Please tell us a little about your background in education. Why did you decide to become involved in education? What are some of the roles you’ve had and what does your current role involve?
I’ve worked in special education for ten years, predominantly focusing on working with children on the autism spectrum. I was a pipe organist heading into university with a view to be a high school music teacher, but then as I learned more about teaching and the educational contexts I could be working in, I became more enamored with the prospect of primary school teaching as I liked the idea of working with younger children when they were becoming acquainted with a whole new world of concepts and ideas for the first time. I really valued the idea of education as a functional tool, as something to genuinely and effectively provide skills and resources to children that you could actually see them implementing and finding independent success with. Ultimately, this is what lead me to the world of special education, as I wanted to work in a space where this functional focus on skill acquisition was absolutely paramount. I became a bit disenchanted in my early days with the scope and prospect of the mainstream curriculum, I realised that I needed to feel a deep sense of commitment and importance to what I was teaching, and for me this is what I thankfully found in special education – teaching social skills, emotional regulation needs, communication strategies, and engaging students in academic pursuits with the sort of creative, flexible and inspired approaches than I felt I could render more fully within the special education paradigm. As I go on, I realise just what an increasingly fascinating dialogue the special education and mainstream education systems have with each other, pushing and pulling into each other and constantly challenging our ideas of universal design and inclusion.
I work as deputy principal for the Aspect Hunter School, part of Autism Spectrum Australia. We are based in Newcastle and have around 126 students at our school. As well as my work in the school, I also coordinate educational outreach projects where we work in collaboration with other schools to help develop and implement autism pedagogy practice, positive behaviour support and universal design. I am a PhD student at the University of Newcastle, an Apple Distinguished Educator, and an Accessibility Ambassador. I have had the opportunity to deliver speaking tours overseas, visiting teacher roles, and in December of 2016 I was invited to speak in Shanghai at the United Nations, discussing technology, autism pedagogy and accessibility. I also author free educational content for educators and families, including the iBook ‘Minecraft in your Classroom’, iTunes U course ‘Explore Everything with Pokemon Go’, and many more that you can find at my website www.autismpedagogy.com
Who or what keeps you inspired and motivated in your work?
I feel an immense sense of responsibility to work fervently in collaboration with everybody towards the goal of helping us get better and better at reaching all learners. I am fascinated with the potential of implementation science at helping us turn student goals into tangible realities, of frameworks like lesson study to help teachers teach each other about teaching, of innovative ways to connect families and schools in order to establish more successful working relationships, and of the immense role that technology is playing in accessibility and helping us to articulate universal designs for learning.
What do you see as some of the biggest rewards and challenges for people working in education today?
I find the biggest rewards for people working in education today is the opportunity to observe the impact of our work in more immediate terms than perhaps ever before. I love seeing our students take a special interest they have and work with us to further develop their skill in the area of their special interest in a way that has been able to yield some fantastic life opportunities. Those moments when you see the quality of life of a student increase as a result of the hard work everybody is putting in is absolutely magical. This is also one of the biggest challenges for people working in education today, to be able to take the time to realise every student’s potential, to diagnose the best way of fostering this potential, and implementing the result, within the confines of a system that at times is not necessarily geared towards the personalisation of this process.
If you had the ability to make changes to the education system in Australia, what would you do?
I would provide one of Schopenhauer’s telescopes to all educators and policy makers, giving us all the opportunity to project ourselves two hundred years into the future while we reverse the scope and look back at our current situation with the hindsight of time. I think about so many children who find it so hard to find success in our 2016 mainstream and special education classrooms, and I think about two hundred years into the future and what the schools might look like then: one hour in the classroom perhaps, three hours working with a community mentor, two hours of functional therapy, more time with family perhaps, more time being children, more time to move into an inspiring future.
What role do you see EduTweetOz playing on the education scene in Australia and what are your hopes for the account this week?
I feel that EduTweetOz provides a valuable opportunity to keep the momentum of dialogue going week to week between all tweeting teachers in Australia. We all need to keep talking, keep thinking, keep identifying needs and conjuring solutions, and initiatives like EduTweetOz I feel are helping work towards this. For my week with the account, I am eager to share a side of education that reflects more of the functional, social skill, emotional regulation, communication, special interest driven approach we take in and out of the classroom. I am eager to share ways in which we celebrate the different brilliance of all students. I am eager to hear and share on the dialogues engaged between my other tweeting teacher colleagues all across Australia and the world.
Connect with Craig via twitter @wrenasmir