About smcneil2013

Born in a small town and trained to survive in any circumstance my definition of self became a cumulation of the people I met, places I've been, the challenges I've overcome, the mistakes that taught me and things I have seen. I am a product of life, young but with an old soul, change is my addiction and growth my sustenance. I have an international law and human rights degree and I am teaching children with special needs, today i'm a sister, a daughter,a friend, tomorrow I will be the reason of positive change in my continent.

THRASS-Teaching Handwriting, Reading and Spelling Skills

I have always been of the belief that Professional Development is first the responsibility of an individual and then an organizational investment. Over the years I have invested in my ponderings to sharpen my skills in special education and to analyze my current practices. In an environment such as this one where finances stand in the way of needed development one has to be opportunistic and create an environment where one can grow regardless.

So recently, I embarked on training in a decoding program that has been part of community development efforts in Zimbabwean local schools for a few years now. My goal was to see what strategies are being used in the community and evaluate the strategies I currently use. It was nice to have discussions with other educators outside of the “IB world” and I found the same issues discussed in international communities of which I am part of, such as the ECIS, My IB and the online course forum Coursera, relating to decoding have the same strands. Perhaps with different names and pronunciations the same rules apply across the board.

Decoding has always been an area of great interest to me as it is one of the most essential tools and skills needed by children and especially children with Learning Challenges, more specifically Dyslexia. The part that stuck out to me the most was the use of rhyme and rhythm in decoding and breaking up word sounds, I know a few students that will enjoy this particularly. I had been thinking of new ways, particularly multisensory methods to teach phonemic awareness, decoding readiness skills such as breaking words into syllables, graphemes, diagraphes, trigraphs, quadgraphs etc. The introduction of spelling rules also allows for the growth of vocabulary and this area will be beneficial to my EAL students. I plan on using the multi-sensory elements of this program to liven up my phonics lessons and am hopeful this will be an exciting improvement.

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Introverted-“Loud in here quiet out there.”

Being introverted is a misunderstood disposition which I find brings many challenges and triumphs in my life and career. The need to create a tranquil space where I can think or hear my thoughts is something I crave to do even subconsciously. This has been labelled as me lacking in interpersonal skills by colleagues, being viewed as proud and distant in groups. As an introvert this kind of judgement or misunderstanding may throw us into a frenzy of research into Emotional Intelligence Theories and self help quests. The worst thing you can do is tell us the problems we have, we think and overthink about them until we burn out or find a solution. For me, to change would be to deny self and I don’t know any other way to be.

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In classrooms I empathize with the introverted child, who always seems to be misunderstood for needing space.

As an artist and performer, I have been accused of being an extrovert but as introverts do, we learn to play that card to survive and not appear stand-offish. My thoughts consume me so much that I may appear detached from the going-ons around me especially when I lack the interest to engage, but on the contrary I am deeply thinking through or past the point of engagement.

In a meeting,one class teacher proclaimed that this academic year he would like to challenge “Joe” to be more social and he is going to place him in many groups for collaboration. As much as collaboration has its place in the educational experience, the thoughts that introverts could be stifled or lost in the chatter. And usually I have found that working in collaboration with colleagues on projects can be exhausting as the chatterboxes usually leave things for the last minute or do not commit to the end and furthermore talk about the process instead of getting on with it.

Joe, whom I teach, has learning challenges and the most brilliant ideas and creativity. He writes fiction short stories at his own will and during his free time although being told he lacks the ability to concentrate on one thing at a time. He has trained himself to master the art of channeling his thoughts and creations onto paper regardless of his dyslexia.

One afternoon Joe looked at me and said “I’m just tired of hearing people talk and them getting in my space, I cant think.” I remember feeling the same way just moments before. To be introverted is difficult in such an extremely extroverted world you almost have to fight to be yourself and moments of extroversion make you feel exhausted at the end of day.

The best parts about myself are due to my introverted nature, the deep thoughtfulness I put into everything, the unfailing endurance I daily apply to my commitments and goals, the ability to be reflective about all aspects of myself and the constant reminder of my purpose and vision..As an educator I ensure my classroom reflects the possibility to nurture all natures.

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The freedom to see the world and experience life the way I was intended to..

Flow- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990, p. 3)- Pursuit of Happiness

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As I ponder on the Theory of Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, its application to education and life in general, it is a refreshing challenge with many layers to it. It’s the belief that happiness is found when one is pushed beyond comfort, this kind of happiness is prepared for and cultivated by setting challenges for one’s self. Contrary to our belief that a a life of no resistance or challenge is ideal, we can all attest that these hard places mold us into better people. As cliche as it sounds.. its a bitter truth. I have seen this scenario play out with my students. Flow is when they encounter a dreaded story that they may have attempted to read but without adequate preparation (vocabulary, language, spelling pattern fluency). As one can imagine the knock in confidence experienced by the student and even anxiety developed from this experience. One day,  finally looking at the dreaded story again, after a period of preparation, the students is able to read it with ease and fluency. This is that sweet moment of flow, that peak moment..well, until another challenge is posed. It is characterized by the the removal of the interference of the mind (emotions).

“Consciousness and emotion are there to correct your trajectory; when what you are doing is seamlessly perfect, you don’t need them (Csikszentmihalyi, 2002, p. 116).”

The Theory outlines that when one is in Flow:

  • Completely involved ( focused and concentrating) on a creative activity, nothing else seems to matter
  • Gives a sense of ecstasy
  • Balance of skill and challenge
  • Inner clarity
  • Knowing the activity/task is possible (no worry of failure)
  • Serenity
  • Timelessness
  • Intrinsic motivation

I have just scratched the surface for the purpose of provocation, but this theory resonates strongly within, due to an innate belief in our need for challenge even though faced reluctantly.

All the world’s a stage!!

 

I will always exist on a stage..

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My career as an actress has been a whole lifetime of experiences I will never forget. In nostalgia I reminisce about the beauty and art of acting. I remember once crying at the end of a performance because at some stage the differentiation between the character and myself was nonexistent, the applause forced the annulment of this union. As a creative, I am passionate and there are no half measures given.. I remember strings of script lines I learnt, the stale smell of wooden stage flooring and musky costume pieces from various eras (the worst looking were always the best!), oh the rush and relief!

Productions I have been part of..

QueenyNongogo Athol Fugard (Best Actress Award/Cup)-2007

Mrs MalapropThe Rivals R.B Sheridan (Best Actress Award/Cup and Best Comic Play Cup-Allied Arts Zimbabwe)- 2006

Lady Bracknell- The Importance of Being Earnest- Oscar Wilde (Best Actress Award/Cup) 2008

ReaganKing Lear– Shakespeare Festival- 2008

CassyThe Beachboys Musical– REPS Production- 2009

 

 

Elephant’s Child Musical

This past month I had the pleasure of presenting my fantastic drama groups’ production on the Elephant’s Child by Rudyard Kipling. As an actress myself most of my childhood and high school memories were tied to the plays I performed in. I remember growing from being an elephant in an African tale, Mary in a Christmas play in primary school to playing Reagan in Shakespeare’s King Lear, Queeny in Athol Fuguard’s Township Plays, Mrs Malaprop in the Rivals by Richard Sheridan and Lady Bracknell in the Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. These performances took our cast to the HIFA festival in 2007 and we performed at Reps theater too. As the purpose of my blog is to keep a professional log on the things I do I suppose a post about my acting career is warranted…

The beauty of being an educator is discovering the many abilities that lie within each child, the best part is when they evolve from self doubt to rising above their limitations and setting new challenges for themselves. That to me is a natural part of our existence and what life really is about. This play was definitely a test of endurance for the children and myself and they definitely swam!

The importance of dramatic arts and performance hold very close to my heart and as an educator my hope is to continue to provide all children with the opportunity to explore the world of the stage!

 

Community Awareness

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The past few months have been drenched with rain in Harare due to our ongoing rainy season. This has yielded good crops for us as a country and for me, unexpected opportunities of advocacy and awareness in the field of Special Needs Education. All good things have their limitations and many articles in the local paper show flooded areas where homes have been destroyed and students in dilapidated classrooms sitting in puddles of brown water inspite of the rain. The resilience of a hungry mind cannot be fathomed. As one of my students put it..

..”How can i give up? I started reading Fat Cat and now I’m reading chapter books from the library, by myself”.

 

I believe education is the awakening of one’s soul to the endless possibilities we can create for ourselves.

Those excluded from education are robbed of the possibility, no one should be left out. It is still apparent in the community that Inclusion of people with disabilities is still an ongoing reformation, the policies, laws and constitution only scratch the surface of the needs of people with disabilities. The issues that prevail are the inaccessibility of the curriculum, school infrastructures, inadequate provision, trained personnel, just to mention a few. A social paradigm shift is also a deep need as communities still view people with disabilities as incapable. At traffic lights the norm is to see a blind individual begging for money, or a person with physical disabilities lay on the street sides helplessly asking for alms. Intellectual disabilities are feared and these children mostly stay at home until adulthood.

There is indeed lots of work to do on the ground and a change in perception of disabilities in our communities. This month I was invited to join a steering committee for a network created by parents who found a need to empower other interested parties and promote awareness of exceptional children.  The GTLD Network Zimbabwe (Gifted, Talented with Learning Differences) has began forums with experts who share information on how to manage and foster the strengths of these children. I was greatly honoured to provide a theoretical background into the topic area of the day. I have been granted the opportunity in my field to see theory in practice for over 6 years and the power of theory for me is that it’s a starting point.

I have also been asked to join a team of enthusiastic people who are doing ground breaking work in communities such asMbare for children with disabilities. Signs of Hope Trust Zimbabwe is just the opportunity to share educational intervention strategies with other teachers and professionals and I enthusiastically look forward to sharing and learning. I am hopeful that as a Zimbabwean community we are beginning to awaken to the possibility of inclusion, not in theory but in practice.

 

 

 

To be loved

The other night I marveled over a cup ofimg_1314 tea at the best reality show I have ever watched on television! I recommend it to anyone interested. It’s a dating reality show called the Undateables  I was swept in emotion and found myself cheering on the young gentlemen wining and dining possible suitors.Heartbreaks were as equally common as the starting of new relationships and the realities of life were experienced with no modification by the people with disabilities that take part in the show. It made me think about how dating for people with disabilities is still widely taboo in Zimbabwe and very much frowned upon.

Over many conversations with family, friends and acquaintances who find an interest in special needs, it is more evident that people with disabilities are viewed as not being
capable of heterosexual relationships and marriage.  During one of my counselling/ consultation sessions with a parent whose daughter is on the autistic spectrum, the idea of relationships with men was a difficult one for her. Her daughter, a 25 year old had started to take a fancy to some men she saw on television and her mother strongly discouraged this.The old age belief that people with disabilities should not date, marry or reproduce is denying one the potential to live life fully.

Dating back to Plato, the idealistic belief was that people with disabilities stood in the way of a perfect world. The view was “the offspring of the inferior or the
better when they chance to be deformed, will be put away in some mysterious unknown place as they should be ” (Mackelprang & Salsglver, 1996). Over the 17th to the 19th century Judeo-Christianity linked disability with the consequences of sin and further on, people with disabilities were believed to be capable of molding into less threatening , more acceptable people (Rothman, 1971). Eugenics and Darwinism emphasized selective reproduction, dominance of hereditary abilities and disabilities and further encouraged reproduction of socially desirable individuals whilst discouraging “undesirable”reproduction. Atrocities such as forced sterilization are believed as being a protective measure for women with disabilities. It is also a common belief in Zimbabwe that if a child is born with a disability, it is because of the mother’s genes.

Every human being deserves to be loved and to give love. That parent believed that she was protecting her child from possible rejection, hurt and believed her daughter will always remain her daughter and nothing more. Ultimately her daughter is a human being capable of love, denying her the opportunity or choice of love, marriage and reproduction is denying her humanity and rights. As a special needs specialist it is my role to teach people with disabilities how to communicate and understand these emotions, to reduce the stigma and worry that comes with over protectiveness,  to accept these aspects of people with disabilities and not to deny or suppress them.

There are many controversies surrounding this topic, all with justifiable reasons for and against, I encourage parents to allow their children in adulthood to make the decision to love and be loved.