The Ontario Council for Exceptional Children held its 62nd annual Special Education Conference titled “Well-being, Equity and Success for All” in Toronto on November 30th and December 1, 2018. As part of the Southern Ontario Regional Team, Dr. Jacqueline Specht, Dr. Sheila Bennett and Olivia Faulconbridge had the opportunity to attend the conference and present RSEKN to attendees. Throughout the conference, we had the opportunity to hear from researchers, educators and students on how they are creating inclusive and equitable environments for exceptional children.
During the RSEKN presentation, we sat with three women working across Ontario in schools in a variety of positions. Each of these women shared their own experiences with striving to succeed in supporting exceptional children in inclusive settings. As is often the case, we heard the barriers they encountered in their jobs. For them, these barriers included other teachers, principals and parents. Nonetheless, each of these women found unique and creative ways to support the students in their schools. One woman worked as an educational assistant and had supported a child diagnosed with autism to slowly build the ability to attend school assemblies. Where the majority of the teachers and principals at her school jumped to the conclusion that this child would not be able to attend assemblies and should either be taken to another class or sent home, this women did not give up on her student. Over many years, she supported his ability to be in the assembly for a few minutes to being able to sit through an entire assembly. This was one example from the group, which only reinforced and strengthened the group’s confidence that students with exceptionalities can be included and do not have to be sent home and left out of learning.
At the end of the conference, I had the opportunity to stay for the awards ceremony and luncheon. I must admit, I chose to stay because I was a bit hungry and very intrigued by the short introduction (see right) of the motivational address speaker, Robert Hampson (Rick Hansen School Program Ambassador). Prior to this address, I watched a number of students and teachers from across Ontario receive awards for academic, social and physical excellence. I heard a number of motivational stories as each of these awards were introduced. I heard about teachers that worked countless hours and found unique and innovative ways to promote inclusive environments for all of their students. I heard about students in one class that took on large coding projects and developed their own project under the guidance of a beloved teacher. I heard about students who pushed themselves physically and academically to prove that they could achieve what everyone else could achieve.
Robert’s address ended the ceremony with a heartwarming and extremely motivational speech. I will not summarize his life experiences as he told them in this blog, because that his story to tell. However, I will say Robert became blind at a young age because of a brain tumour. He has since not only succeeded in school, but he has achieved countless other goals including, running charities, becoming a competitive swimmer and graduating from St. Lawrence College. Robert demonstrated what it is to not only self-advocate, but also to pursue your goals no matter the obstacles.
Never tell me something is impossible. I think, if you want to do a thing badly enough you can find a way. When somebody tells me I can’t, it usually makes me want to do it even more.
– Robert Hampson
Written by Olivia Faulconbridge