Launch parties. Whether you’ve been to one for the free nibbles, time off work, or to socialise with like-minded people within your industry, they’re a lot of fun. And ours was just that! On Tuesday, 31st July, the Teachers’ Toolkit launch was held at Bayside College in Williamstown, with our guests including educators, speech pathologists, students with communication support needs (CSN) and their families, and representatives from advocacy and disability organisations as well as the Victorian Department of Education.
The first part of the launch featured speeches from Bayside College principal Nolene Symons (and two of her wonderful students with a welcome to country), our very own CEO Jan Ashford, The Honourable Wade Noonan (State Member for Williamstown), Tim Chan (a former student with CSN) as well as Monique Sweetland (our project Team Leader).
First up – Nolene Symons
Nolene kicked off the morning with a lovely introduction about schools focusing on a “more inclusive approach and valuing participation”. She recognises that “it hasn’t always been an easy road for schools”, and that there has been a struggle to shift into the mindset of having individualised goals and actions plans for students with additional needs – “it has been a huge learning curve for us all”. Nolene made it clear that teachers and schools haven’t always had access to the resources they need – and often seek information online, through consultants and specialists, but the best resource of all were parents! After all, parents know their kids best, especially when it comes to the specific needs of children with communication support needs and learning disabilities. She noted that in the last year or so, the Victorian Department of Education has committed to the “development of resources to ensure we are able to offer an inclusive education for all students”. Nolene concluded on a positive note, that “teachers are building their capacity, sometimes slowly, but building their capacity to address the needs of all students in their classes.”
We’re so glad that the Teachers’ Toolkit will be a much-used free teacher resource for the staff at Bayside College!
Second speaker – Jan Ashford
When we think back to why this free teacher tool was created, there’s no better person to ask than our very own CEO, Jan Ashford. A passionate advocate for people with little or no speech, Jan has led the Communication Rights Team for over 30 years! Second to speak at our launch, Jan explains: “we [Communication Rights Australia] would receive potentially 40 cases each year where parents would arrive and in crisis trying to deal with the gap with what’s happening with their child and what was happening in the [education] environment. Parents were exhausted, students were withdrawing from school both emotionally and physically. They felt unwanted and undervalued. Teachers were exasperated with not having the skills necessary nor the tools required to assist these students. And the leadership team was trying to keep a lid on everything to keep everything under control. The government was aware of the issues and trying to deal with it the best way they could. So it was with great excitement that we were funded to develop this toolkit.”
According to the ABS, one in twelve children who attend school have a disability. Students with disabilities have equal rights to equal education in Australia, and that’s why Jan wants to send a message to all schools that “an inclusive culture and attitude within any school must be the responsibility of the principal….only then will true inclusion fly right down to the school, students, teachers. There has to be a strong commitment and attitude about inclusion of all students”. We couldn’t agree more, Jan!
Next, memorable stories by The Honourable Wade Noonan, State Member for Williamstown
We also had the pleasure of the attendance of The Honourable Wade Noonan, State Member for Williamstown, another advocate for inclusive education who told us a few stories about how he has been humbled by personally witnessing inclusive classrooms at the grassroots level. He says of inclusive education “it can really transform lives but it takes a serious commitment”. He also referred to inclusive education as something that government representatives such as himself, have a collective responsibility for: that’s “what our quest is, what our mission is in relation to education”. The Hon. Wade Noonan also shared with us a personal story which illustrated his deep understanding of, and empathy for, children and families of those with little or no speech; and understands the huge impact that this online teacher resource can have on schools, teachers, parents and of course students with communication support needs themselves.
An enlightening speech by Tim Chan
We were fortunate enough to have Tim Chan make a very personal speech for us. Tim is a young man with communication support needs, and a former student at a Melbourne high school where he unfortunately did not receive the support he required. These days, Tim is a great advocate for people with complex communication needs, regularly giving speeches about his experiences with education, AAC, and how his learnings can hopefully provide a better, more supportive environment for young children with communication support needs. Using his Lightwriter device, this is what Tim had to say: “people without speech have a hard time being understood and accepted. As a student I felt isolated like an outcast. But with a means of communication…..I become a person with a voice…The Teachers’ toolkit is a great resource for bringing communication to students like me. Thanks for making this a reality.” Thanks Tim, your speech was great and we hope this reaches other students and families and no doubt this will make a difference to other families’ lives!
Last but certainly not least, our very own Monique!
The launch concluded with our lovely project leader, Monique, saying a few words about what we hope the toolkit achieves as a “one stop shop” for teachers seeking classroom resources. Monique spoke about the gap in understanding and information between families and teachers, and hopes this resource will provide that much needed bridge for students with communication disabilities. Monique has been an integral part of guiding the design and creating the content for the toolkit – from inception to launch – and her idea for an interactive Teacher’s Checklist is already proving to be popular with teachers!
Toolkit Tour and mingling
Even though we had some minor tech-issues over at the Toolkit Tour station – we managed to answer some questions and meet some very wonderful people that want to spread the word about the Teachers’ Toolkit – even internationally! We can’t complain about that!
If you joined us for the launch – we thank you SO much for your time and support. Please know that it is appreciated and valued immensely. We are all working collectively to provide the much needed assistance to teachers – so they can best support their students with communication support needs.
We’d love for you to stay in touch so we can go on this wonderful journey together – you can sign up for our e-newsletter right here. We’d love it if you would share this blog with people you know, and help us spread the word to teachers, parents, allied health professionals, the disability sector, and people with communication support needs! Thank you
Sandra @ Communication Rights Australia