Man-made specialist islands – the disconnected floating masses that drift around at a school due to the mentality that these classes serve to cover mainstream teachers’ prep times. How do I know about them? I have been on one myself many times throughout my career. Being on one of these islands is a very isolating experience as an educator. Quite often we are left out of professional development provided to mainstream teachers, so we are never quite sure if we are in line with the teaching philosophy of the school. We are unaware of the special learning needs and individualized learning plans that exist, so when these students arrive in our classes, we don’t know how best to support them. Our classes run as stand-alone subjects with no links to what students are learning in their other subject areas. This often means we plan alone and are left out of team collaborations. We are told about special events at a school in the last minute, and need to adapt on the fly. In short, the islands are there, however they are often overlooked.
Is it beneficial for a school to have these man-made floating islands? Absolutely not. Specialists play an integral role in education, and when included and informed they can have a huge impact on student learning. I know this from my time at the Netherlands Inter-community School (NIS) when the Language Framework I developed was implemented. When the islands disappeared, student learning in each class became relevant and interconnected. Because we specialists knew exactly what was happening in the mainstream, we were able to tailor our classes accordingly – what we covered in our classes linked to the other classes. We began joining in on staff collaborative planning and began contributing to International Primary Curriculum (IPC) entry and exit points. We invited mainstream classroom teachers into our classrooms so they could observe how we were connected to them. Information on student learning needs were shared with us so we could better support them in our classes. Slowly the mentality that we were there to cover prep times began to change, and we became equals – the islands disappeared and we were able to become part of the mainland. The result? The rate of student success increased significantly.
How does a school go about removing these man-made islands? The first step is acknowledging the importance of the specialists and designing an inclusive Educational Framework. Once the framework (plan of action) is in place, the next step is designing individualized planners that take into account teachers’ diverse needs, and that link the classes together. Afterwards, timetabling that allows for both collaboration time between specialists and between specialists and mainstream teachers must be ensured. Once all three of these areas are complete, administration needs to begin sharing the new plan of action with staff. The shift in the staff’s mentality will not be immediate, but once the shift occurs, the results are well worth it!