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Breanna, Belgium


Breanna, a happy child, age 11, now in the fourth grade at BSGO! Melgesdreef Merksem

This is the story of Breanna, her teacher Peggy and her supporter An. Since September 2016, Breanna is a pupil at this school. She came in quite unexpectedly, her previous school didn’t know where she had gone off to. At that time, in June, it wasn’t really clear what the parents had in mind. Before, she followed courses in a school for special education. This is her sixth school…

Peggy: ‘I didn’t know she came from a special education school until Breanna told me herself. So, I was surprised, I didn’t expect it. Breanna didn’t look as if she needed that much more than some other kids….’

‘I heard that there would also be a special educator for Breanna in my class at the end of September. This was also a new situation for me: what to expect from this? What do I need to do …’ Peggy had some doubts about the necessity of a coach: wouldn’t it be better if this support came next year, when the curriculum is more difficult? She thought she had  enough time to take care of Breanna herself for this basis mathematics. And what’s more, there’s also teacher Bart, who is already supporting from time to time several kids during math classes. Peggy was also worried: it seemed a lot of work for a teacher: to plan everything ahead. ‘It wasn’t easy, how will I manage this?’

So, when those first weeks in September passed by, Breanna didn’t look like she was different from other kids. Her needs didn’t differ that much from those of other kids.

And then, at the end of September, An and Peggy met for the first time. ‘It was great meeting, we had a match.’ For An, this situation wasn’t easy either: ‘I didn’t know Breanna and I didn’t know the school’.

So, who is Breanna?

Peggy: ‘She’s a very cheerful child. Actually, she’s intelligent, it’s just mathematics which gives her problems. So, for me, this isn’t really a ‘typical’ child from a special school. Her needs aren’t that complicated.’

An has fixed hours: ‘every Tuesday and Thursday I come to help Breanna and some other kids in the class.’ (They both agree that Breanna asks smart questions and picks up a lot.)

What are her needs?

At the beginning it was said that besides math she would need a lot of support in social contacts and for her social skills. But here at school, it wasn’t a problem at all! It was also said she had concentration problems, but again, that was not the case here.

Breanna teaches herself necessary skills very quickly. She’s very self- disciplined in studying This was really surprising: Peggy, An, the 21 other kids in the class, the school … it was all very new for Breanna and yet, she’ s doing great. So in spite of the missing conditions to make inclusion easier, this case is exceptional.

What are the keys to success in this story?

Peggy didn’t have a mental picture of Breanna before she joined the class: she came in just like any other child. The teacher’s attitude is to see every child as a complete person each with his or her own talents. We all have something we are less good at, and some things we can do much better.

The pedagogic culture of the school is similar: giving children chances to develop and grow is very important. Peggy also knows her colleagues very well and how they all deal with children. There’s a fine balance between setting limits and putting behaviour in perspective so every child can develop at its best in a safe and encouraging environment.

What is necessary for Breanna? ‘She needs to be monitored closely for mathematics, and we need to set out the right strategies. Teachers in our school will help Breanna in the years to come and Breanna will of course always have to work hard. But we know she can stay here.’

Without the coach An, it might have been possible in this case, but An works more detailed and focused. An: ‘I write the strategies and actions down in Breanna’s notebook. So for next year this will immediately help the next teacher and Breanna as well.’

It’s remarkable how well Breanna accepts every tool.

Peggy: ‘You hear Breanna describing out loud every step of the used strategy. This is really amazing. She also tries out a lot herself. For me, this is an exceptional child.’

But what are the keys to success in the teacher’s approach?

Peggy has a lot of routines. She always uses the same strategy and describes the thinking process out loud. She models a lot, the same way, again and again, so it becomes really clear for everyone. She even puts a rhythm in the strategy so the children recognise and memorise the followed steps. They practise it all together. And Breanna, well it seemed  that exactly this was what she needed. She picks up the strategies in a really fantastic way. That’s why she can keep up with the others. Peggy also loves all the children in the classroom. She invests in a good contact with every child. She notices little things, she knows her pupils really well and when you enter the classroom, you notice that the children are really fond of her so the relation between the teacher and her pupils matters. This class climate of accepting everyone with his or her own talents and shortcomings makes it more likely for children with special needs to get accepted and get included.

And finally, let’s not forget the parents, who play a big role in this story. They practise a lot with Breanna, for sure, but they also have confidence in her. It’s a warm family, and both parents are realistic. They believe in their child and they knew that regular education would be the right decision for Breanna.

Peggy wants to make sure that Breanna is one of the many children at this school, she’s absolutely not the exception here. ‘Other kids have even more problems. Everything that is given to her, like tools or small tips, appropriate strategies, small changes in the evaluation, … is done for other kids as well. Our school always starts by looking at what is needed: what does this child need?’

Peggy thinks it really helps if a teacher has enough experience so you can get a good idea of the competences of a child: what can this child already do? An experienced teacher has more knowledge of the common difficulties for children in the curriculum contents. Therefore it’s easier to respond to all children.

So, we can conclude that the teacher really matters, in didactic issues as well as in pedagogical approaches. But also the parents, the children and the school matter. When any of those keys is missing, it might have been a completely different story for Breanna, with more behavioural problems, a lack of self-confidence, without perspectives…