Leah Stein  

Special Education, Hyde-Addison Elementary School

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Leah SteinThis week, Dec. 6-10, marks the 10th Annual Inclusive Schools Week, which the Inclusive Schools Network has created to highlight and celebrate the progress schools have made in providing a supportive and quality education to all students. This year, DCPS is recognizing some of the teachers, classes and schools at DCPS that are working everyday to make sure they have created an inclusive environment for their students.

Leah Stein is a special education teacher at Hyde-Addison Elementary School, as well as the school’s special education coordinator. She primarily works with students in grades 3, 4 and 5, and she helps teachers plan and differentiate lessons for their classes.

How do you create the best inclusive environment for your students?
It’s a lot about collaboration, working as part of a team, and working with general education teachers to look at who these children are and what they need to be successful in a general education classroom. We determine what supports our students need to access the general education curriculum, just like everyone else.

For some students it’s extra time, or they need lessons modified or extra supports. Other times, students need an in-between step (like a graphic organizer) between step one and step two – so they can get there like everyone else. To figure out what a student needs, it’s a lot of planning. We look at the end result we want for each student and ask, “How do we get to it?” We decide what skills everyone needs to know, and as a team, we decide what each student needs to get to this point.

Why is so inclusion so important – both for special education and general education students?
It’s important that all students have same age, grade peer models. For students with disabilities, they learn how to interact with students who don’t have disabilities. On the other hand, it’s positive for students who don’t have disabilities because they learn to understand that not everyone is the same and that people need different things to be successful in the classroom. The goal for the entire class is that everyone succeeds, and they really take it upon themselves to help each other.

There are also a lot of social benefits to inclusion. Not only do students learn to be part of the group and the school community, but they also learn how to act as a member of the community. Students learn how to be responsible, and they learn that they are part of something, part of a group. They feel included. A student may not be very good at math or reading, but they are good at something else, and that’s a strength that can help everyone else. Learning that not everyone has the same strengths and weaknesses and learning to be part of that school community and help out using your strengths is important.

As an inclusive school, access to non-disabled peers is key to the social, emotional and academic success of the students with disabilities. They are full members of the community, and the classroom community is responsible for all members.

The relationships that students build with each other is so important and really helps give them a glimpse of the real world. The non-disabled students learn lessons in tolerance, respect and patience, and their disabled peers feel a sense of belonging to the community and understand the idea that there is a support system in place to help them succeed. We hold high expectations for all students with the idea that everyone can and will succeed given the appropriate supports.

Parents are a critical part of their children's achievement. How do you engage parents as you work to create an inclusive environment for your students?
As a responsive classroom school, it is very important to engage all members of the community, including parents. We are lucky to have a very active group of parents at Hyde-Addison who volunteer their time in our community.

As a school, we communicate with parents on a weekly basis about upcoming opportunities to visit their children and celebrate their successes. We also offer parent workshops, both in the morning before school and in the evenings on various topics of parent interest. We have also brought in many speakers or let parents know about opportunities at other locations.

With that said, we do know that it is difficult for many parents to come to school to celebrate with their children or attend workshops. We have started a new Web site this year to help improve our communication. In addition, all teachers have email addresses and many are in constant communication with parents.

I have been working on finding the best way to communicate with the parents of each of my students. Some parents prefer to talk in person on the playground or in a conference. Other parents prefer to have open communication on email. Yet others prefer to speak over the phone, and some even prefer to send text messages.

For me, it’s about finding the best way to communicate with each parent and making sure that parent knows how to communicate with me. I want parents to know we are all working together to advocate for the needs of their child, so each child can be successful in an inclusive environment.

What is one thing a student has taught you about being a better teacher? How did he or she do it?
Over the years my students have taught me so many things. If I have to pick one student who has taught me to be a better teacher, I would choose one of my more challenging students.

This particular student had a really hard time socially and emotionally and was often not available for learning. He got upset easily over little things and could become violent very quickly.

I learned how important it is to form a bond with each individual student to let him or her know that you care about them, not just about how well they perform academically but about their well being. It was important to make sure that he had eaten breakfast, had enough sleep and had the basic necessities in life before we could even attempt academics.

We had to spend a lot of time working through many social/emotional issues before he was available for learning. It was this bond that helped me learn to prevent his emotional outbursts most of the time and helped me help him work through difficult situations that were not avoidable. That particular year was a tough one, but I am definitely a better teacher having gone through that experience.

Why is teaching an incredibly important job?
Teachers have the ability to shape the futures of their students. One of the most important lessons I have learned as a special education teacher is that motivation is everything for students with disabilities.

It is crucial that teachers find ways to motivate their students and make them buy into the importance of working hard in school and not giving up even when the work is hard. Whether or not students are motivated to learn can put them on the path to success or on the path to failure.

Teachers teach students skills they will need in order to be successful members of the community and prepare them for life after school. It is so important that students understand why they are learning these skills and how they will help them succeed in life.

Find out more information about Inclusion »

Read more teacher profiles from Inclusive Schools Week »

Inside DCPS Highlights.


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