So, for this blog post, I am going to address one new tool that I’ve implemented as a result of my Kenan experience. Now, I get that I’m a millennial and I should be super tech and social media savvy, but I am NOT, yet (see: ‘Growth Mindset: Grown-Up Edition’ post). I have used Facebook for years to enhance my teaching practice. For example, I belong to ‘groups’ on Facebook that address topics such as flexible seating, National Boards standards, special education curriculum, and growth-mindset. I have collaborated with educators around the nation in an effort to improve the quality of curriculum and content that I deliver to my students. However, before this summer, I have never used Twitter.
Before I dive into how I got a Twitter and how it has had a positive impact on both myself and my students, I want to tell you WHY I didn’t have a Twitter before this point. The thought of short snippets of thoughts constantly being thrown into an atmosphere within the confines of 140 characters made me feel anxious just thinking about it. How would I keep up with the thoughts of others? Would I spend too much time looking at the tweets of others, that I forget to tweet about my own thoughts? How can I express myself in 140 characters? What if my tweets are interpreted the wrong way? How can I create the perfect #hashtag to accurately portray the intended message? So, instead of addressing these concerns, I avoided them. Until June 17th.
At the Summer Institute, I saw how my cohort of Kenan Fellows was using Twitter as a means to collaborate with teachers across the nation to improve their teaching practices- just as I was using Facebook to achieve similar results. So, on June 17th, I created a Twitter account. I was slow to use it at first, but have quickly fallen in love with this social media platform. I use the platform to post pictures of different activities that I do with my students, and to showcase certain events that we take part in. This has allowed for me to bond with teachers at my school who I normally wouldn’t connect with. I use the platform to learn about sporting events, art performances, or class projects that take place at the school that I didn’t know about previously. I use Twitter to explore what other secondary special education teachers are doing in their classroom, in hopes of improving my own practices.
My students are proud to have their school work or other accomplishments displayed on my Twitter. To them, it’s a platform that I use to showcase what we are doing in class. What they don’t realize is how enhanced their lessons are because of Twitter and the help of fellow educators!
Oh yeah, follow me! @MsOlson_NC
As a result of my internship with Cornerstone Building Brands, I have certainly discovered new career pathways for my students. In fact, that is what my entire internship/project is centered upon- ‘Creating and Implementing Inclusive Hiring Practices for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities in Advanced Manufacturing’- to be exact. Before beginning this internship, I knew, based on my experience as a special education teacher with an emphasis on post-secondary transition, that many of my students could be successful in a manufacturing career. Now, it’s important to note that I based that notion solely on my belief that individuals with intellectual disabilities are incredibly capable human beings with a strong desire to succeed in whatever capacity that they find themselves in. Did I know what manufacturing exterior building products such as doors, windows, and insulated metal panels entails? Absolutely not. But I knew that the hardest part of a job process for an individual with a disability is usually securing the job itself. To convince employers of the (proven) benefits of hiring individuals with disabilities is, in my opinion, the toughest obstacle to face. With the support of agencies such as Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) and services such as job coaching and supported employment, individuals with disabilities are successful in a multitude of job categories. This does not mean that every individual with a disability is qualified for a manufacturing job, however. I am simply stating that with the expertise, guidance, and input from the individual, parents, teachers, and job counselors, many individuals with disabilities could find themselves prepared and qualified for a successful career in manufacturing.
Over the summer, I visited four manufacturing plants in three states in order to learn more about manufacturing jobs within Cornerstone Building Brands. Before my visits, I made a list of a few questions that I wanted to ask the plant managers/HR staff in order to learn more about the jobs. These questions included: How many job positions do you have? What obstacles are you facing in terms of recruitment? What are the reasons for involuntary/voluntary terminations? What specific, non-negotiable job requirements do you have for employees? By asking these questions, I was able to gain a better understanding of what the job requirements are and what misconceptions the “outside world” may hold when thinking of manufacturing jobs. For example, I was under the impression that all manufacturing employees had to meet a minimum lifting requirement. However, I found out that some of the plants had either lower lifting requirements, or some positions that did not have lifting requirements at all. All employees had to be able to follow safety procedures and work well within a team. Most of the jobs did not require a high school degree or a GED.
I used this knowledge to create a 49-page proposal for the creation of a ‘Disability Employment Initiative’ that aims to address the employment needs of the company with the employment needs of individuals with disabilities. In addition to this, I learned so much about the VR process, that even for my students who would not find manufacturing as a good career match, I am able to guide them through the VR process of finding a job that IS a good match for them.
Want to know more about Vocational Rehabilitation? Reach out to me!
With a grateful heart,
**This post was intended to be posted in early August, but due to technical difficulties, I’m just now posting it!
Back in April when I received notice that I was going to be a Kenan Fellow, I did not have any idea of how much this experience would change me in a few short months. I am used to being a teacher- I AM a teacher. But what I was neglecting was that I am also a student. I am so used to being the “expert” in the classroom, that I wasn’t taking time to be a student both inside and outside of the school. This Kenan Fellowship has provided me a platform as an expert as I am teaching others at my internship about individuals with intellectual disabilities and how they learn, what supports they may need, and the challenges they face in employment. But this Fellowship has also provided me a platform as a student- a lifelong learner- to immerse myself into content that is so unfamiliar to me that it was (and still is) daunting to face. Before June 25th, I knew close to nothing about manufacturing, recruitment and retention processes, and what ‘ROI’ even stands for. I am guilty of saying “I can’t do this; I don’t know what any of this means!” What I needed to remember was something that I teach my students every day, and that is that having a growth mindset is crucial and necessary for both mental health and academic/vocational success. The statements that I am guilty of saying are valid, as long as the word ‘YET’ added to the end of each phrase. In June, did I know what ROI stood for? Absolutely not- YET. I didn’t know what ROI stood for, yet. I have to practice rewording my phrases so that my students see that someone that they view to be as an “expert,” is using growth-mindset as I navigate the world as a lifelong learner. This was certainly one of my biggest take-aways from this experience.
P.S.- For anyone reading this blog post and, like me, didn’t know what ROI meant, ROI stands for Return on Investment, and hiring individuals with intellectual disabilities has a huge ROI for companies, both large and small. Ask me about it!
Excited for growth,
I have had an incredible experience thus far at Cornerstone Building Brands as a Kenan Fellow! The product that I am working on during this time is a set of guidelines and procedures for creating and implementing inclusive hiring practices for individuals with disabilities (primarily intellectual/developmental) in advanced manufacturing. By the end of my fellowship journey, it is my hope that I have created a proposal that Cornerstone can use to implement a program that will address needs both within their own company as well as the community in which they serve. Additionally, I will take the knowledge that I have gained during this fellowship back into my classroom to better prepare my students for employment in the future.
Over the last 3-4 weeks, I have spent a considerable amount of my time researching employment history and statistics, laws and regulations, the process of vocational rehabilitation, barriers to employment for individuals with disabilities, success stories of companies that have inclusive hiring programs, and so much more. It is truly drinking from a fire hose. There is so much information that I need to gather, that it can sometimes feel overwhelming… but in a good way! I am amazed by how many advocacy groups, individual people, business organizations & lawmakers are committed to improving employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities.
In addition to research, I have gone on site visits to three different manufacturing plants so far, with one more visit to go on next week. These manufacturing sites are potential locations for a pilot program for the ‘Disability Employment Initiative’ that I am outlining in my proposal product. In next week’s blog, I will share more information about the site visits and outline in detail what the proposal includes!
-Challenges: To quote the phrase commonly used during our Summer Institute in June, I am “drinking from a fire house.” In order to create an initial proposal for a program like this, I have had to research an incredible amount of information in a short period of time. With each bit of information that I gather, it leads me to even more information to study and analyze! I oftentimes feel like I am running out of time. In these moments, I remind myself that I am doing the best that I can and that the product that I come up with during this summer will be meaningful. The biggest challenge for me is to remain present, and to not let the stress of creating the perfect ‘product’ take away from enjoying this process.
-Successes: Wow, I feel like this is hard to quantify, because the whole process so far has exceeded what I originally thought I would experience. I have found success in researching and learning about a system, vocational rehabilitation, that directly impacts the students in my classroom. I have spent hours on the phone with vocational rehabilitation representatives in South Carolina, North Carolina & Virginia- they have been wildly helpful in relaying information that is tough to research using the internet alone. Another success is that the site visits to various manufacturing plants have led us (myself & my mentors) to gain more information that we wouldn’t have been able to collect without visiting the sites in person. The plant operators and staff members were receptive to our efforts and we have left every site feeling encouraged and motivated to continue creating the proposal for the program.
More to come next week!
Enjoying the process,
This is my first blog post, ever- so please bear with me! My name is Caroline Olson and I am a 2019-2020 Kenan Fellow. I just completed my 4th year of teaching high school special education in Raleigh, North Carolina. Applying to this program, I was aware that it was geared towards STEM teachers. After I received my acceptance letter, I was super excited but also admittedly nervous, as I anticipated that I would be a ‘fish out of water’ in comparison to the STEM experts that would likely make up this cohort. As I’m nearing the end of our Summer Institute at NCCAT, I am blown away by how diverse this group is and the unique contributions that each of us bring to the table. Each one of us has our own area of expertise, purposefully crafted together to complete a puzzle that makes us stronger together as a Fellows unit. Whether we are specialists in pedagogy, physics, math, biology, literacy, technology, or teaching English as a second language, we are all working towards a common goal of improving the lives of the students in our classrooms. Therefore, the highlight of my week was making connections with fellow educators through cross curricular collaborations. Making connections not only took place in our classroom PD sessions, but also on walks, scavenger hunts, kayak rides, and evening patio PD. My ‘gratitude tank’ is full.
One thing that I plan to implement in my classroom is a scavenger hunt using apps such as GooseChase and iNaturalist. GooseChase would work really well for my students because I am able to differentiate the means by which students submit evidence (photos, text, GPS, videos). This is not only engaging, but meets the learners where they are in terms of reading and writing levels. Including iNaturalist would allow for hands-on instruction in our school environment as well as our local community as we document our “finds” as Citizen Scientists.
This week of PD was very different from other PDs that I have attended in the past. The main reason for this is that all of the presenters (mainly from Steering Committee) have been in our shoes at some point in their career (all Kenan Fellows). Because of this, the enthusiasm and investment on their end was obvious and sustained throughout the entire week. One of my favorite “mantras” reads- ‘Wherever you are, be all there.’ I truly felt like everyone at NCCAT was present every day. This is not the case with other PDs that I have attended. We engaged, laughed, bonded, and learned from one another. I am excited to see where this journey will take all of us!