· disability,education,well being,mental health

As a mother, my eyes fill with happy tears when I see another child engage in play with Bella. As I walk in a grocery store with Petie, Bella and her service dog Kadence, I am thankful and relieved to be greeted with a welcoming smile. My shoulders relax from my ears when my children’s teachers say “what can I do to support your child and your family.”

As a teacher, I ask myself where and how do students learn about empathy, respect, humility and acceptance in their school community? How do we as educators provide purposeful experiences that motivate, inspire, and empower students to be nice human beings?

I am lucky to work with other passionate teachers and staff in my school community. Over the last 15 years of my teaching career, I have had the opportunity to learn and build relationships with other educators who not only hold the same work ethic as I do, but also share a common passion in creating unique learning experiences that happen beyond the traditional norms, values, and beliefs we are abided by to teach as educators.

This past month I had the opportunity to work with colleagues and community organizations to plan an event that helped students learn how to embrace their unique ‘Bubble of Awesome’. Students and staff had opportunities to participate in activities that:

  • Developed a positive sense of self by exploring our visible and invisible differences.
  • Build a deeper understanding of the diversity that makes each of us unique.

Take a look at the following pictures and let me guide you through some thinking routines. Yes, this is ‘teacher talk’ here…

Describe the woman you see in this picture.

What do you think she can do? What do you think she cannot do?

What do you wonder about her?

What career do you think she is in?

Do you think she has a family?

What do you notice in this picture? What do you think other people see, think or wonder about this picture?

Did you think you see, think and wonder the same thing as other people?

What labels would you give the person in this picture?

Do you think the person in the picture would identify with the same labels?

What emotions do you see/feel when looking at the pictures?

On April 12th, 2018 my colleagues and I extended our students’ learning with their bubble of awesome in a school wide assembly called ‘Beyond Our Labels'. We had the opportunity to have the renowned Canadian Paralympic athlete, Victoria Nolan share her personal story of triumph over life challenges that created her bubble of awesome.

Here is an excerpt from her book, ‘Beyond Vision, The Story Of A Blind Rower’.

“At 18 years old, Victoria found out she was going blind. As her vision became more restricted, so did her independence. Her childhood dream had been to become a teacher, but she had to fight constantly against misconceptions about her capabilities as a visually impaired person. Even starting a family meant risking further vision loss, and as she struggled to deal with her disability, her goals for the future seemed impossible. Not wanting her children to grow up seeing their mother as someone who “couldn’t,” she sought opportunities to prove herself.”

Now take a moment to watch this video:

What makes us see things differently from others?

Does our identity and our personal experiences shape the way we see things?

Do you identify with any of the labels you found in the pictures?

How do you think these labels would make the people in the pictures feel?

In what other ways might having these labels affect these people, positively or negatively?

What emotions do you now see/feel now?

I am so grateful that Victoria was able to share her story with our school community. What spoke soundly to me as a mother was her truth in these words, “I can’t control what people think, but I can do something about it.”

Out of the 500 students and 50 staff in my school building, I hope that the work my colleagues and I put into this event, and Victoria’s words touched someone. I hope we reached someone so that they will change in their mindset, actions, words, and attitude towards people who live with a disability. I hope they can now look beyond their vision to make an effort to understand that we are all awesome in our own way.

If you are an educator, a parent, or a student I leave you with this quote that a friend shared with me this week,

"If everyone in our school had your attitude, what kind of place would it be?"

Thank you to the following people and organizations who made this event the awesome:

Victoria Nolan

Vishaal Beharry

Ontario Blind Sports Association

Lions Foundation of Dog Guides Canada

Plan Canada

Ophea, Dove Confident Me

Ontario Blind Sports, Victoria Nolan, Rashma Beharry, Aneka Porter and me!
Thank you Victoria and Alan for sharing your story in the post assembly workshops.
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