Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dear Indiana Government Officials and Indiana Educators

If you live in, or anywhere near Indiana you know that there is a raging war of words between our governor and the educators of our state. The governor believes students will be better served by implementing new accountability standards for educators and negating their right to use collective bargaining in contract negotiations. Educators believe the governor's plan sabotages public schools, pours money into ineffective charter school programs and undermines teachers' ability to receive fair contracts. I think I got most of it in this tiny nutshell. If you want the nitty gritty details, trust me, you don't have to try too hard to find them from either side of the issue!

I don't have a solution to make everyone happy. Honestly, in the political arena, there is seldom ANYTHING that makes everyone happy. I am torn myself on the issue and have been researching both viewpoints. I DO know that the way the 'debate' is going now isn't productive for anyone, including taxpayers and students of Indiana. So I have this radical, crazy idea that I'd like Governor Daniels and all the others involved to at least consider.....

How about we start from here on out with some ground rules for the debate:

1.) When entering a meeting with the 'other side', greet each person with "Hello my friend!" Yes, I'm stealing this from my son's special education kindergarten teacher. It's amazing how a friendly greeting can start things off on a good note.

2.) You may only use kind words in your speech bubble. Yet another gem from kindergarten this year! There will be no personal attacks, no name calling, no accusations of wrong without proof.

3.) There will be no shouting over each other to be heard - if you need them, I will provide sets of my turn/your turn signs for the meetings. Remember, the first rule of good communication is LISTEN. That one comes from a super autism consultant's social skills lesson.

4.) Take a break if you need one. It's better to take 5 or 10 minutes to calm down than waste hours having a meltdown. I'd suggest having some sensory tools on the table like fidgets, chewing gum, mints, etc. An overstimulated, overwhelmed debater is a cranky debater ;)

I'm sure you've noticed that all of these rules come from special education classrooms teaching students with autism. Have you also noticed that these rules can, and should, be used ALL the time by everyone? Maybe what Governor Daniels, the state legislators and educators need is a week or two of social skills lessons and kindergarten morning message. Conflict is inevitable on hot button issues, but if I expect my 5 and 11 year old children with autism to play by these rules I think it's reasonable to expect adults debating education reform to follow them as well.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Rock the Boat...Don't Rock the Boat, Baby

Today I participated in a debate, via Facebook comments, about the education reform plan supported by Governor Mitch Daniels here in Indiana. I do not intend on carrying the debate over into my blog, but instead am writing tonight about a comment made while discussing whether the reform would be unfair in how special education staff would be evaluated for merit based pay.

A wonderful friend commented that many parents in our school district are unsatisfied with special education services and how services are provided but things will not change because individuals are not willing to "rock the boat", either themselves or form as a group. Maybe she has a point, but boat rocking comes at a price and in my humble opinion, is to be saved for times when no other acceptable option is available. Not to mention that if you continually rock the boat, you are sure to be thrown overboard by the people who don't want to end up in the water with you ;)

You should know that I am the daughter of a boat capsizer (yes, I just made that word up - it's my blog and I can make up words lol) My mother is a force of nature when she takes on a cause, works to right an injustice or Heaven forbid goes into Mother/Grandmother Bear mode. She took on the Indiana State Board of Education in the 1980's and WON; she physically threw herself across one of her pediatric patients to prevent a procedure until the child's specialist arrived (by the way, the specialist was thrilled she stopped the unnecessary procedure); I had to say to her once, "Mom! I have to come back here - please!" when she was more than ready to beat my OB/GYN over the head with a boat after I developed a severe infection 4 days after giving birth to my first child. So, I come from boat rocking lineage and am pretty darn good at it when needed!

Like I said, I believe rocking the boat should be viewed as a last resort method of getting needed results. My Mom taught me early that 'honey gathers more flies than vinegar' and I know that to be true. Besides, I really am a nice, cooperative person at heart so I would rather have someone choose to work with me because they know we are both trying to achieve the same goal than force and intimidate someone to work with me. Now, if honey doesn't work after sincere efforts, you gotta' be ready and able to makes waves....

My children are all in a good educational environment for them now. I am working with multiple staff members and seeing positive results in all three of my children with IEP's in place. Did I have to rock the boat to get to this point? Heck YES I did! Do I regret the fallout from those actions? NOPE! There are individuals who were friends that aren't any longer, staff that doesn't much like me and I'm quite certain I've been called things other than my God-given name - but my babies are all in healthy, happy learning environments now so I am completely okay with all of those things.

Yes, I can Rock the Boat. But sometimes, it's better for everyone if you Don't Rock the Boat, Baby. My Mama is proud :D