Finding Common Ground In Our Differences

My name is Anna DeRosa and I’m a new face you’ll be seeing pop up from time to time on the Operation Respect blog. I’m currently a senior at Bard College studying human rights and philosophy, all of which I connect to the study of special education. Next year, I plan to get my masters in special education, but for now, I am the intern at Operation Respect, taking charge of thinking about how to adapt an already great curriculum to suit an even wider range of students. This upcoming year will be my fourth working in special education as a classroom aide, something I’ve loved doing since I first started in my senior year of high school. Although I don’t profess to be an expert by any means, I’ve learned a lot by working in these environments, not only about the practice and pedagogy of special education, but also about the nature of teaching itself.

As John Dewey famously said, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” At its essence, the classroom is often the first real “community” students belong to. I see one of the main goals of any educator as ensuring that their students leave their classrooms at the end of the year as active members of a vibrant community. The roles within such a community take on a lot of shapes – from forming interpersonal relationships to participating in productive engaged groups – and help advance students to learn a lot about being a good citizen in their classrooms. What is both challenging and wonderful about working with students with disabilities is that their communities have the potential to be incredibly rich, diverse places. Ironically, what brings students with disabilities together is their perceived differences. They make up a patchwork community of differences, the challenging part of this being the notion of finding common ground.

So how do we create an effective community in a special education setting? Well, this is the question that I will be working on with Operation Respect. At the end of the day, there is no substitute for a truly kind and empathetic educator, but perhaps there is a way to bring students together with a slight tweak in curriculum. Many schools have seen significant improvements in their students and communities with the introduction of advisory programs. While looking through various education databases, I found lots of studies in support of the introduction of such programs, but none dealing directly with their implementation in special education. It would be a worthwhile experiment to explore what a program such as this might look like if adapted to work for a standard 12:1:1 or 12:1 classroom at a middle or high school level. This is my goal with Operation Respect, to create a guide for special educators who are interested in starting an advisory program in their classrooms but are unsure of how to do so. With a wealth of database resources and the assistance of people with a lifetime in education, I am confident that we can develop a curriculum that will be conducive to creating a vibrant community, one that celebrates differences while acknowledging what brings our students together. I look forward to hearing your ideas and working with you to create a program that represents your classrooms.

Anna DeRosa

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