Where It Started
I would not have gotten a jump start into my inclusion journey without the friendships (professional and personal) I have made with the Teachers Gallery. When I was first approached about teachers visiting classrooms from the Philippines I didn't know how deeply this would effect me. My parents were both born in the Philippines and immigrated to the United States, but I had never visited or had an understanding of the educational system there.
I have had a life long fascination with education outside my own experience and what goes on in schools whenever we have gone to new states or countries on vacation. "I wonder what it's like in there?" I have wanted to do the American road trip to visit schools and understand our differences only to marvel in the love of learning, bring back ideas and reflect on how we are all in it for the same thing - educating kids. As a former School Psychologist I have a love of observing people, kids and how and why they do what they do. I feel I am an open, active, learner. I enjoy travel and meeting new people. The Teachers Gallery opens doors to inclusion and inclusive practices to improve outcomes for students in the Philippines while also providing a travel perk. It's a great combination. For these teachers it is a moral imperative for education. As a developing country, students in the Philippines are not readily included into the public schools due to the primary needs of families to put food on the table, undiagnosed disabilities, remote access to schools, and a lack of knowledge about inclusion itself within its own educational community. The Teachers Gallery, currently lead by its Director, Mai Roble, is gaining ground in spreading the word on inclusion through resources, professional learning and study/travel trips. Teachers learn about inclusive practices and set goals to achieve in their own schools based on their observations and learning through these visits.
When they came to my own district in Santa Clara, California I was thankful to help them. I was thankful for them! I learned so much on that short visit through special education classrooms and school sites who are moving to provide more access to general education for students. We, ourselves, are learning to be more inclusive in the opposite direction - our special education students are not included as much as they could be (more on this later). In the end I thought it was overwhelming for them - to visit the US and my district in particular; to see the wealth of options available. I was uncomfortable about our excess of "things". As we moved about the schools, I learned from the Filipino teachers of their desire to support struggling students, the lack of services, the large classrooms of 40+ students and teaching to the masses with sometimes limited resources in books and technology let alone the internet. And yet they persist and strive to understand one teacher, one administrator at a time to solve a problem which does not include students who are not able to keep up with their peers, excluded from play and access, many on the streets or staying home supported by family. They implement practices within their means and scope of influence in their communities. Mai has big plans. Through the TTG's partnerships with international organizations such as The Asia Foundation (TAF) and UNICEF, they have provided input on inclusion legislation. But language is one thing. Reality is another. And the work is ongoing and far reaching. She and her small office train, hold webinars and continually reach out to connect the Philippines' teachers and school leaders with resources. The work is exciting! I realized I did not know what the world was like on their side and since then have connected with other educators looking for the same things; learning and growing in our service to others as well as our individual growth as learners. AND learning about new cultures, careful not to impose but collaborate. I have been an inclusive educator for my entire career but the partnership with TTG started my deeper understanding of inclusion from a global perspective. It isn't something that simply just happens. The work is intentional and never-ending whichever way you slice it. And the winner is ... the kids.
PS Yes this is a plug for some of my favorite people.