One of the most important things I’ve learned as a teacher is to look for what is missing. From learning spaces. From lessons. From books and conversations. From perspectives. Because sometimes, what is missing is the difference between inclusion, and isolation. Between learning, and not learning. Between being safe, and not.
It’s not always easy to notice what is missing, though. While we may be keenly aware of absences that preclude our own participation in various spaces, we are not naturally aware of barriers that impact others. Of the things, that if they are missing, lock them out …
Text in visually-accessible format.
Enough time to read a passage in a workshop.
An educator or presenter or decision-maker with the same background and experiences we have.
The list goes on …
Yet as teachers, we don’t have any choice but to seek out what is missing, to find those barriers and do our best to eliminate them. To create inclusive spaces so that every student can learn.
So how do we illuminate those insidious absences? We discussed one possible way this fall, at our union local’s Disabilities and Accessibility Issues meeting.
This is the third year I have been a part of this committee. And despite the fact that our days seem to be getting busier by the second in education, the only regret I feel is not joining it sooner in my career. It’s a small group of teachers, all from different schools across our board, all passionate about creating inclusive spaces for students and staff. We meet once a month at the union office and plan support workshops for teachers, information nights, and wellness events. It’s been a rewarding way to meet dedicated educators in our union that I never otherwise would have. This year we have a new goal: assisting a union-led audit of our local’s office and presentation space, to ensure it is accessible to all.
And so it was that a question occurred to me.
As we sat at the first meeting of the year, brainstorming ways our committee could assist with the audit, questions we could ask teachers who attended events at the local, one thought kept running through my mind that seemed to encapsulate all that we were trying to ask:
“Is there anything missing from this space that you need in order to have access to the same information, and the same opportunity to participate, as everyone else in the room?”
Instead of lengthy surveys and questionnaires, perhaps that simple question would be our starting point.
What’s missing for you?
What would it be like, if it were commonplace for everyone to ask that question? After every staff meeting. After every PD session. After every lesson.
How can we include you?
What are we missing?
So this year, we are asking that question. Anonymously of course. But at the end of every union local event at the HWETL office, teachers will have a chance to name what they need from our union’s spaces in order to be included.
Not a bad question to ponder in any profession, in any situation, in my humble opinion.