Graduate Diploma in Education Alumna Reflection by: Jennifer Beauchene
My name is Jennifer Beauchene, and I teach grade 3 at Strathcona Elementary School in Chilliwack, BC. I have been teaching since 2001 and have spent the majority of my career teaching in inner city schools and understand the complexities and the structure needed to provide a calm, peaceful, fun, strength-based, caring and inclusive classroom environment for our students.
I recently completed the Faculty of Education’s Inclusive Education, Graduate Diploma in Education (GDE) program. This program was based in Chilliwack and instructed by Dr. Kristi Lauridsen. I decided on this program because inclusion is an interest of mine and thought it would be an excellent learning experience to study a passion of mine. I live in Chilliwack, and so having the class based there was another big reason why I registered in the program.
The Inclusive Education GDE was filled with rich theory and hands-on learning. I feel blessed to have learnt from Dr. Lauridsen. She is a master teacher of gifted students, as well as a talented instructor at SFU, so she really taught to the needs of our cohort. Dr. Lauridsen truly taught from the heart and made the program interactive, enjoyable and challenged us to take our learning to a higher level.
Key Moments in my Learning...
One evening, Dr. Lauridsen posed the question “Do disabilities even exist?” I remember thinking, “Of course they do”. As she continued to challenge us, Dr. Lauridsen said something powerful that would alter my thinking and change my perspective: she mentioned how disabled she would be if she was put on a football team and had to play the game. I immediately visualized and connected with this example – I too would be very disabled in that situation. Her words allowed me to fully let go of my judgments and helped me understand that everyone has disabilities and challenges. I have used this example in my own classroom during lessons on physical disabilities.
I also remember a role-playing activity we did in class where we had to accomplish a task as a small group and each of us had to imagine we had a different disability. I only had one hand, one of my teammates was blind, another could not speak, and the fourth could not hear. This deepened my understanding of what having a disability would feel like. The task was challenging and frustrating as we tried to work around our disabilities. The words 'disabled' and 'disabilities' started to feel sour in my mouth as I gained the insight that maybe no one is disabled if everyone has something they struggle with. I promised not to say the word ‘disabled’ anymore. Then it happened during one of my class readings, I saw the word “exceptionality”. To me, the words ‘disability’ and ‘disable’ seemed like someone is ‘less than’, not good enough and broken. However, 'exceptionality' is an uplifting, powerful word that connects with words such as unique, exceptional and outstanding. I adopted the word ‘exceptionalities’, for it reminded me of hope.
I have definitely changed in many ways since the first year of this program – I don’t make as many assumptions about my students, and I have been able to be more subjective and less biased.
I continue to go back to the seven capacities that we learned during the two-year program, and I have transformed them into my own practice (Develop, Advocate, Understand, Create, Investigate, Address, Consult). I have these posted in my classroom as a reminder to continue focusing on using these goals in my practice.
I think the painting below really portrays my experience in the program – it truly captures the essence of my learning. When I stand back and look at all the colours coming together, a few things come to mind. First, all the colours symbolize the powerful moments in my learning that I want to always remember. Second, the seven birds represent the seven capacities or goals I have added to my practice. Third, the coloured birds sitting beside one another also represent my students and how I want them united together as an accepting, inclusive team. You cannot see what the birds look like in the front. I imagine some have broken beaks, wounded legs and injured wings, just like our students who have different exceptionalities. All the birds in my painting deserve a chance to fly and so do all my students. It is my job to use my newly gained knowledge and the seven capacities to help them fly and to set up an inclusive environment where students learn to accept their true colours, embrace their challenges and see their own inner greatness. Lastly, the coloured birds also represent all of us in this cohort standing together side-by-side supporting each other and holding each other up before we take flight. Our learning has transformed us into leaders of inclusion and we are ready to spread our wings and fly.
A Time to Fly
My experience with my cohort colleagues was amazing, and we really worked well together as a supportive team. We had an exceptional time together and yet, we supported each other through difficult times. I feel that the graduate Graduate Diploma in Education program was almost magical as I made many friends who teach from the heart, and the learning was so rich and deep that it transformed me as a person and a teacher. The learning also increased my confidence as a teacher, and I have much research to back up my practice.
I highly recommend an SFU Graduate Diploma in Education and would suggest that you choose one that is based on an area of interest that you have. The more passionate and interested you are . . . the more you will learn.