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Educational Passions - Social Thinking, Reading and Valuing Everyone!

Photo Courtesy of Ellen Coulston

When surveyed about my educational passions, my perspective has been shaped by watching my son progress through school. Even though I have witnessed some great moments in his educational career and observed some fabulous teaching, education reform needs to occur so that every student has an opportunity for a solid education.

If I had three wishes from the Educational Genie, I would like Social Thinking® to be taught in every school. Michelle Garcia Winner, a Speech Language Pathologist, developed the term and language surrounding social thinking for people with weak social skills. Michelle helps students gain a deeper understanding of social communication and relations by explicitly teaching them to notice, decode and encode social situations. It is not just executing a social skill, you have to think about the person first.  Most people acquire this skill intuitively, but some children, including those with high academic, cognitive and language skills, may not be hard wired for social skills and need instruction.

Michelle’s Think Social curriculum helps students with problem solving, the flexibility of conversation and other social relatedness skills so they can develop friendships and team building skills necessary for the classroom and in the workplace. We are talking about building Social Capital! We receive benefits from relationships! Sadly, Michelle’s work is not taught in any teacher training or in speech language pathologist school.  This is where I would wave my wand first! Academia needs to be teaching social thinking because when looking at the education umbrella, academics are only 20% and the rest is pure social!  To learn more about social thinking, please visit

My second wish for education reform is for Dr. Louisa Moats to become the Dean at every of School of Education in the United States! Now she would be one busy lady! Dr. Moats developed LETRS training. (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling). She lectures that we know how to help children learn the science of reading yet academia has been very slow to respond in altering its teacher preparation curriculum. Please click to learn more about Dr. Moats’ philosophy on pre-teacher training. 

Dr. Jean Chall formerly of Harvard Graduate School of Education said, “60% of the population will learn to read regardless of what we do; it’s the other 40% we have to worry about.” If you look at NAEP reading scores over the past four decades, there has been very little movement in raising reading scores. We have punished children for not learning, we have blamed teachers for not teaching, yet academia has been left untouched in the process and they supply the work force!

The National Council on Teacher Quality performed a survey on teacher preparation programs. Nationwide, surveying 72 out of 1,271 Schools of Education was the basis of a report called “What Education Schools are Not Teaching about Reading and What Elementary Teachers are Not Learning.”  This eye opening report details what needs to be taught in pre-service teaching programs but is not. To learn more please click on this NCTQ report.  

See your own state’s rating for preparing its future teachers.  On the following link, enter your state on the NCTQ map. Click on State Teacher Policy Yearbooks for your state’s grade. You will be surprised by the grades! 

For my third wish, I hope House Bill #91 (HB 91) passes in our legislature. The prime sponsor of this People First Language® bill is the 2010 Mom Congress Delaware delegate, Representative Debra Heffernan. The purpose of this legislation is to remove undignified language from state laws and policies. People First Language created by Kathie Snow of Disability is Natural®, teaches us when we describe people by their disabilities first, we no longer view them as people. For example, People First Language would say a boy with autism, instead of the autistic boy. This legislation will also eradicate the most offensive, the “r” word. That word is retard. In the disability community, the “r” word is comparable to the “n” word. A youth movement called Spread the Word to End the Word has been instrumental in raising awareness that it is not okay to say “that’s retarded,” or “you’re a retard.”   Please see the attached video with Tim Shriver on The Colbert Report

Representative Heffernan is raising awareness that we should value multiple intelligences. Everyone has a gift to share. Everyone has Value and Everyone wants to Belong!

I may not attain all my magical wishes, but I continue raising awareness that academia needs to be included in all discussions centered on education reform.  I am personally motivated because I have “skin in the game,” a 14-year-old son, who is depending an educational system that is going to do right by him. He’s waiting….let’s do it!

Ellen Coulston is an education advoacte who focuses on children with special needs.  She is the 2011 Mom Congress delegate from Deleware.