IPad Apps

Westwind has begun to utilize Ipads as part of our work in supporting all students in their learning. As we acquire apps we need to engage in some mindful evaluation of the apps.  Drawing upon the work of others in the education field we’ve created a Westwind app evaluation form that you can access here:


We ask that only Westwind teachers and education assistants utilize this form if a parent or community member has a suggestion for an app please e-mail that suggestion to rick.gilson@westwind.ab.ca

It’s about all 4494 and that’s inclusion….

Westwind school division, as I write this post, lists 4494 students across all schools and all grades. The success of our division rests upon the success of 4494 individual stories that come together to form a collective measure – not an average mind you but a measure of growth, achievement, completion and not quite yet but still working on it and that all works toward being our very best individually and collectively.


In one of the great classic movies of all time “A Princess Bride” a minor villain repeatedly uses the word “inconceivable” at one point a supporting “hero” makes a comment questioning his understanding:

Recently it’s been suggested that many of us struggle with our understanding of a word we use a fair bit “Inclusive” or “Inclusion” and we too may find that “it does not mean what we think it means”.

Inclusion is not “Inconceivable” 

Alberta Education has recently developed a series of new videos which seek to clarify what inclusion is and what it is not. It is about all students belonging and learning.  It is very much not “having an inclusive education class” rather it is about moving everyone’s thinking to ensure all students who come in all different shapes, sizes, races, cultures, genders, and gender identities, abilities and interests feel valued, supported, included and sustained in their efforts to become the very best version of themselves. Inclusion is absolutely not a one size fits all program, what will work for this student will not necessarily work for another – it is personalized and grounded in a belief or value system anchored on individual worth.  All adults in an inclusive system accept responsibility to find the keys to successful learning for each student.

Consider the words of Temple Grandin “People are always looking for the single magic bullet that will totally change everything. There is no single magic bullet. I was very lucky to receive a very good early intervention with very good teachers starting at age 2 1/2 years. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a good teacher. A good teacher is worth he or her weight in gold.” (Grandin, 1996 as quoted in “You’re going to live this kid” by Paula Kluth)

Hiam Ginott summarized the mindset of a teacher in an inclusive environment and he did it in 1972. I would suggest that a similar attitude for a successful inclusive environment is required from all adults and ultimately all students if an entire system is to foster an inclusive culture that permeates the entire community.  Ginott wrote:

“I have come to the conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or de-humanized. (as quoted in “You’re Going to Love this Kid” by Paula Kluth.

A critical partner in the entire inclusive education environment are the education assistants.  Consider how this new Alberta Education video presents the role of the education assistant in an inclusive education environment.

The Dot…could have gone either way

Fundamental to this entire conversation is coming to see the strengths rather than focus upon the weaknesses or disparities in each student. Consider the power of the message in the animated story, The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds   How are we modeling to students and each other that we believe in the potential of the one – make that each and every one. What if the teacher had responded with “fine” and walked away in response to Vashti?  Sometimes as parents and teachers we respond to the button pushing with all the reason we can muster, other days can be a struggle. Hang in there, look for the good and push/support to draw out the best in each other.

The Myth of Average

In a less inclusive world the focus falls upon things like averages and being above or below with associated limits often following. Assessments and measures often focused primarily upon shortfalls have lead to streaming and often working at either addressing the shortfall or simply establishing lower expectations and at least the perception of limited paths.

If I’m being honest with myself my profile – as an athlete, as a parent, as a student, as a husband, as a coach, as a teacher, as an administrator, for anything really, is far from “average”.  I wonder if any of us could realistically define average in any of those categories and as was illustrated in the talk if you could find an average no one would actually exist who could truly fit that average.  So set average aside and let’s see what we can do to help people be their very best – work to include the edges, celebrate the differences.

The Jagged Profile of a learner – what’s yours look like – what about the student(s) you work with?

Aren’t we all grateful that people saw past our shortcomings and took a chance on us?
Support growth, focus on strengths, and change the mindset, ours and those we work with.

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Students provide the voice as they discuss their experiences as students who may be gifted in one area but not necessarily in all subjects or even all forms of work within the same subject – jagged profiles personified?  In an inclusive environment we need to do all we can to foster the gifts each student brings to our classroom, and recognize that precious few are gifted in all areas. Find a way to give every student a victory as often as possible. Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 11.23.25 PM


A focus on strengths and the importance of all students is foundational in an inclusive school community. Consider this except from Paula Kluth’s “You’re going to love this kid!” (p.65..if you have a copy) the contrast of a deficit diagnosis model and an inclusive strengths based conversation.  Inclusion conversations aren’t all dreams in the sky, shortfalls are often extremely evident – can’t miss them really but using those as a rationale for setting limits on the student, that might be where we need to work. Remember even IQ test scores (particularly on young one’s) are significantly impacted by the ability to communicate – a heck of a lot more might be going on in the mind of a student than what they are able to communicate.  Where’s our focus and what’s it doing to help our students (all of them) succeed?

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Be the Difference

In all our lives there are teachers, teacher assistants, coaches, other adults and peers who make a difference one way or the other in our lives – the concept of neutral seems unlikely to me, if I think I don’t make a difference I can be sure it’s not a positive one but the lost opportunity to improve the situation is a lost opportunity.  So many factors come into play but at the foundation is a personal belief in the potential of every student and a determination to see the good. Consider these two examples: first from Finding Forrester the high school teacher has a hard time accepting or seeing the potential of a student contrasted with the unwavering drive to push, pull, support and draw out the best from a student in a short scene from Dead Poet’s Society.

In Finding Forrester the teacher ends up accusing the student of cheating, the student displays moral fortitude and ability far beyond what the teacher can see and is ultimately cleared of all wrong doing and proven to be an excellent student.

From Dead Poet’s we see a teacher who sees so much more in the student than the student sees in himself. Relationships of trust are strengthened and a way to succeed with active feedback pulls the best from the student…a success that is reinforced in appropriate measures of congratulations.

About exceptions and “miracles” to meet the needs of the jagged profile. Today needs to be everyone’s day.

Who made the difference for you? Who made the difference for someone you care about? Who made the difference for someone you’ve read about?  Differences good and bad are made in the lives of everyone you know every day. Is there a limit on miracles? I’m pretty sure it starts with a bit of patience AND maybe a bit of a shift in our definition of miracle and the belief that everyone has something to learn everyday can’t hurt.

today is not your day

Ever walk into a shop or store and see some form of the sign above. In an inclusive education system we work toward ensuring that every day is the day for every student and staff member for that matter. We certainly don’t want our students or staff thinking they might get lucky and catch the support and attention of those they are working with one day in 200.

Let’s consider a couple of examples:


Ido Kedar has written a book – lots of people write books, but more people don’t and not too many people who write a book were previously diagnosed as severely autistic. From his website we read:I am an autistic guy with a message. I spent the first half of my life completely trapped in silence. The second – on becoming a free soul. I had to fight to get an education. Now I am a regular education student. I communicate by typing on an iPad or a letter board. My book, “Ido in Autismland” is now available on Amazon. It is an autism diary, telling the story of my symptoms, education, and journey into communication. I hope to help other autistic people find a way out of their silence too. Ido’s blog can be found here  http://idoinautismland.com/  

How do you define hopeless? Check out Nick Vujicic’s definition overcoming physical disability and some pretty exclusive mindsets growing up

Cerebral Palsy takes many forms – a spectrum of impacts on individuals here’s Maysoon Zayid who shares her story, as she says “I got 99 problems…palsy is just one”

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 10.59.38 PMJacob (Jake) Barnett’s story as shared by his mother in The Spark.  Jake’s presentation at Tedx – a little energetic to be sure, a different spot on the autism spectrum.

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 11.06.23 PMLook Me in the Eye – the story of John Elder Robison

John struggled in school significantly with what at the time was an unknown or undefined condition which would come to be known as Aspergers today its a component of being on the autistic spectrum.  He led an amazing life as a high school dropout who couldn’t fit in and shares some thoughts on an organic education in this presentation.

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 11.29.14 PMDr. Baniel maintains a youtube channel sharing the story of several clients and students who have overcome a wide range of challenges.

The Team – Every member makes a difference it’s not easy, but it’s clearly easier when we are all committed to ensuring we are inclusive in our support of each other and all students. Be the difference and make a positive difference in the lives of all those we work with.



EA Conference 2015


Westwind School Division #74 Education Assistant Conference 2015

I have closed registration to prepare your schedules – over 196 registrations have been received – we look forward to seeing you Thursday.

You will pick up your schedule at the entrance to the gym upon your arrival on Thursday.

Based on the feedback from last year we are using the same format for the conference – a brief opening session starting at 9AM in the Magrath main Gym for all participants. This year that will include greetings from our Superintendent and the Board.

The Schedule for the day looks like this:

9:00 – 9:35 Greetings and Opening Comments

9:35- 9:40 moving to session one and grabbing a snack.

9:40 – 11:00 Session One

11:00 – 11:45 Lunch

11:45 – 1:00 Session Two

1:00 – 1:10 Snack Break

1:10 – 2:30 Session Three – All Colony EA’s are asked to attend the Colony EA session in this third rotation.

2:30 On your way home. This early wrap up respects the travel time for schools away from Magrath.

Please make your selection for the three sessions – I’d like to suggest that schools EA’s look to try and get people into all sessions so you might share what you learn when you return to your schools.

Our feedback last year has directed us to a bit of a lighter lunch – soup – salad – type lunch.

As your choices are entered they are time stamped – before I print a final schedule for each participant (which will be closer to the conference) you can change your choices – I will work with the most recent course selection to print our your schedule for the day.

Here’s the brief summary of the sessions:

Conrad Boehme and Nathan Smith


One of the most prevalent obstacles for our students in school is anxiety. Come experience an interactive mini-session of Worry Dragons. Participants will receive an overview of what anxiety is and how it can impact student’s thoughts, feelings, and bodies. They will also walk away with tools and strategies to help their students cope better with anxiety at school and at home. They may even learn a trick or two to helping calm their own worries. Come join us in taming a dragon.

Elaine Ross

Literacy Strategies for Struggling Readers

Focus on current reading comprehension strategies and how they can be used with struggling readers in a one to one or small group situation.  The importance of modelling a strategy, choosing highly engaging books and supporting students who struggle with reading beyond “sounding it out”.

Rick Gilson/Lana Caldwell

IPad’s and Assistive Technology

We have dozen’s even hundreds of IPad’s in circulation and likely more on the way, in addition well over 100 applications have been purchased by schools, education assistants, and teachers but what are we using the most, what have we determined is best, what works and what doesn’t work as well as advertised.  Part of this session is to share with others – bring your Ipads from the schools – AND part of the session is to work through the Westwind App evaluation form in order that we can ensure we are helping our students achieve their maximum ability.  When do we get time to test out and share the apps in our day?  This would be that time.

Regan Bikman – SLP

“How to implement speech language goals & activities throughout the day in an inclusive classroom.”

This session is intended for all EA’s working with students working on speech and language development, colony and classroom EA’s as well as SLA’s.

Austin Davenport BSc. Kin, CSEP-Certified Exercise Physiologist ®

Projects Coordinator Lethbridge College – Be Fit for Life Centre

DPA Through Move & Play!  

This session aims to take some of the planning out of implementation of DPA sessions in the classroom. This active session will provide you with games and activities that you can learn today and play tomorrow in your classroom, gym space, or outdoors! Incorporating DPA can be difficult when space is limited. Let Be Fit For Life show you some of our favorite activities and resources that can supplement you DPA sessions.

Jerry First Charger -FSLC

Active Play learning and counseling – Come and explore the Labyrinth.  In this session you will have an opportunity to learn, walk and explore different way to using a labyrinth.  You will find insight, understanding, and fun as you take a journey in this ancient Archetype.  As time permits other activities with rocks and sand will also be a part of this session.

Kent Hollingsworth, MA, CSFT

Managing Challenging Behaviours:   A Brief Introduction to the Collaborative Problem Solving Approach

In this brief, interactive workshop overview, participants will come to understand:

  • How different explanations and interpretations of challenging behaviours lead to dramatically different approaches
  • Why conventional reward and punishment approaches may not be effective, and in fact may make things worse
  • How ADHD impacts behavior and why CPS is a beneficial approach to support individuals with this common diagnosis
  • The necessary steps in implementing the CPS approach

Shannon Pavan – Behavior Specialist

What do we have in the trunk to help in “this” situation

This interactive session will provide participants with a wide variety of anxiety,  behavioral, social and emotional interventions applicable to students of all ages.  These interventions will be demonstrated through verbal, non-verbal and tactile methods.  In addition, participants will be provided with the resources necessary to apply these interventions in their daily work. (registering for this session will allow us to purchase the right amount of samples to take back to your schools)

Deborah F. Pace, PhD, R.Psych Alberta Health Services Consultant

“Youth and Non-Suicidal Self-Injury”.

Self Injurious behavior appears to be on the increase amongst adolescents most often in middle and high school.  Teachers and Education Assistants likely will encounter this behavior at some point in their career and interacting with a student who self harms can be upsetting, frightening and perplexing.  In this session we will focus on how school personnel respond to these students. We will discuss the definition and terminology of “Self-Injurious Behavior” and learn about the different types of presentation on this topic and the reasons adolescents self harm.  We will discuss the common co-morbidities and characteristics, as well as ensuring what risk factors, demographics and assessing risk will help.  Finally, we will explore options on how to seek help for the student and examine some of the treatments available.

Janice West and Terry Heaney – Working with students on the Autism Spectrum.

ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder)  is a part of all of our lives.  If you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with autism and as has been said previously the Autism spectrum is long and wide and we’re all on it.  Janice and Terry have recently completed a new course on ASD and working with ASD students and would like to share some of what they learned and some strategies for supporting students in the classroom.

Colony EA’s session – During Session Three Time Only

Shauna Keeler will chair this session for all EA’s working in the colonies. The time will be utilized to attend to issues specifically experienced by colony EA’s.  This should be the last session of the day for all Colony EA’s – part of the time will be used to discuss applying what was learned earlier in the day to the colony setting and part of the time used to discuss matters particularly related to your work on the colonies.



EA Conference January 29

The EA conference for 2015 is fast approaching, details of the 10 sessions that will be offered over the 3 session times on the 29th of January will be up shortly.

Once again we will be using Google Forms to register – registration will be opening likely by Wednesday January 14th.  An e-mail will be sent to all EA’s on the e-mail list and administration.

The Conference Day will be at Magrath High School and follow a similar pattern to last year’s event.