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.

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.

My Special Journey

As an introvert I take in the world quite deeply. I haven’t been writing, but I have been reading and thinking, so I have been growing and changing.

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“As much as we may try to enforce inclusive policies and laws,we need inclusive minds.”

My career in Special Needs Education is 5 years old. I have found that my passions and knowledge from my BA in International Law and Human Rights is applicable and relevant to special needs education. The issue of Human Rights and Inclusive Education in Zimbabwe has much debate and efforts by the local government to uphold United Nations recommendations are still a challenge due to the economical woes the country is currently in. The policies and laws are vague and are not being enforced, additionally persons with Disabilities or Special Needs do not know their rights.

My work in an international school is one of great privilege and I have learnt through experience to view education from  a more pragmatic/humanistic view. This philosophy is more open to difference, I found that instead of adapting/trying to fit in as I was accustomed to in a post colonial country, my differences were embraced and diversity a welcomed normality. The main thread of Special Education in Africa now has been towards inclusion/normalization. Controversies still exist and thrive due to a lack of awareness and negative cultural ideals. People with disabilities/special needs have the right as everyone else to participate in society and reach self actualization. Inclusion to me is the first step,  as much as we may try to enforce inclusive policies and laws, we need inclusive minds. Inclusion should be a normality and not a special/new way of doing things, it is not a privilege it is a right. As young as my journey in Special Needs is, I am optimistic that ahead, there is still a lifetime of reform for me to navigate and challenge.

 

Language Acquisition

In my work with English Learners I have discovered a necessary patience. I have been working with English learners for 5 years now and have found that each child’s journey is extremely different. To begin with, there are many layers to every childIMG_0549, in addition to the language barrier, layers of cultural diversity,practice and norms, religion, behavioral uniqueness, interests and passions. I remember once greeting a Chinese student in Japanese by mistake, in my attempt to ease her a little (break the ice). Her response was a fragmented sentence with undertones of robust anger of how the Japanese had killed her people, with gestures of be-heading included. Lesson learnt, I did my research and now with a more open heart and mind I enjoy learning about the cultures and languages that these students belong to and that avoidance of eye contact at times is a sign of respect for authority. The general stereotypes don’t apply and society robs itself of the possibility of a better world,  by lack of understanding of our diversity. The IBO philosophy humanistic in form makes it possible for humanity to get along, with mutual respect and celebration of one’s uniqueness and that of others, peace is a possibility.

I recently ventured into the world of Japanese Anime to learn some conversational words of  which my Japanese student finds hilarious and always unpredictable, nevertheless he nods me on. I find it refreshing that we can both laugh at our mistakes and that learning English shouldn’t be laborious and bland, but with cultural understanding, the academic part, is a bonus. I have been privileged to work with German, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Czech, Swedish, Italian, Spanish/Italian/French, Norwegian,Jewish and I await the opportunity to grow more.Above all I have learnt that we are all human and possess things we value and as an educator it is important that I understand these things first.

I  held a professional DSC00309workshop in 2014 that outlined the theories behind language acquisition and most importantly how to help support the third culture population of language learners. The most valuable asset is empathy.

One student I had was multi lingual and learning English for the first time. His homework on one occasion was two pages long of information he had to cite in a persuasive essay. As expected I found myself in a whirlwind of papers, tears,pencils, furniture and shoes as he found this the only effective way to express his frustration. I watched as he wore himself out. From that, I learnt a few Spanish/French/Italian words not appropriate for this platform, however, I became his advocate. His interest in soccer was our common conversational starter and from there he learnt mathematical vocabulary. It’s a journey that thrills me especially when these children gain confidence to speak English for the first time (the silent period can be daunting for both teacher and student), but when that period is over as I’ve recently found getting them to stop at times, can be interesting!