October is learning disabilities awareness month and so it is only fitting that this blog post is a little tribute to every student I ever taught, and a trip down memeory lane of my personal journey in getting to where I am today.
As most of you know, I’ve dedicated my entire career (truth be told) most of my life actually, working with and advocating for people with disabilities. Throughout High School and University, I spent many hours volunteering at various organizations to try and find and develop my passions. Two very special placements that launched my career included volunteering at a preschool for children with developmental disabilities and also working at the Robart School for the Hearing Impaired. The cutest little 3-year-old boy with a heart conditioning, with the sunniest disposition, stole my heart. He is the reason that I took my level 1 and 2 in sign language and made me want to pursue a career working with children with special needs. Volunteering at the Robart School for the Hearing Impaired, the students there taught me more than I could have ever taught them (in fact, it’s where I was given a sign name from one of my students who was deaf – only a deaf person can assign someone a sign name). These placements opened my eyes to a deep-rooted and innate love of helping children be the best that they can be, despite any challenges they faced in their lives.
After receiving my Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Western Ontario, I transitioned to a College program, where I received a two-year diploma certificate as a Developmental Services Worker. Working at the Tamir Foundation here in Ottawa for several years while in school furthered my passion for working with people with special needs. So many of the residents who live there hold a special place in my heart and Tamir will always be a part of my extended family. Teachers college, with a focus in Special Education, was a natural next step for me where I then spent over twenty years working with students with learning disabilities. My students from my very first grade 6 class are now 33 years of age, many married with children and have careers of their own! (insert shocked face emoji – yes I’m aging myself – insert second shocked face emoji).
For most of my career, my passion has been teaching students with Dyslexia how to read. While working at MindWare Academy, a private school for students with learning disabilities, I focused my own professional growth and learning on teaching students with learning disabilities how to read and spell. In 2007, I met Peter Bowers from wordworkskingston who changed my life as an educator, as a mom and as an English speaker. He introduced me to ‘Real Spelling’ as it was called at the time, but since changed its name to ‘Structured Word Inquiry’ or ‘SWI’. I was 35 years old at the time, a native English speaker, a self-proclaimed terrible speller, and no one had ever taught me that no English word ends in the letter <v>, one of the many reasons for the single silent <e> at the end of the word, explaining the spelling of <have>, <give>, <move> and <love> (to name a few). I was shocked, furious that no one had shared these simple facts,and was hooked forever! For the first time in my life, I started to realize that English is actually completely ordered and structured, with very few exceptions, once you learn and understand the true orthography of the written word. My mind was blown and I was committed to learning everything I could, and in turn teaching it to my students, who inherently because of their disabilities, struggled to read, write and spell. The first years of diving in were magical because I was able to learn alongside my students. These first few years diving deep into SWI with my students taught me so much about being a life long learner. My students and I were struggling, questioning, investigating, making mistakes and learning together. It was probably the most powerful and impactful years of my career.
All students, and especially students with learning disabilities, have pushed me and empowered me to be the best educator I can be. They have taught me so much about perseverance, resilience, dedication and commitment to learning, even when and especially when things are hard. When students are properly supported and we shine a light on their abilities, we end up proving that they can do and be anything. While taking a break from teaching in the classroom I opened up an educational consultancy and advocacy business called PossAbilities highlighting this exact point – when we light up abilities there are endless possibilities. Advocating with parents and empowering students to embrace their incredible strengths and accept their challenges has been so intensely rewarding. Which leads us to here and now. Being able to use all of this background, knowledge, expertise and experience at the OJCS is such an honour. Now in my third year as the director of Special Education at the OJCS, I feel grateful to be working with such a committed and talented staff who work tirelessly day in and day out to support all of our students and especially our students with learning disabilities. Thank you to all of the incredible students at the OJCS who I have the pleasure of supporting. I am so thankful for this career path that I chose (or which chose me).
To all my students who have ever touched my life – thank you for being such amazing humans. I adore you.