Mastering Inclusive Education

17 June 2022

When Vocal teacher and Junior School Inclusive Education teacher, Mrs Simone Martin, enrolled in a Master’s Degree, she quickly understood that what she would learn would be helpful to all students, harmful for none but crucial for some. This realisation helped make three years of part-time study meaningful and immediately valuable.

Having reached the milestone of her second and youngest child commencing school, Simone finally felt she had more time and headspace to undertake formal learning.

“I chose to study Special and Inclusive Education to complement the work I was doing in the Senior School and because I knew it would offer broad opportunities in the future.

“My mother worked for many years as a Special Education teacher, so I had some exposure to the challenges – but mostly rewards – of working with children who require additional learning support. I also noticed the neurodiversity in my music students, and I wanted to better recognise behaviour and have supportive strategies.

“To fit in with other commitments, I wanted to study entirely online, so I chose the University of Newcastle, which was excellent,” Simone said.

The Masters in Special and Inclusive Education consisted of eight units of study, which included topics such as; strategic leadership; challenging behaviour and the study of a range of evidence-based programs that can be applied to address different learning difficulties. Simone graduated with First Class Honours and uses some of the programmes she studied with her students in Prep to Year 2 at Girton.

“I learned about the MultiLit programme during my university coursework. We use this in the Junior School, so it was fantastic to learn about the efficacy of programmes that I was simultaneously implementing every day at Girton.

“Another not so happy coincidence is that I was learning to use Zoom to undertake my studies when remote learning also became a part of my daily working life thanks to the COVID-19 lockdowns.”

Simone said that having not undertaken formal study for many years, she was uncertain about her capacity for formal learning, especially while working and raising a family, but she quickly felt her confidence return.

“It is so interesting to return to study and to be doing what we ask of our students every day.

“I gained an appreciation of two valuable things related to study techniques that I now share with students, especially those in the Senior School.

“Firstly, my studies reminded me of the importance of working backwards. The best place to start with a unit of content is with the criteria against which your work will be assessed. Understanding what examiners are looking for is a valuable use of study time that keeps effort focused and relevant.

“The second thing I learned was to use assessment results to change things up. Every assessment is a learning opportunity, and if you don’t achieve the outcome you expected, you need to understand why, ask questions, and use the results to guide future efforts.

The acronym “PAW”, grounded in the Australian Disability Standards for Education, is something that resonated with Simone and provides a lens through which much of her Junior School work is focussed.

“PAW” is a reminder that children need to be able to Participate, Achieve and Work towards independence.

“These things apply to all children, but those with disabilities need accommodations to achieve these three critical things,” she said.

Some of the more surprising things about the Master’s degree that Simone completed include the networking opportunities that are possible, even through an online course. The participants in Simone’s cohort were from all over Australia and overseas, and she now has several professional contacts she can call on. She also found the amount of information now available at the click of a button greatly assisted her studies.

Simone encourages teachers to undertake some form of formal study to open professional and personal pathways and opportunities.

“I would highly recommend people go and do some more study. It is a terrific way to nurture ideas, to talk with experts, and to immerse yourself in the latest research. Once you gain momentum, it’s incredibly satisfying.

“I can also recommend doing study that is complementary to what you are already doing – something that will inform how you work and stimulate change.

“Next for me might just be a PhD that combines music and early literacy – there is a lot of research at the moment regarding the similar pathways in the brain, Simone postulates.