In my first full time job at a school working as a speech pathologist, I learned a new dance. My “dance floor” was a portable building on the campus of a school for kids with moderate to severe disabilities. “Inclusion” was a word that would enter our vocabulary later, and when it did, we’d say, “What is that?” only to be told it was kind of like mainstreaming. We knew that word, but didn’t practice it at this site. Every child in school had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) with specific goals.
I never thought about collaboration as a concept that related to my job. In my first week there, I was invited to go on a field trip with one of the classes. In the coming weeks-turned-to-years, I would be invited to story time and music time and special events. Teachers would come into my room and I would go into theirs. Some parents were active participants, others just showed up for meetings. We danced naturally, each with our own rhythm, but close enough to share the beat.
Fast forward a few years….I was out of the school setting for a while then returned to a school that had a mostly general education population. There were so many teachers going so many directions. It took a while to get my bearings in a place where one teacher thought I was there to tutor kids on their spelling words and another could not be bothered to have a conversation at all and yet another said everyone in her class was fine even when everyone, clearly, was not fine. There were so many others in between along with a scattering of parents who were involved and even attended speech therapy sessions with their child…and others who could not be bothered to attend an IEP meeting because it would take a whole hour “every single year.”
Fast forward again, a few years down the road, and I was in a school on a temp job, having caught the travel bug. My supervisor told me that the teachers want to collaborate and they would want my suggestions. I wasn’t so sure about that, but I agreed to the assignment and found that they did want to work together. I was back in a similar experience to my early years, but now we had names for it. We were collaborating and consulting. Parental involvement was still hit or miss. Some parents jumped in and others, not so much. We all wanted to dance, but it seemed like we’d forgotten how to listen to the music.
If you still have your finger on the fast forward button, it is time to hit it one more time. Stop right about today, or maybe a few weeks back. I thought it would be a good idea to get another master’s degree, this one in the area of autism and developmental disabilities. I thought it would be good to get a formal look at what has changed in the last 25+ years since I got my master’s degree in speech-language pathology. So here I am, learning. And I find myself in a class where I have been assigned a book called Parents and Professionals Partnering for Children with Disabilities: A Dance That Matters.
Part of my assignment is to write a blog entry about what I’ve learned, so here I am, sharing chapter 1.
They’re Playing Our Song
I could have started here. My classmates, assigned to read the blogs of other students, would surely appreciate a shorter bit. My professor surely would enjoy a brief synopsis of what I learned. But the book, so far, has caused me to go all sentimental as I’ve pondered how things have changed. How I have changed. All these years later and I come to one table as a professional and another as the parent of a child with Down syndrome. So many dance partners.
Chapter 1 looks at the way we all come together as professionals and parents. The authors, Janice Fialka, Arlene Feldman, and Karen Mikus talk about how we all come to the table with our own stories–our own “song.” In order to form effective partnerships that benefit the child, we need to listen to the songs of everyone and, as they say, create a new song, one that incorporates the worries and dreams that a parent brings, the perspective and experience we all bring, the goals we set. It becomes a new song. And each song has its own dance.
What does that dance look like? When YOU think of the meaning of the word “dance” what do you see?
Do I Wanna Dance?
Chapter 1 of this book talks a lot about how we all enter this partnership cautiously. For the professionals, we are here because we are excited to apply what we know to help children. Parents may be glad to get help for their child, but it is entirely possible that they’d much rather have missed this dance altogether. Some grieve, some are tired, some are scared because the entire basis of this new relationship is the fact that their child has a disability. The parents didn’t come to the dance because they were hoping for a new experience. They came because their child needs them to be here. Understanding how we came to the dance floor, listening to the music of each partner, helps us to figure out where our figurative feet should go in our first tentative steps.
I love the imagery of this book. Maybe it is because as a professional and as a parent of an amazing son with Down syndrome, I’m now seeing the dance from a different perspective. Maybe it is because as a person who broke a toe in dance class, I’m feeling that even a klutz like me can learn the dance.
If you’re interested in the flavor of the book, there is a great PDF entitled The Dance of Partnership: Why Do My Feet Hurt? which gives some really great food for thought. I’ll be sharing that one at our next staff meeting.
As I was reading today, I also was reminded of this video that I saw recently. In it, a mother shares what it was like to learn that her child has Down syndrome. It is a beautiful story.
Learning the Steps
Parents and Professionals Partnering for Children with Disabilities: A Dance That Matters. has examples and parent stories mixed in along with moments for reflection. I decided to take a slightly different approach to answering the questions that are part of my assignment, but that gave me a very productive time of reflection today.
Dancing…..the word puts a different picture in everyone’s mind. The imagery of parents and professionals coming together, sharing the music of their lives and choreographing a future full of possibilities is a beautiful picture that I plan to keep in mind as I work with families. I would love to know how the dance has worked for you or how you might apply this imagery to working as part of an IFSP or IEP team.
So come on…..bring your music and…..LET’S DANCE!
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