What if we took the ‘dis’ out of disability?

I often encourage participants in my workshops to forget about what students with disabilities can’t do and focus on what they can. We can use this to approach the learning, get them comfortable and then push a little so the students begin to use what they can do to strengthen what they can’t. What do you think?

Let’s have a look.

Take the term disability. I’ve spent the past eight months asking research participants to describe for me what they think this is – you can articulate what you think it is now…

For me, it’s a negative term – something that gets in the way.

By simply crossing out the ‘DIS’, it becomes a totally different word, ‘ABILITY’.

Why don’t we focus on that for a moment? ABILITY. What can we change, put in place, introduce, or challenge so that we focus on the student’s ability rather than get all twisted up about what they can’t do? How would your planning and delivery of teaching and learning look then? Allow me to introduce Julian. He is a boy in your class, non-funded, presenting with the following ‘disabilities’

Julian – a non-funded student

Let’s just say we changed our thinking and presented Julian’s ‘disabilities’ as ‘ABILITIES’.

What Julian can do

How would planning a differentiated lesson for this class be different if we focused on what they can do?

Take another word – dyslexia. By removing the ‘dys’ we are left with the word LEXIA which has origins from the Greek and Latin and refers to reading. (It’s also a raisin, but that just doesn’t suit me here). *clears throat* If we were to address reading, how could we encourage it to those who have dyslexia? I have a few ideas, you may have others and the more we can share the better it will be, as we know that not all strategies work every time, all the time nor forever and so having a full bag can be rather useful.

Here’s a few of mine:

  • Use sans-serif text where possible, that is – Verdana, Arial or Calibri and left-align the text
  • Use visuals and have the child ‘read’ the picture, you might even record their voice and help them write the words alongside the visual later
  • Use audiobooks – now there are 2 important points I’d like to make here
    • The child should not just be listening to the audiobook, but should also follow the text
    • You don’t have to spend $$$ to buy them – record yourself reading it or have someone else do it for you – parents, imagine if your child was listening to you read it on tape when you weren’t there in person?

Next word – dysgraphia, by dropping the ‘dys’ we are left with GRAPHIA, the process of writing. I have used graph paper successfully with a number of students to help formulate their letters within the spaces and I suspect it would also assist with numbers. We should never comment on how bad a child’s writing is (yes – no matter how bad) as this will only lead to them refusing to write altogether. The way one can improve their writing both aesthetically and content wise is to keep writing, don’t ruin that process, instead try a few different strategies to get encourage them. Use their body to form letters, take photos and have them trace around it – lots of different letters make words, sentences and so it goes. Help them manipulate further with plasticine, writing on the board, or on a wall (put paper up first!) with chalk on the path. I like to challenge them by having them use their ‘other’ hand – it’s fun!

The letter T
image: comicphonics.com

Getting the idea?

Let’s try one more – dyscalculia, difficulty understanding numeracy. If we remove the ‘dys’ we have CALCULIA – obviously closely related to calculus – you get the idea. How can we assist with this? There are many ways we can address it but one of my favourites is more for parents than Maths teachers…  it’s cooking!


Imagine how many things we need to measure, count, estimate, time, weigh and plan? Trust me, the benefits out weigh the mess.

There are many others I haven’t shared but I’ll stop it here and take the opportunity to invite you to add to my list of ‘dys’ words made positive and even better – strategies to enhance them and my ‘dys’ words above. Please take the time to share an idea that might help an educator change the life of a child today.

Thanks for reading 🙂




Time to revisit my #oneword2016

My word for 2016

My word for 2016

How far can #oneword go? It seems that it can travel quite a long way. On January 3rd I decided to get on the bandwagon and wrote a reflection on one word that would describe my journey for 2016. It is now May and time for me to review the journey so far…

My #oneword2016 is further’. I still very much love this word and it has, to date, served me well. There are five areas in my professional life in which I hoped to make progress during the year -to go ‘further’ and so far after 5 months I am really happy with where I’m at.


Writing up my PhD proposal for confirmation

1. The PhD

The PhD is chugging along very nicely. In fact, I have just now received the email I was waiting for, “Jo I have just finished [reading] the final draft and am happy for this to go the panel now.” Of course that now means I am preparing for my confirmation -the 20 minute presentation to an academic panel who will feedback and hopefully give me the green light to go ahead with not too many amendments. I’ll let you know how that goes in a couple of weeks.

The second part of my PhD journey is continuing the #survivephd15 chat on twitter which has now morphed to just #survivephd and happens every first Thursday of each month at 8:30pm AEST. It’s not as fast paced as others but I’m happy to be able to extend the conversations beyond the themed questions. To date I have been following the same topics covered in the MOOC course last year but after next month that will end. So I’ll be looking for ideas from fellow PhDers on themes they would like to chat about. If you’re interested you can have a look at the storify from our last chat on BOREDOM.

2. Me as learner and teacher




Well I did say I wanted to go ‘further’ with this too and while I’m still doing some CRT work, I am also privileged to have a tutorial group of 2nd year pre-service teachers. They are currently on their school placements so won’t be seeing them for two weeks but trust me I have plenty to do, while they are out, marking their assignments. I have really enjoyed these classes watching them grow even in the short space of time, from when they first entered – only a few months ago – but in that time they have accomplished so much from being asked to teach a short session in a local school to getting up in front of their peers and running a half hour teaching session, to now finally completing assessments on reflective practice. I will miss them once the semester is over but hopefully there might be another opportunity in second semester to work again with pre-service teachers. Here’s hoping…

3. My coaching model

“In 2015, I was asked to work with a small team and develop a made to order coaching model for staff.”

Coaches in training

Coaches in training

The coaching model is developing well. We have now completed the initial training for our volunteer coaches and established a group of coachees ready for the pilot program which begins in August. Throughout the training we developed coaching contracts and conducted role plays in coaching conversations. We used multiple sources including AITSL coaching guidelines, GCI (see below), CEM, Group 8 Education, ideas from Instructional Coaching by Jim Knight, and reflections by Chris Munro,  to help develop our very own coaching model. We are also piloting different platforms for coaching conversations to happen including our own twitter hashtag #mlmccoaching, a private Facebook page and a Google classroom platform where we can share resources and give feedback. I intend pushing ‘further’ here and encourage the coaches take part in some coaching chats on twitter, most especially the Australian based #educoachOC.

I also decided that it would be beneficial learning for me in training others that I too follow this lead and signed up with Growth Coaching International (GCI) to learn more abut coaching and am currently in Phase Two working on telecoaching techniques. I am really enjoying reading the resources, making contact with peers and developing my skills. I hope to take this ‘further’ and sign up at the end of the next phase to become a qualified GCI coach!

In the meantime I’m preparing / developing the pilot program for my coaching school. The first two sessions will focus on building trust and relationships, without these there is no coaching success. I’ll keep you posted on our progress.

4. Special needs advocacy

With the announcement by the Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT) earlier this year requiring teachers to attend professional learning specifically to assist and improve their capacity to teach learners with a disability, came many more enquiries from schools. I have also had a sharp hike in attendee numbers for my workshops with Critical Agendas. Last week’s session was over capacity with 47 teachers and support staff attending. Hard work, but I’m so happy that the message it getting out – certainly with a little help this area has gone ‘further’ as I have quite a number of workshops booked with schools across the metropolitan area and will continue my work in spreading the message that everyone deserves to be taught how they learn no matter where they start.

t-shirt logo

t-shirt logo

Continuing in the same vein of ‘special needs’ is the opportunity I have to work with a great bunch of people from the English Connect department and Monash University. I’m in the Peer Support group helping international students with written or spoken academic work. I’m loving this experience and the opportunity to witness our clients improve their grammar and pronunciation skills. I am so privileged to be teaching while at the same time growing as a learner myself, listening to their stories, and meeting lots of new people along the way.

5. Teaching the teacher

To date I have learnt so much already – completing my confirmation paper for my PhD was such a great learning curve and my main supervisor has taught me many new skills, as well as challenging me and supporting me in the process. I can’t wait to move into the next phase with still so much learning to do. My academic writing has improved – I am really chuffed at my skills of ‘crafting’ all my ideas into this paper. I hope I do it justice at the presentation.

The coaching model and training with GCI is something that I cherish and will continue to do so as I complete the training process.

Teaching and learning with my pre-service teachers was a career goal and hopefully I’ll have more opportunities to explore this ‘further’, along with learning at English Connect.

At the end of my post back in January I wrote:

My wish for 2016 is that I can go further but more importantly that as I go so it is that I am not alone, too far ahead or even too far behind. Will you take up the challenge with me? Are you willing to go … further?

Still stands….

Thanks for reading 🙂

How far can one word go? #oneword2016

I joined twitter in December 2012 but didn’t begin using this fabulous learning tool for quite a while. I’m not sure when I first began tweeting as such but I’m going to say that in the last two years of engaging with it I haven’t looked back. This year I began seeing lots of posts regarding #oneword2016 and decided to come on board. I’ve been thinking about it for a while and the very first word that came to mind was MORE. I thought about it wondering why this particular word but then it came to me – it wasn’t ‘more’ I wanted, it was to go further.

“Further” in 2016

I want to go… ‘FURTHER’ this year. It’s not that I haven’t accomplished enough in 2015 but rather, I began many things and now I just want to take them ‘further‘. See? Not ‘more’ but ‘further’; additional to what already exists or has already taken place, been done, or been accounted for..

So, here are my hopes for furthering my professional life 2016 in no particular order:

1. The PhD

In 2015 I changed the direction slightly for my PhD study, mainly methodology related not topic as such. This meant I had to seek out a new main supervisor. I was well supported in this task by the out-going supervisor and have not looked back. My current supervisors are very supportive and don’t pull any punches -they tell it how it is and I really appreciate this. It makes the positives so much more satisfying and funnily enough gets me really motivated to attend to the not so good bits with gusto. This year I’m working towards my confirmation – a 20 min presentation of my proposal and 10,000 word document of the first milestone. Last year I also signed up for The Thesis Whisperer’s MOOC course “How to survive your PhD” via EdX and ANU. It was a great experience and the hashtag lives on with many still posting on twitter and taking part in my monthly tweet chat #survivephd15. This year I can’t wait to get into the actual process of data collection and disrupting the status quo…going further.

2. Me as learner and teacher

I have always enjoyed my time in the classroom with students. When I first resigned my full time leadership position in school I very much missed the students most. I quickly made moves to get back into the classroom while still following my dream of being a full time education consultant. I was told it was a gusty move coming out of school but I’m big on risk taking and learn from my mistakes. I really believe in F-A-I-L being the First Attempt In Learning.

I love learning and teaching and the idea of being a CRT or a short-term contract teacher doesn’t phase me. I work really hard to get to know my students even if it’s only for a short time – from 45 mins to a term or two – it’s worth it and you know you’ve been successful because the students aren’t afraid to tell you so. It makes learning and teaching so worthwhile and so much easier and fulfilling. I will be exploring the possibilities further in 2016 both in schools and in adult education. (Note to self – send emails to daily organisers re: CRT availability in 2016).

Thank you message from a student

Thank you message from a student

3. My coaching model

Last year (it’s weird saying it already) I was asked to work with a small team and develop a made to order coaching model for staff. It was a challenging task but we were determined to come up with something that would tick as many boxes as possible. The proposal was accepted and we are currently in the process of further developing the model. Late last year (there it is again) I facilitated the first of the training sessions for the self-nominated coaches. This year we will be taking it further…Finding out how we work, learning and teaching and developing ‘our’ model using the framework as the foundation.

4. Special needs advocacy

My PhD study is about relationships, collaboration and optimal learning environments. I will be investigating how it works when teachers and learning support officers become the researchers and work collaboratively to meet the needs of students with disabilities. My advocacy stems from my own experience of school and the difficulties of learning a new language. Last year I spent two terms as head of the Special Education unit in a Catholic Secondary college. During my time there I reflected on what I was learning and feeling on this blog. While personally I found it rewarding, I also saw many things that made me mad. My whole purpose for coming out of a full time position in a school was to spread the message that everyone deserves to be taught how they learn no matter where they start. I spend much time travelling to different schools, primary and secondary to facilitate workshops on learning in particular focusing of differentiation and modification and on working with students with disabilities funded and non-funded. My most popular workshop runs regularly through Critical Agendas on “Practical Strategies for Teaching Non-Funded Students with Special Needs.” I would like to spread the message even further this year…

“I believe everyone learns in their own special way, we must endeavour to find what this is and then facilitate the learning using strategies that support these preferences”.

5. Teaching the teacher

This last one is related to all of the above. All teachers must be learners first. My PhD is about me as a learner and how I can go further as such. I want to make a difference. I want to see every student learn and teach at their own pace, in their own time. I want every student to have teachers who really know and understand how they learn and assist each of them in that learning.  As a learner and teacher it is always exciting being in a school, to have the opportunity to work with students and colleagues. I like to assist in making learning ‘fun’, engaging, challenging and to help it last forever. I love running workshops for teachers and to facilitate collaborative structures where teachers learn and teach other teachers. My coaching model is supported by the motto ‘teacher as learner’ first.

My wish for 2016 is that I can go further but more importantly that as I go so it is that I am not alone, too far ahead or even too far behind. Will you take up the challenge with me? Are you willing to go … further?

found on Buzz-inn Community fb page

found on Buzz-inn Community fb page

Thanks for reading 🙂

Gelatophobia – the fear of being laughed at

furrowed brow

Furrowed brow to an Aspie with a love of numbers = 11! Nothing more.


I spent 5 hours in a big room on Friday with about 200 other guests listening to Tony Attwood talk about “Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorders. It felt like 30 mins. He is a very engaging speaker, with lots of wonderful real life stories and anecdotes collected over the last 30 years of working in the industry. Sue Larkey also spoke prior to each session – mostly it was a sales pitch but her introductory comments set the scene and revealed just how she does ‘get’ ASD kids.

I think there are many of us who ‘get’ them too! Part of knowing and understanding these kids is innate. There is a large component – that of empathy – the key to understanding and forming any sort of relationship with an Aspie. I often remind participants in my workshops that we need to walk in their shoes in order to understand where children, ALL children, are coming from. But you know -there’s more to it.

No two ASD kids are the same. There is not one strategy that works everytime. There is however, one thing that Sue Larkey reiterated yesterday that stuck with me. We must teach our ASD kids social skills as this is what will assist their survival out in the big wide world of society’s service industry. At school we often talk about preparing our students for what will come – but really what is that? What is coming? How will we know when it gets here?

campersASD -Aspies are “nature’s natural worriers” (Attwood), they have a different way of thinking that doesn’t include anything social. An Aspie, as Tony explained, is “someone who has found something in life more interesting than socialising.” And so we have to make exceptions.

Aspies don’t know unless you tell them. That said, one of the major challenges for Aspies is auditory processing. To remember means that Aspies have to experience it first hand. So how do we tell them? More importantly, how do they tell us?

One of the activities we were asked to do stands out. Tony asked that we work with a partner -one closed their eyes while the other was shown a slide and then asked to communicate the message without words.

The first was quite simple really, although my partner totally missed it as she put her cup down and had to play Chinese whispers with the lady two seats down from us!!

These are not word for word but the idea remains

I want my green shoes

The second was a little harder

Will you be here tomorrow?

The third even more

Where is my hat?

And last

There’s someone at the door to see you.

Give it a go with someone – it is really quite a difficult task but this is the frustration in communicating that Aspies deal with day in day out, not to mention our own frustrations in not undertsanding and the patience it takes to really get to know them as individuals.

no routine

via Caroline Kee / Via BuzzFeed


via Caroline Kee / Via BuzzFeed

Processing time is an important element and one that causes much anxiety. Aspies need more time to process because they need to process the social, linguistic AND cognitive aspects of the communication. Many mainstream students already have the social and lingusitic skills and only need concentrate on the cognitive. Tony gave a detailed explanation of the functioning amygdala in ASD kids. We are all aware that the amygdala is the fight or flight compartment of the brain. It is connected to the sensory system and in ASDs it is enlarged and hyper-reactive because it doesn’t connect and warn the frontal lobe as in other non ASDs and so it leads to an ‘over-reaction’. On a scale of 1-10, 1 being calm, 10 being melt down, ASDs go immediately to 8 or 9 in these fight or flight situations.

One of my favourite lines of the day was “They are the last to know they are going to cry.” This really resonated with me. Tony explained how Aspies are not consciously aware of their feelings. While we receive signals through facial expressions and body language Aspie are not aware of these signals. This leads us to assume they lack empathy. This is not an accurate assumption as Tony continued…

The 3 forms of empathy are cognitive, emotional and compassionate. Cognitive is to know, to respond, to read signals such as those we take for granted through facial expressions. An Aspie fails to read these and so they get a bad wrap -but these are the same kids who give up their pocket money to help others. The emotional form, to feel, is revealed by our Aspies through their reactions -they react more explosively but don’t know it. Tony compared it a little to a cactus -the prickly exterior that protects the soft subtle insides. He spoke about a heart rate monitor in the form of ‘hip’ wrist watch that can monitor to ensure they see it coming – or at least- we can! The final form of empathy -compassion – the ability to respond and repair when for example someone is crying is revealed through what works for the Aspie in question, not necessarily for the person with the issue. Aspies don’t lack empathy, they just express it in a way that would make sense to them -so for example walking away from a sobing parent is what they would want someone to do for them when they are crying.

They don’t lack empathy -we lack understanding.


Ain Eineziz











There is soooooo much more I could write -but enough for now

Something to watch:

Oh just one more – The real ratio of Aspie boys to girls is 2:1. Girls are diagnosed later because they are much better at coping socially so they fly under the radar. They cope and camouflage through observation and imitation. Diagnosis comes during their teen years.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Beginning what could potentially be an eight year journey…

phd-symbolsLast Wednesday, October 1, 2014 was the official start date for my PhD. Of course it wasn’t the date I started doing research. I have been preparing for this all my life. Actually as I was thinking of a title to head up this latest blog I was catapulted back into Year 6, 1976. I don’t mind revealing my age, you see I’m ecstatic to have reached my 50th year because it marked a milestone and not only because it happened to be the big five o, but because it meant that I made it past 49 which is the age my mother was when she lost her life to bowel cancer. It seems apt that I be starting this PhD in her honour really as she didn’t get the same opportunities I’ve had and that this has become another ‘thing’ I’m going to do for me first, but also for her. This journey is personal.

But back to the Year 6 thing. One of my most vivid memories in Grade 6 was losing a point on a spelling test because I misspelt the word beginning – double g instead of double n – I can still see the paper in front of me. I remember this because it was attached to an emotion – one of feeling helpless but not because I didn’t get full marks but because I had cut my leg quite badly a few days before and had stitches which meant I was unable to get around as well. I never, ever misspelt the word again. I believe that some of the best learning happens when we become emotionally or personally related to what it is we are learning. It has to be relatable or nothing happens – well something does happen actually – we remember long enough to regurgitate for an exam and then it’s gone.

This research is relatable – in fact it relates to a very important part of my memory and attitude to teaching and learning. I do this because I will never forget what it felt like to not understand what other people were talking about. I do it because when I was little I could not communicate with others – well actually no that’s not true. I could communicate but only in Italian. I still don’t understand why that nurse in the hospital did not ‘get’ that I was cold and wanted another blanket. I was five, I spoke italian BUT I also made hand gestures, I had goosebumps – I didn’t understand why she couldn’t just give me another blanket. As a first generation Australian born to migrant parents, I was made to feel stupid simply because I didn’t speak or understand English. I couldn’t read it either but that’s another story.

I am very committed, due to my own experiences, in ensuring all students have every opportunity to learn and that it is our moral obligation to find out how they learn and then facilitate the learning using strategies that support these preferences. Once students have experienced success then it is our duty to extend and challenge them to use a variety of strategies in order to further develop their learning repertoire.

Last year I completed a Post Grad in Educational Research  – in preparation for this PhD. This was a really positive experience and helped cement the idea that I could take this on. I had already made the decision to quit from my full-time teaching and leadership position the year before to take up consultancy full time and so I was definitely up for the challenge. There were 10 of us in that unit with 2 lecturers over seeing the project. I learnt a lot during those sessions over the first six months and then went into the actual research side of things during the second half of the year. My paper that explored the nature of the relationship between teachers and teacher aides (Education Support Staff) focussed on a case study of one very large Catholic co-educational college.

I thoroughly enjoyed the process and spent many hours transcribing and analysing the data I’d collected through one-on-one interviews and focus groups. I’m actually now in the middle of preparing an article with the assistance of my supervisor, in the hope that I can get it published. I kind of meandered onto my blog, I think, as a way of taking a break from the academic side of things and just doing another of the things I really enjoy (besides cooking and scribbling & drawing into my diary) and that which gives me time to think – reflecting on this journey.

My PhD is an extension of the small scale research I described above. My intention is to conduct a much larger study extending it into other Catholic secondary schools across the four Victorian diocese. I also intend to add student voice to this study by conducting interviews with students who have special needs as well as their teachers and education support staff. So if you are reading this and teach in a Catholic secondary school in Victoria yours might be one of the schools I target!

P1090380I’m very much looking forward to getting out into the field and meeting with participants, although that realistically won’t be for some time yet – what with all the hoops we have to jump through first including ethics approval from the university, permission from CECV, all four Catholic Education Offices and the principals of the schools we decide to include. But, I’m still really excited about the prospect. This will be another learning experience for me and I hope that I can contribute something back to the education community that will ultimately enhance the learning journey of all our students. And so it begins…

Thanks for reading 🙂