One way we can make our community more inclusive is to turn that idea upside down and help get rid of the labels.

Hello #SISRocks ! This week on Teachers of SIS, we are pleased to have Learning Support Specialists Erin Madonna and Vivian Wu. Erin and Vivian walked me through their roles, the targeted support they provode to students and the consultative coaching they offer to teachers. Read the full interview below.









Can you talk about what you want us (as teachers but also the wider community) to know and understand about what you do ?

(Erin) When you think about our positions our jobs…the reason that we are here is because our community is trying to become more inclusive of diversity … so we are trying to meet the needs of diverse learners. Additionally, when you think of what learning support is it gets a little muddy. We often think of students who struggle. But learning support really is more about meeting the needs of students who have identified learning needs versus students who are just six months delayed or are struggling in a certain area … because students just struggle in that area.

So I think really try provide targeted support to kiddos who have identified neurological needs, behavioral, attention deficit, hyperactivity disorders, social communication delays… things along those lines …

(Vivian) From my perspective, we tend to students with diverse needs. Knowing that teachers need to tend to these students, TAs run small groups. We also work with and provide students with individualized strategies and tools so that they can be successful.

(Erin) I’m glad you brought that up because that is another important part of our role … because we have such a small team, I think a major part of our role is that consultative coaching of teachers.

What skills did you want your students to gain?

So everyone will struggle at some point. We all have things that we’re better at and things that we struggle with but when a student has an identified need (and lots of times it’s brain based) there is an cognitive obstacle that they can’t past without extra scaffolding and support or material presented in a different way.

And that will not change for that student no matter how hard they are trying. So that’s a really clear indicator that its not just a “okay, I need a little more time…” and a little extra support but more a case of real road blocks that despite herculean efforts they will not get past.

A lot of the times it comes down to executive functioning skills, so things like self organization or self regulation within the classroom

(Vivian) Some targeted interventions we put in place for students with those needs include checklists with students, self-monitoring, making sure they understand the goal of an activity, our my eyes on the speaker, basic utilization of checklists.

(Erin) We do,, with students who have social communication delays, we’ll do social stories…so we’ll do targeted intervention where we will pull the student out of classroom and we’ll sit with them and read stories that highlight pro social skills. An example might be “If I am in a classroom and I want the teacher’s attention how do I get that …” So it’ll be a story that we create for that student to help the learn those pro social behaviors.

(Vivian) Another big area that we work on is our inclusive community so that students don’t feel ashamed or that they are different.

(Erin) Something that happens a lot (with fine motor needs, for example) is … when we have kids who utilizing things like pencil grips or they get silly putty because of hyperactivity in the classroom and they something to channel that energy…., we have kids who will stop by our office and ask if they can have that too..? Its funny and different for every kids … but it’s also a good clarifying point for our community because a lot of the times because we do pull kids out of them room and have them meet with us outside of the classroom..That said, we have this concept of inclusion being this “push-in” model where they should stay in the classroom and be in the classroom all the time but the background impact of that (for the student with the differences) is that often and emotionally that injures them – “I’m that kid that Ms. Madonna is coming to see again” And we’ve had kids very clearly tell us that they don’t like that but when they come into a safe space where their peers aren’t watching them get this remedy l support that feels better. That’s not every kid – some kids aren’t phased when we come in but that “pull out” support often times is there to protect their self confidence.

Can speak about teacher responsibility and classroom culture ?

As the adults in the building, we have to really shift our thinking away from a deficit model to a strength-based approach – yes you’re building on the strengths of that individual with differences but it also can come in the form of how the class views that person. How the teacher sets up their classroom can shift the idea away from oh you’re the kid that always acts out to you have the most creative mind of any of us , can you be the one leading us in this …. Additionally, lots of times we will pull in peers who are high performing in order to mix up those groups so that the other kids can rethink their preconceived notions that Ms. Madonna only helps the bad kids or the dumb kids, etc … basically the kids who can’t. So again, as the adults, I think one way we can make our community more inclusive is to turn that idea upside down and help get rid of the labels.


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Also our inclusive posters thorughout Mountainside & Parkside campuses.

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