Teacher Education and Teacher Quality

Education is the primary agent of transformation towards sustainable development, increasing people’s capacities to transform their visions for society into reality. Education not only provides scientific and technical skills, it also provides the motivation, and social support for pursuing and applying them. For this reason, society must be deeply concerned that much of current education falls far short of what is required. When we say this, it reflects the very necessities across the cultures that allow everyone become responsible towards quality enhancement.

Improving the quality and revelation of education and reorienting its goals to recognize the importance of sustainable development must be among society’s highest priorities. It is not that we talk only about environment but also about every component of life.

We therefore need to clarify the concept of education for sustainable development. It was a major challenge for educators during the last decade. The meanings of sustainable development in educational set ups, the appropriate balance of peace, human rights, citizenship, social equity, ecological and development themes in already overloaded curricula, and ways of integrating the humanities, the social sciences and the arts into what had up-to-now been seen and practiced as a branch of science education.

Some argued that educating for sustainable development ran the risk of programming while others wondered whether asking schools to take a lead in the transition to sustainable development was asking too much of teachers.

These debates were compounded by the desire of many, predominantly environmental, NGOs to contribute to educational planning without the requisite understanding of how education systems work, how educational change and innovation takes place, and of relevant curriculum development, professional development and instructive values. Not realizing that effective educational change takes time, others were critical of governments for not acting more quickly.

Consequently, many international, regional and national initiatives have contributed to an expanded and refined understanding of the meaning of education for sustainable development. For example, Education International, the major umbrella group of teachers’ unions and associations in the world, has issued a declaration and action plan to promote sustainable development through education.

A common agenda in all of these is the need for an integrated approach through which all communities, government entities, collaborate in developing a shared understanding of and commitment to policies, strategies and programs of education for sustainable development.

Actively promoting the integration of education into sustainable development at local community

In addition, many individual governments have established committees, panels, advisory councils and curriculum development projects to discuss education for sustainable development, develop policy and appropriate support structures, programs and resources, and fund local initiatives.

Indeed, the roots of education for sustainable development are firmly planted in the environmental education efforts of such groups. Along with global education, development education, peace education, citizenship education, human rights education, and multicultural and anti-racist education that have all been significant, environmental education has been particularly significant. In its brief thirty-year history, contemporary environmental education has steadily striven towards goals and outcomes similar and comparable to those inherent in the concept of sustainability.

A New Vision for Education

These many initiatives illustrate that the international community now strongly believes that we need to foster – through education – the values, behavior and lifestyles required for a sustainable future. Education for sustainable development has come to be seen as a process of learning how to make decisions that consider the long-term future of the economy, ecology and social well-being of all communities. Building the capacity for such futures-oriented thinking is a key task of education.

This represents a new vision of education, a vision that helps learners better understand the world in which they live, addressing the complexity and inter-contentedness of problems such as poverty, wasteful consumption, environmental degradation, urban decay, population growth, gender inequality, health, conflict and the violation of human rights that threaten our future. This vision of education emphasizes a holistic, interdisciplinary approach to developing the knowledge and skills needed for a sustainable future as well as changes in values, behavior, and lifestyles. This requires us to reorient education systems, policies and practices in order to empower everyone, young and old, to make decisions and act in culturally appropriate and locally relevant ways to redress the problems that threaten our common future. We therefore need to think globally and act locally. In this way, people of all ages can become empowered to develop and evaluate alternative visions of a sustainable future and to fulfill these visions through working creatively with others.

Seeking sustainable development through education requires educators to:

• Place an ethic for living sustainable, based upon principles of social justice, democracy, peace and ecological integrity, at the center of society’s concerns.
• Encourage a meeting of disciplines, a linking of knowledge and of expertise, to create understandings that are more integrated and contextualized.
• Encourage lifelong learning, starting at the beginning of life and stuck in life – one based on a passion for a radical transformation of the moral character of society.
• Develop to the maximum the potential of all human beings throughout their lives so that they can achieve self-fulfillment and full self-expression with the collective achievement of a viable future.
• Value aesthetics, the creative use of the imagination, an openness to risk and flexibility, and a willingness to explore new options.
• Encourage new alliances between the State and civil society in promoting citizens’ liberation and the practice of democratic principles.
• Mobilize society in an intensive effort so as to eliminate poverty and all forms of violence and injustice.
• Encourage a commitment to the values for peace in such a way as to promote the creation of new lifestyles and living patterns
• Identify and pursue new human projects in the context of local sustainability within an earthly realization and a personal and communal awareness of global responsibility.
• Create realistic hope in which the possibility of change and the real desire for change are accompanied by a rigorous, active participation in change, at the appropriate time, in favor of a sustainable future for all.

These responsibilities emphasize the key role of educators as ambassador of change. There are over 60 million teachers in the world – and each one is a key ambassador for bringing about the changes in lifestyles and systems that we need. But, education is not confined to the classrooms of formal education. As an approach to social learning, education for sustainable development also encompasses the wide range of learning activities in basic and post-basic education, technical and vocational training and tertiary education, and both non-formal and informal learning by both young people and adults within their families and workplaces and in the wider community. This means that all of us have important roles to play as both ‘learners’ and ‘teachers’ in advancing sustainable development.

Key Lessons

Deciding how education should contribute to sustainable development is a major task. In coming to decisions about what approaches to education will be locally relevant and culturally appropriate, countries, educational institutions and their communities may take heed of the following key lessons learnt from discussion and debate about education and sustainable development over the past decade.

• Education for sustainable development must explore the economic, political and social implications of sustainability by encouraging learners to reflect critically on their own areas of the world, to identify non-viable elements in their own lives and to explore the tensions among conflicting aims. Development strategies suited to the particular circumstances of various cultures in the pursuit of shared development goals will be crucial. Educational approaches must take into account the experiences of indigenous cultures and minorities, acknowledging and facilitating their original and significant contributions to the process of sustainable development.

• The movement towards sustainable development depends more on the development of our moral sensitivities than on the growth of our scientific understanding – important as that is. Education for sustainable development cannot be concerned only with disciplines that improve our understanding of nature, despite their undoubted value. Success in the struggle for sustainable development requires an approach to education that strengthens our engagement in support of other values – especially justice and fairness – and the awareness that we share a common destiny with others.

• Ethical values are the principal factor in social consistency and at the same time, the most effective agent of change and transformation. Ultimately, sustainability will depend on changes in behavior and lifestyles, changes which will need to be motivated by a shift in values and rooted in the cultural and moral precepts upon which behavior is based. Without change of this kind, even the most enlightened legislation, the cleanest technology, the most sophisticated research will not succeed in steering society towards the long-term goal of sustainability.

• Changes in lifestyle will need to be accompanied by the development of an ethical awareness, whereby the inhabitants of rich countries discover within their cultures the source of a new and active solidarity, which will make possible to eradicate the widespread poverty that now besets 80% of the world’s population as well as the environmental degradation and other problems linked to it.

• Ethical values are shaped through education, in the broadest sense of the term. Education is also essential in enabling people to use their ethical values to make informed and ethical choices. Fundamental social changes, such as those required to move towards sustainability, come about either because people sense an ethical imperative to change or because leaders have the political will to lead in that direction and sense that the people will follow them.

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Special Education and the Importance of Collaboration

Collaboration means working with an individual or a group of individuals to achieve a common goal. Its importance is most visible in education. Every day, teachers work together with their peers, school counselors, and other staff for the success of each student. And when it comes to special education, collaboration becomes the single most important thing for a teacher.

A teacher for special education has to collaborate with school administrators, general education teachers, school therapists, psychologists, and parents and guardians. Students with mild disability have now been included in regular classroom teaching, according to the provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education (IDEA) Act. This has led to general and special education teachers working together, often with the help of the best fun educational apps. The role of the educator in a general classroom, involves teaching the curriculum and assessing and evaluating special children. It’s important that a the educator brings in a set of personal skills to enhance student learning. Skills of both the general teacher and the special educator should come together to help a student.

A special educator has to work closely with the school management. It’s a vital part of the job. Working with the management will help the special teacher follow the necessary laws and procedure, work with individualized education plan (IEP), and make sure that special children are accommodated in the appropriate classroom. It’s always important to forge a strong relationship with these people for ensuring the success of a special student.

Working with parents is a major challenge for all special education teachers. It’s important to make strong and regular contact. It’s a nice idea to allow parents come and volunteer in the classroom, so that both the educator and the parent can help the children. A special child can obviously relate more to a parent. If parents explain the use of the best fun educational apps for kids, it’s likely to be more believable to the children.

Working with school therapists and psychologists is another key collaboration of a special educator. A therapist can inform the educator about the limitations of a special child. He/she may even recommend the best fun educational apps for kids so that special children pick up social skills faster. The educator, on his/her part, can update the therapist on how a child is progressing. The therapist is also responsible for diagnosis of a special child.

The work of the school psychologist is also largely similar. They too test children for disabilities and ensure that the IEP is being properly followed.

Collaboration is an important part of a special educator’s job, regardless of which part of school education he/she is involved with. Whether it’s working with the school administration, other teachers, parents, guardians, counselors, or therapists, a special educator has to work as part of a team for the betterment of special children. The needs of a special child are much different from that of a neuro-typical. Besides, each child is different. The best fun educational apps can keep the child engaged besides imparting important social skills.

Educating Special Needs Children

Educating a child with special needs is an enormous topic — worthy of several books — but we’ll cover the basics here today.

The Most Important Part of Special Education

By far, without any question, is realizing there’s a problem and defining the problem. If a child makes it to kindergarten without anyone noticing anything dramatically wrong, it’s easy to assume the problem is something minor. (Sometimes, it actually is — we know of at least one child that was diagnosed with profound ADHD when his actual problem was nearsightedness; he wandered around the classroom not because he couldn’t focus, but because he was trying to get a better view of the activities.)

Further complicating the problem is the fact that many special-needs diagnoses are interrelated, or very similar in symptoms. For example, ADHD is strongly correlated with dyslexia, dyscalculia, and several similar diseases — but it’s not associated with the autism spectrum even though it shares far more symptoms in common with mild autism than it does with any of the dys- conditions. A child that doesn’t like to talk might be autistic, or they might have apraxia, or social anxiety disorder, or they might have a bad stutter… or they might be deaf and unable to hear you when you try to provoke a conversation. The point here is that special educators, no matter how skilled, cannot help a child if they’re using tools and techniques designed for the wrong disorder.

Special Needs is Not ‘Remedial.’

The next thing to remember is that there is a large difference between ‘special needs’ and ‘poor scholastic performance.’ Remedial education and special needs education have some overlap, but they are two different subjects — because ‘special needs’ can include scholastic affective disorders like dyslexia, but can just as easily include educating a brilliant but deaf student or a student with Asperger’s Syndrome that is an amazing mathematician and geographical wizard, but has trouble understanding the basics of social play and turn-taking. A good special needs program understands how to deal with gifted children — because being gifted is a special need — as well as those that need remedial assistance. Recognizing strengths has to be part and parcel of every special child’s education.

In fact, there is a special designation in special education — ‘2E’ — for those kids that are ‘twice exceptional,’ and require accommodation in both directions. A girl that is reading three grades above the rest of her classroom, but is also profoundly affected by ADHD and requires constant attention to stay on task — that’s 2E. A boy that is dyscalculic and cannot perform mental arithmetic, but is also a musical prodigy that masters new songs within days — that’s 2E. And these children are more common that most people understand.

The Same is True at Home

If it’s not obvious, these two overarching principles apply just as much to all of the lessons you teach your child at home as well. If you refuse to acknowledge that your child is different than the others, or if you assume that the problem is one thing without getting an expert diagnosis, you’re making a dire mistake. Similarly, learning that your child has dyslexia or ADHD doesn’t mean you have to treat them like they’re not as smart as a ‘normal’ kid — they are, they just have an issue they need your help overcoming.

Special Education Tools

Here are the biggest, broadest tools of special education, and how they relate to those principles:

The Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

The keystone of modern special education, IEPs serve as record-keeping, as a source of information for future educators, and as a tool for assessing the child’s progress. Each IEP contains information about the child’s diagnosis, known expressions thereof, and a record of every technique and tool used in the attempt to educate the child. Without an IEP, there is no individualization — and thus, there is no special education.

Your child’s doctor and/or the school’s specialists will tell you if they’ve been diagnosed with a condition that puts them in the ‘needs an IEP’ category. Not all children with a given diagnosis do — there are plenty of kids with ADHD who get by in mainstream school with no IEP, for example — but there are absolutely those who require special effort even if they receive and properly use a prescription such as Concerta or Adderall. Deciding whether a given child can cope with the school system ‘as-is’ or whether they require legitimate specialized education is part and parcel of the process.

The Special Education Crew and Room

Dealing with one special needs child at home can be quite difficult — imagine dealing with six, eight, or fifteen in a classroom setting! There’s simply no teacher, no matter how expert, who can predict how the kids will interact. When the ADHD kid jumps up partway through an assignment because he decided that spinning around in a circle is more fun than addition, and in his spinning he quite accidentally smacks the child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder in the back of the head, what will happen?

Will she scream at the top of her lungs and scare the autistic student into having a bathroom accident? Will she attack the ADHD boy and leave him wondering why he’s suddenly on the ground and bleeding from a scratch across the cheek? Or will she just upend her desk and get the entire room breaking down into a chaotic melee?

That’s why almost every special education classrooms features a ‘safe room,’ with padded walls and noise insulation a child can retreat to when they know they can’t cope. It’s also why every special educator comes with a squadron of assistants. Some of them are specialized therapists, like the speech pathologist or the occupational therapist; others are ‘simply’ other educators that are trained to deal with the occasional full-classroom breakdown and keep control.

Take-Home Lessons

As a parent, you can learn from these realities. Of course, you already individualize the attention you give your child — but do you keep a record of problems you encounter, solutions you attempt, and how well they succeed or fail? Can you see how that will be useful within a month or two? Do you have a ‘safe space’ the child is allowed to retreat to when overwhelmed? Ask your child’s teacher what tools they use that have worked for your child, and how you can implement similar strategies at home. Special education doesn’t have to — and shouldn’t — stop just because your child left the classroom.