2016 Education Conference
Victoria is certainly the fore runner in its commitment to raising awareness and support for the learning needs of all children. This year’s Down Syndrome Education Support Service Professional Development Day provided a great opportunity for Alan Wilson, Manager of Disabilities and Additional Needs (Department of Education and Training) to deliver a message of inclusion and support for teachers as they endeavour to broaden their expertise and fulfil their professional responsibilities. All teachers are required to complete twenty hours in disability education this year to attain their Victorian Institute of Teaching registration and many of our attendees on Wednesday are well on their way to achieving that.
Overwhelmingly, attendees have responded positively to the educational insight delivered on the day. The focus of sessions ranged from examining the nature of intellectual disability, exploring effective strategies for accommodating difficulties, developing expressive and receptive language, utilising frameworks to develop learning programs and sharing ideas that contribute to all children feeling a sense of belonging in the mainstream classroom. The highlight of the conference, however, was undoubtedly our “Perspectives” session, held at the end of the day. Successful inclusion of a child with Down syndrome in a mainstream setting requires a respectful relationship between home and the school. The focus must always be on the needs and potential of the child. Hearing three very personal stories from Sally, a teacher, Monica, a parent and Jack, a Year Nine student, allowed the audience to “walk in the shoes” of each, to imagine what it must be like to be “the other” and to contemplate the necessity for understanding, empathy and open communication along the way.
All of our presenters were completely upstaged by the responses of Jack Williamson from Emmaus College and there was not a sign of resentment at all because of this. Jack’s poise, thoughtful considerations and gracious acknowledgement of much loved teachers, reminded us all of the influence we, as educators, can have on changing community attitudes and building better lives for all of the children in our care.
We are indebted to the generosity of all involved on the day: our guest presenters, our attendees, including parents, the Newman’s Own Foundation, the Department of Education and Training and the Down Syndrome Victoria team. Planning is already well underway for 2017!