Thanks to the management of HLC International School, I had the opportunity of attending the conference conducted by CEC (Center for Exceptional Children) along with a colleague. This opportunity came at a time when Mirra was working on ways to take inclusion to the next level and thereby facilitate better learning for all children.

The four days at the conference was held at San Diego, California. The conference was directed at Inclusive Classrooms in schools. It comprised one day of workshop and three days of session strands of one hour durations. We attended 3 workshops and 16 sessions. All of these sessions and workshops were oriented towards facilitating learning in inclusive classrooms – be it teaching methods, helping students build social competence, classroom management, positive behavior management techniques, effective teaching of English, Math, Social Studies and Science, and so on.

“Co-teaching : Beyond the basics”  by Dr. Marilyn Friend  was one of the key workshops that benefitted us. Marilyn Friend, Ph.D., the speaker has spent her career as a general education teacher, special education teacher, teacher educator, and staff developer.

Co-teaching is a blend of different methods of teaching, which enables teachers to be more efficient in reaching out to children of varied needs. It helps them to share their workload and enable students to gain the most from the session being taught. Co-teaching is one of the most effective evidence-based practices used to cater to all children. The knowledge, information and resources that were gained from the workshop are of great help as we are implementing co-teaching in an inclusive school – HLC International – this year. We hope to use this method in at least two schools over the next two years.

How to use “Data-driven methods to build positive behavior support plans” in an inclusive classroom was a workshop that stressed the importance of observations and recordings as basis for understanding the magnitude of support needed and for arriving at strategies to foster pro-work behavior in children who presented educational or behavioural challenges. The key speaker was John Caliso, a special educator and psychologist.  We learnt that such direct observation and data helps to inform accurately the Individualised Educational Plans for children. The student inventory for behavior support (SIBS) offers a model to assess student readiness for the classroom and inform the development of IEPs.

“Friendship 101: Helping Students build social competence” was a workshop that addressed the need to enhance the social competence of students with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities in the school environment. We analysed typical issues that the children face in socializing in the inclusive classroom; described important social targets for children and youth with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and developmental delays (DD); came up with a range of instructional strategies to promote the social competence of these children.

The session on Soft skills elaborated on the top 8 soft skills for workplace readiness. The speaker Mike Schmitz emphasized that soft skills account for 85% success in life while hard skills (academic or technical training) account only for 15%. It is not enough to be highly trained in technical skills – what employers are looking for is interpersonal and relationship building skills that help people to communicate and collaborate effectively.  The top eight soft skills for workplace readiness, namely,  social skills, communication, team work, critical thinking, attitude, planning and organizing, professionalism, media etiquette were discussed. The learning during this session was how important emotional intelligence is and how it is related to soft skills. We are aware that we cannot ever lose sight of this. Therefore we are quite keen on adding to the existing curriculum, components of soft skills that will help all children learn holistically.

Other sessions were related to the teaching of English, math, science and social studies in primary grades – the specifics as well as generalization of concepts were discussed. In summary we feel better empowered to work holistically with the children with special needs in the classroom in a way that they are equipped emotionally as well as skillwise