PART 2: What is your personal philosophy of special education?
My Personal Philosophy Of Education (as a Learner):
I believe “Disengagement” is the #1 issue facing schools today. But, if we’re being honest, disengagement is an issue for many other institutions including churches, governments, workplaces, the home, etc.
Having said that, let’s view disengagement as a three (3) dimensional issue whereby people 1) Learn Distrust; 2) Feel Disconnected, and 3) Become Despaired. Put another way, I believe people have lost trust in our institutions and their leadership. At the same time, people are feeling more disconnected from others than ever. Unfortunately, all these experiences ultimately lead to despair.
I believe this can be reversed. Allow me to explain…
A friend once asked me if I believed in the Trinity (i.e. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit). I said yes but then failed miserably to articulate it. For this reason, I spent the next year studying the Trinitarian Godhead. Long story, short… it was the greatest season of my life. I realized I needed to truly know something before accepting the responsibility to teach it. I also learned about my God, myself, my world, and my role in it. In short, I developed a new way to share my faith:
1) God the Father is “like” Absolute Truth whereas I am “like” relative truth;
2) God the Son is “like” Unconditional Love whereas I am “like” conditional love, and
3) God the Holy Spirit is “like” Infinite Hope whereas I am “like” limited hope.
Now, with these three (3) persons in mind, let’s look at The Great Commandment, found in Matthew 22:36-40:
Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Perhaps there is a reason why Jesus tells us to love God first… then love our neighbor. We must first receive what we need… then give it away. For me, this means I am called to 1) Seek Truth; 2) Receive Love, and 3) Be Hopeful.
Now let’s look at The Great Commission, found in Mark 16:19-20:
Jesus says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
In other words, now that I am filled with the spirit of God (all three persons), I am called to 1) Share Truth, 2) Love Others, and 3) Offer Hope.
Having done this for nearly 15 years, it has served me well as I have parented my children, consulted my clients, coached my players, and taught my students (all of whom are my neighbors). For me, this is how I believe I can serve to fix disengagement in schools, address crises in education, and offer hope for a troubled world.
My Personal Philosophy Of Special Education (as a Teacher):
When I think about special education students, especially Emotional-Behavioral Disabled (EBD) students, I equate their educational journey to a race they have to run, but where they begin a mile behind the starting line. By the time they reach high school, many have fallen miles behind their general education cohorts. How can special education students ever catch up… especially when they have become so disengaged and despaired?
While many others may consider their disability a curse or a stumbling block, I believe it can be turned into a blessing and a stepping stone if we can help those students develop an identity anchored in character and values (versus living their lives controlled by their troubled feelings and emotions). When our students realize they are still here even though they have been given overwhelming odds… that is a story worth celebrating!
In short, I believe it is my job and responsibility to plant seeds designed to help students recognize their innate power and strengths and how their greatest successes are still waiting for them on the opposite side of their fears and concerns. When students are able to tap into their own stores of courage, grit, and resiliency, a new identity eventually takes root. As they discover their (unlimited) potential, simultaneously, a safe place is created where a growth mindset can flourish.
In order to accomplish this, we talk a lot about the differences between health and disease. Health is about harmony and balance (in our systems) whereas disease is about dis-ease or imbalance (in our systems). So, instead of emphasizing growth in academics, I tend to focus on achieving health, harmony, and balance in life (i.e. body, heart, mind, home, school, street, work, play, etc.). For me, this is how I have been preparing students for life during and after high school.
In short, a growth mindset is necessary to address deficits developed over years of despair and disengagement… but we MUST first address the disability before we work to develop any deficits. Their true disability is simply not knowing how beautifully and wonderfully they are made.