March 2, 2001
For the last three years, university faculty associated with the Whole Schooling Consortium have been working in several schools around Michigan as researchers and critical friends for supporting positive change. Each of these schools has made a commitment to including children with disabilities in general education classes and moving away from segregation and exclusion. These schools are also, simultaneously, struggling to honor diversity, operate democratically, partner with parents and the community, and build a sense of care and community in the school. We’ve been learning a lot. Out of conversations, we have become aware of the interest and need for teachers and principals and parents to network with other schools to learn from one another. Several of these schools also want to provide leadership for inclusive teaching and schooling practices in the state.
Two key principals: Jan Colliton from Hillside Elementary in Farmington and Barbara Mick from Ausable Primary in Grayling, collaborated with university faculty to plan a meeting held on February 28, 2001 where staff from 7 schools formed a “MICHIGAN LEADERSHIP NETWORK FOR INCLUSIVE SCHOOLING.” We thought this would be a good and valuable meeting. However, we weren’t prepared for the unleashing of energy, creativity and commitment and sharing of stories that made many of us cry.
Some 40 people attended, representing 7 schools and 4 school districts. Dr. Michael Peterson, Co-Director of the Whole Schooling Consortium, began with an overview of the Five Principles of Whole Schooling emphasizing the practical ways these principles play out in schools. (See http://www.coe.wayne.edu/CommunityBuilding/WSC.html).School staff then shared where they were. The intellectual and emotional impact of the experiences of people sharing about their growing journey towards inclusive schooling was like a wave of hope, joy, and courage all rolled into one — struggles with bureaucracy, personal learning and growth, collaboration of teachers and stories of specific children. By lunch, several people were choked up and almost crying. The sense of commitment and care and courage in the room was awesome.It is amazing to know that advocates and parents who struggle with cruel schools and teachers exist and are driving their schools and teaching, bit by bit, to include all children in learning together. As one teacher said, “This morning gives me hope.”
In the afternoon, we divided into heterogeneous groups made up of representatives of the different schools and each group discussed what a statewide network would do, would look like. We came back together and shared, developed next steps, established a steering committee to synthesize the ideas and we set another meeting date in late May.One group of teachers set a date to meet at a local restaurant to continue sharing.
This meeting represents many important activities building on now years of work and relationship building within schools, between university faculty and teachers.
For the first time in Michigan schools are providing leadership for inclusive schooling rather than advocacy groups desperately wishing that schools would respond.
The network links schools in Detroit, two suburbs, and a very rural schools district, illustrating the power and potential of work across the dividing lines of race and socio-economic status.
Teachers have begun to reach out across schools to one another.
All there were astounded by the power of action and commitment for children collectively represented.
We expect this network to grow and develop. But for now, the coming together of real leaders willing to risk, be creative, and step out of their boxes on behalf of children was simply a strong gust of fresh air.
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