This past week Pauline Hanson’s comments about young people with autism in schools have provoked a range of responses. Once again her perspective is derived from a lack of understanding and fuels divisive and fearful rhetoric in our community when we should be looking for holistic and inclusive approaches to respond to the inequities in schools.
I feel that it would be iniquitous of me not to comment on the richness and value I have gained as an educator and a human for having worked with young people on the autism spectrum. So here are three of the lessons I have learned and the value I have gained from having young people with autism in my life.
The world is not vanilla!
The details in everyday objects can be overlooked by the ‘average’ person, but a young person with autism can help you to see the detail, the nuance and the magic of the simplest things. Whether it be the way it feels on your skin, how it sounds, how it tastes or the details in its pattern or colour.
Time is a construct
When you are truly in the moment, don’t splinter it to fit into a schedule. Be in that moment, because that’s when ‘vanilla’ turns to a rainbow tapestry.
Understanding is priceless
The moment a child with autism knows that you are committed to understanding what they are trying to say or express, stays with you. It made me realise that it is the most valuable gift we can give anyone. Taking time to understand another person is where caring cultivates. Being open to explore a different perspective can be the most valuable gift you can give to a young person, sometimes it just takes longer with some than others.
So if your life has been enriched by the inclusion of diversity, be sure to celebrate it openly in some way this week. If you are a teacher of young people with autism, please take the time this week to let that young person know they are wanted and valued or share a positive story with their parents. This week they need our solidarity to ensure that the words of an ill-informed Senator do not sit within them.
Needs-based funding is critical
This past month has been a busy one as the school year came to a close. It is always a time for reflection and review, but more so this year with a whole range of new leadership opportunities arising in our school and the reality of some revered and inspiring leaders exiting stage left. This has meant an opportunity for personal reflection and formal and informal conversations with a range of people both at the beginning and the end of their school leadership journey.
One consistent aspect of both these groups of people, is that they did not wait for the title to demonstrate their professionalism, their passion, and their unwavering and uncompromising commitment to improvement. Instead they acted upon it daily.
Lesson learnt…. if you aspire to be a Lead Teacher, Coordinator, Senior Leader, Deputy, Principal or beyond….. don’t wait, start operating like one; speak up, support, encourage, challenge and advocate, dress and commit like one on a daily basis.
A special shout out to a unique individual, an inspiring woman, who retires from her official education role, but whom I know will still support the development of others for a long time to come. She has tolerated my constant challenging and questioning and still nurtured and supported me, especially in recent times.
“A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader, a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves”
~ Eleanor Roosevelt
I really revere this approach to leadership where the focus is on developing others not just producing a positive outcome. Working in teams it is essential that everyone is improving and contributing in positive ways and this will only occur if the focus is on developing every element of the team not just isolated members, or yourself.
I have spent a great deal of time and effort trying to ensure that those around me have confidence in my leadership; endeavouring to lead by example, sustain a high work ethic, be reliable and trustworthy, enthusiastic and positive and communicate effectively.
Whilst these are all what I would consider effective leadership qualities, I have to remind myself that my energies should also be spent on inspiring others to see their own value.
I have always found perception an intriguing phenomenon. It probably stems from my studies in social anthropology at Uni but also as I get older, I reflect on how I viewed the world as a young person. We of course construct our own experience through how we interact and perceive the world, without getting too deep the reason I raise this is that just recently, a colleague gave me an enormous compliment and then continued to identify themselves as less adequate. This caught me by surprise, as I in fact hold them in very high esteem. It reminded me immediately of the quote from E.Roosevelt above, and impelled me to remind this particular individual of all the inspiring initiatives they had led and the challenges they had overcome. Sometimes we all need a champion to remind us of our successes. I need to make sure I do it more often.
We live our lives in the company of others and that is where our legacy will be left; in their hearts and minds. It is the nature and quality of the relationships we build that will determine if our legacy, whether it be in a school or beyond, is long lasting or fleeting. This year I have had many opportunities to work with different groups of students and staff, and it has made it more apparent that we cannot underestimate the value of an interaction, large or small.
Gratitude is such an important sentiment and one which the end of a year can bring to the forefront as we reflect on a year passing. Something I intend to make a genuine commitment to in the new year is ensuring I don’t pass up on chances to let others know they are appreciated, or that they matter.
We can be swept away in the busyness of school and miss opportunities for simple acknowledgements or appreciation. I hope to be more conscious of these opportunities and not let them pass me by. I know this will lead to deeper more meaningful connections with our kids, their families and staff.