And no individual student can be identified by name, number, or color. 
                     
                    Another lovely alternative is the one Katie Texas uses. She quietly hands students a “ticket” that says “Please stop what you are doing and make a better choice”. This is done in a way that is quiet, private, and simple enough to manage without disrupting teaching. This is terrific!

                    Another methodology is to teach children how to be reflective. Helping them to understand their behavior and make changes that are appropriate to them (again, individualized) is a compassionate and valuable system. Michelle Nelson uses a Behavior Notebook.

                    Finally, there is this concept based in the Responsive Classrooms approach as explained beautifully by Nikki Sabiston in her post Why I Will Never Use a Behavior Chart Again.

                    It is the responsibility of each individual teacher to get to know his class and to build a safe space for learning and growth that supports all learners respectfully. Each will have to select something that fits her personal teaching style and meets the individual needs of students.

                    Whatever you do, ditch the clips!

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                    If you read a lot of blogs, particularly those focused on disability inclusion, it may seem like there are a lot of “shoulds”. This is how you should treat people with disabilities, this is how you should speak about people with disabilities, this is how you should teach and include people with disabilities.


                    Maybe you read these “shoulds” and they spark within you an idea of a possibility and you are inspired to make a change. Or maybe you read them and find yourself feeling guilty. When I write, my goal is to get you thinking. I hope I lead you to think about what is possible

                    In this month of Elul (Elul is the 12th month on the Hebrew calendar and a traditional time for reflection) you have the beautiful opportunity to reflect on what you are already doing and what challenges still lie ahead of you. This month we make teshuvah (literally returning to one’s self, repentance) and it is a chance to grow, to change, and to do more. I hope that rather than feel guilt, you think about what can be. Elul brings with it an opportunity for forgiveness. This is the time to forgive yourself and, as you move forward, find ways to add new elements of inclusion into your daily practice.

                    Maybe you haven’t yet found a way to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities in your congregation. Forgive yourself, and move forward.
                    Maybe you haven’t yet found a way to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities in your school. Forgive yourself, and move forward.

                    Maybe you have not yet integrated the strategies of teaching a child with more complex disabilities in your classroom. Forgive yourself, and move forward.

                    Maybe you are not yet consistently using inclusive language.  Forgive yourself, and move forward.

                    Maybe you shy away from people with disabilities for fear of saying the wrong thing. Forgive yourself, and move forward.

                    And, as you forgive, know that you can do more. Give yourself the space to change, to grow, and to become who you hope to be. It’s ok if you are not there yet.

                    Forgive yourself, and move forward.

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                    Inclusion: the action or state of including or being included within a group or structure

                    This term (inclusion), when applied to education, is meant to capture an all-encompassing societal ideology. Inclusion is meant to secure opportunities for students with disabilities to learn alongside their non-disabled peers in general education classrooms.

                    However, interpretations and approaches vary widely. I believe that inclusion is a state of mind, a belief system that guides us to ensure a true sense of belonging. Inclusive education is ensuring that ALL students have equal access to curriculum and meaningful learning experiences.

                    Nevertheless, there is no blueprint for how to make this happen on a practical level in schools. As a result, each state, district, school, and even teacher may have a slightly different understanding of what an inclusive classroom is, let alone how to create one.

                    Below are the four most common myths and misconceptions that have become barriers to the widespread implementation of inclusive education. 


                    Myth #1: Inclusion holds back the typically-able students.A classroom rich with activities to challenge and support children — regardless of their academic abilities — maximizes the potential for success across the board.

                    Students should not be compared with one another, nor should they be subjected to arbitrary levels of expected achievement. In a truly inclusive classroom, no student is held back or exposed to content that does not challenge her in some way. Instead, every learner has an equal opportunity to grow and achieve.

                    Research suggests that disabled students in inclusive classrooms show greater academic progress than in segregated classrooms. One study, which tracked more than 1,300 6- to 9-year-olds with disabilities who attended school across 180 different districts, suggests “a strong positive relationship between the number of hours students spent in general education and achievement in mathematics and reading.” Furthermore, students with intellectual disabilities who were fully included in general education classrooms made more progress in literacy skills when compared to students in special education programs.

                    With respect to inclusion and students without disabilities, research shows that their performance is not negatively impacted, and, in fact, that they reap “several social benefits” from the experience. A more recent study reinforces these findings: “[T]here is now sufficient evidence to suggest that typical peers are not harmed by or disadvantaged in inclusive classrooms.” As in the earlier study, this one shows that students without disabilities demonstrated “improved pro-social behaviors,” and that they enjoyed “the opportunity to become experts in academic areas” while helping their disabled peers.

                    Myth #2: Individualized expectations for a child with disabilities isn’t fair to the other students.Fairness, as a concept, ensures that each student receives the support he needs to be academically successful. However, fairness is so very often confused with equality.

                    Individualizing expectations does not take anything away from capable students. Rather, it demonstrates flexibility and a willingness to embrace a wide variety of needs within a school community. Children may question why another student got full credit for what they perceive as doing less, but it is up to teachers, parents, and administrators to effectively explain and demonstrate ways to both welcome and celebrate differences.
                     Myth #3: One student’s negative behavior can ruin a whole class.This is a big one in so many classrooms. And the honest answer is that negative behavior can interfere with a class dynamic if the teacher lets it. Teachers have a responsibility to get to know their students personally and build positive relationships with them in order to manage student behavior in a way that provides all students with a warm, supportive, challenging, and meaningful environment. Managing a classroom effectively takes skill and practice.

                    Teachers who focus on developing interpersonal relationships with students are more effective in teaching them to demonstrate positive, socially-appropriate behaviors. Teachers must learn various techniques and strategies to support every student, though there is no one-size-fits-all approach to accomplish these goals. 

                    Myth #4: Inclusion costs a lot more money.There are inexpensive ways to be sure that a school community is inclusive. First and foremost is to model an inclusive attitude from the top down.

                    Leaders shape the culture of a school community through the way they act and treat faculty, students, parents, and support staff. Demonstrating inclusiveness is simultaneously cost-effective and priceless in the atmosphere it creates.

                    Other cost-effective strategies include investing in high-quality professional development for teachers and other school staff — training that teaches everyone how to welcome, accept, and embrace diversity in a school community.

                    Myths are perpetuated by a lack of understanding. It is the responsibility of educational professionals to recognize the myths that may lead to flaws within our current structures and systems.When we join in conversation with real-life examples and hands-on experiences, attitudes can change, myths can be eliminated, and every student can find success.

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                    Do you fear change? Do you feel overwhelmed by the prospect of helping your school, organization, or community become more inclusive?


                    It's not unusual to feel uneasy or intimidated by the magnitude of a significant undertaking. It can be that "inclusion" feels so huge that you do not even know where to begin; so you don't. 

                    Even knowing that change needs to happen you may not know how to go about delivering it. Where do you start? Whom do you involve? How do you see it through?

                    What really matters is that you start somewhere. Small steps CAN make a difference.

                    A favorite story:
                    Once upon a time, there was an old man who took walks on the beach every morning. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions. 
                    Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching.  As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
                    The young boy paused, looked up, and replied, “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves. When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
                    The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
                    The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
                    adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)

                    Helping to move your faith organization toward inclusion may seem like throwing back all the starfish on the beach, but it genuinely is ok to start with the starfish you can reach.  


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