This year I attended the ECIA NSW/ACT Inclusion Symposium Engage & connect. Inclusion for all children with developmental delay and disability, and was inspired by the speakers who shared their research, stories, and experiences with inclusion in early childhood settings. Mary Louise Hemmeter, Professor of Special Education at Vanderbilt University, spoke about the importance of early childhood educators receiving more support in order to successfully provide inclusive spaces. This resonated with me as a teacher in an already very well-resourced preschool setting with experienced and qualified educators. Supporting children with disabilities and challenging behaviour – diagnosed or often undiagnosed (as Mary Louise pointed out), is probably the hardest thing we do. I believe we do a great job, however it isn’t easy, and my big take-away from the Inclusion Symposium is that we need to look at ways of gaining more support from early childhood intervention professionals, do some training, and look after ourselves a bit better.
The symposium also led me to reflect on the significance of my work with children and families with disability and other additional needs. The most inspiring and meaningful relationships and rewarding aspects of my career have been as a result of working towards inclusive practice.
When we strive to be truly inclusive we:
- Open our hearts to the possibilities of unique, intense, and powerful relationships with both children and families.
- Broaden our experience and understanding of what it means to be human.
- Experience moments of sheer joy as well as real pain as we watch children grow, learn, achieve, and face challenges along the way.
- Are continually challenged intellectually and emotionally in our role as educators – it is never boring!
- Have the honour and responsibility of supporting and advocating for children and families as they move through the education system.
Most importantly we learn about love and compassion as each day we are asked by children to love them – not for who we or society might like, hope, or expect them to be, but for who they are right here and right now.
Vanna Lockwood is currently Educational Leader at St Peters Community Preschool. Vanna has over 25 years experience in the early childhood field – as a teacher in long day care; as an adult educator – at Macquarie University Institute of Early Childhood, and at TAFE – teaching early childhood education students and practicum supervising; as a child care worker supporting inclusion for children with additional needs and as a consultant speaking to families and educators about relaxation for children and spirituality. Vanna contributed to the ECIA NSW/ACT One family’s Story of Transition to School video project .
To watch the videos of all the presentations at the ECIA NSW/ACT Inclusion Symposium Engage & connect. Inclusion for all children with developmental delay and disability, follow the link to the playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLUc2bepJgzdrVER6WJRM-KfTT_7qvgnKq