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Meeting the Needs of All Students with Grace and Dignity

Thursday, February 09, 2017 by Beth Dunlap, M.Ed.

Meeting the Needs of All Students with Grace and Dignity Beth Dunlap

Are you looking for the skills to inclusively serve ALL students in your classroom?

Have you thought about whether to apply to the Program for Inclusive Education (PIE), but are concerned about managing your time?

Consider this encouragement from Beth Dunlap, M.Ed., a colleague who juggled with grace the many constraints of teaching, life, and graduate work in order to have a profound impact on the lives of her students.

Many thanks to Beth for this contribution, and for her commitment to celebrate the God-given potential of all students. 

In the fall of 2011, I was teaching fourth grade at St. Margaret of Scotland School in one of St. Louis’ most diverse South City parishes. Two years out of ACE and with four years of teaching experience, I was starting to “kind of, sort of,” feel like I had a grasp on this whole teaching thing. Lesson planning took a couple of hours on Sunday morning instead of the entire weekend. I had a clear and consistent classroom management plan instead of one that changed every two weeks in order to put out the latest fire. I was more confident talking to parents and administrators about what I was teaching, how I was teaching it, and why it was working.

Most importantly, I was finally in a place where I could get to know my students, both as people and as learners. In doing so, I found that a number of my students had needs that I didn’t quite know how to meet. This population of students clearly struggled either academically or behaviorally—often both, and I wanted to do more for them. This desire to become better prepared to teach all students led me to apply to ACE’s programming on inclusive practice, which today is known as the Program for Inclusive Education (PIE).

"I found that a number of my students had needs that I didn’t quite know how to meet."

I knew that I wanted to learn how to better serve students with exceptionalities, but I was concerned about how I was going to balance the program’s workload with all of the other school and life responsibilities that I had. Was spending two weeks in the middle of the summer on Notre Dame’s campus realistic? Would the courses and professors’ expectations be too demanding of my time? How would the coursework affect my teaching? When I was accepted to the program, I felt called to take on the challenge, despite those questions weighing on my mind.

When participating during the school year in the distance-learning portion of the program, I felt confident taking on all that was asked of me. The courses were designed in a way that allowed me to weave assignments into both my school and classroom. Whether leading a professional development session for my faculty, collecting student data, or implementing an intervention plan, I was able to do so at my school. The coursework enhanced my teaching, as it introduced me to the various diverse learning needs of my students and the best practices for helping students cope with them. I tried to set aside a couple of hours two days a week to complete my readings and assignments. Professors were supportive, flexible, and in regular communication with me.

"I realized that teaching students with individual needs is really just good teaching for all students."

I gained a better understanding of the program’s purpose and mission during the two week summer session at Notre Dame as we learned how to systematically assess student needs and develop intervention plans. Learning about various resources across all disciplines helped me put supports in place for students who struggled the most. It also helped to break down the intimidating idea of teaching students with diagnosed learning disabilities. I realized that teaching students with individual needs is really just good teaching for all students.

The program also helped me make connections with classmates and professors who I would interact with for years to come. As is always the case when I return to Notre Dame’s campus in the summer, I was surrounded by the passion and energy that is ACE, and I knew that God had yet again led me exactly where I was meant to be. The time allowed for learning, fellowship, and prayer renewed me in a way that only ACE summer can.  

It was important for me throughout my time in the program to keep the mission in mind—one that has been enhanced by the Program for Inclusive Education: “To ensure students’ full embrace of their God-given potential through teacher and leader professional development, strategic engagement with dioceses and schools, and the preparation of educators ensuring success for all learners regardless of academic, behavioral, social, emotional, or physical need.” In doing so, I was able to better appreciate each of my students, to celebrate them and their diversity.

You too, can have Beth’s experience, reap its blessings, and serve all your students inclusively. So, set your concerns aside…it is the “right time” to join PIE in its first cohort and welcome, serve, and celebrate all students.