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Reflections on LWB’s 2014 Teacher Training

No child should have to grow up in an orphanage. But, for those children who do live in orphanages, we wish we wish all of them would have access to education. LWB has created Believe in Me schools inside orphanages so that children born with special needs can have their own opportunity to go to school. This summer, we held a week long training for teachers from all of our orphanage schools.

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This special teacher training was hosted by the Shaoguan orphanage last month, and we saw children who were clearly loved by their teachers, regardless of their special needs. These wonderful kids knew the love of teachers who weren’t just doing a job, but were happy to see them, hug them, encourage them, and guide their learning. Working with children who have a range of physical, emotional, and thinking abilities is a challenge to the most seasoned teacher, yet the LWB Believe In Me (BIM) teachers who participated in the 2014 training — some more experienced teachers, and some brand new to the profession — all seemed ready for the task! It was an honor to work together, all of us from the USA and China sharing our expertise, experiences, and asking and answering each other’s questions in order to meet the needs of current and future BIM students.

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And those BIM students…Wow! They face challenges that are often unimaginable. And still, they try, and they do succeed.

We played Duck, Duck Goose! to demonstrate group games that can be fun learning experiences. Playing it using Mandarin words was a learning experience for us, and we enjoyed seeing how quickly the students took to the game, followed directions, and seemed to be having a good time. What we  never imagined was that that game could make us cry. There was one little girl who used a walker due to cerebral palsy, and she sat on the side thinking she wouldn’t be allowed to play.  We explained to the teachers that ALL the children in the class could participate in every activity, and that they could be creative with their modifications.  The little girl was overjoyed to be invited to join in the game, and when she laughed aloud with delight as she pushed her walker as fast as she could to try to catch another student, we felt the tears coming. It was a beautiful moment. She was part of the class, she was participating with her friends, and she was having a blast!

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There were other moments during the week in Shaoguan that brought both tears and laughter. Whether it was reading the Eric Carle book, The Tiny Seed, playing in sensory bins, getting hand stamps for tasks accomplished, or working on lacing cards, the BIM students showed such joy and enthusiasm for learning.

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Their enthusiasm was remarkable considering all the obstacles they have faced in life and reflects the resilience of children, including those who experience things that would cause many of us to crumble. All children deserve a quality education, and BIM schools make that possible for children who would probably not have the opportunity otherwise. Early intervention helps many prospective parents feel more comfortable adopting children, and education helps those who aren’t chosen for adoption to have experiences to better prepare them for the future.

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…and then it was over, just like that. Our time with the students of Shaoguan Believe in Me School was coming to an end.  So many wonderful memories made watching their little faces as they explored new materials and jumped into activities they had never seen. The teachers from the other BIM Schools were also networking, making friendships and connections to material that they could take back and use in their classrooms.

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It was remarkable to see the growth in the teachers who have attended previous trainings. They shared many great classroom ideas and demonstrated an increased understanding of working with children with various special needs. Their leadership is invaluable for staff who don’t have as many years teaching under their belt. It certainly reinforces the importance of bringing the LWB teachers together for trainings such as these. These veteran teachers contribute greatly to professional conversations as well as modeling positive interactions with students, especially when opportunities arise to work with a student who may be off track from an activity.

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Together, we accomplished so much as we held workshops on helping students learn successful classroom behaviors and how to work on school tasks more independently, teaching students communication skills, and improving students’ physical access to classroom materials and experiences.

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Still, there is more work to do. Teachers need ongoing professional development, especially when they work with students with significant learning, emotional, and physical  needs. The students in the LWB BIM schools are eager to learn. and their loving teachers want to continue to quench their thirst for enriching school experiences. The training team, teachers, and education staff in China planted seeds during the training, and the students are sure to thrive as a result.

Thank you to everyone who made this professional development opportunity available for the many amazing teachers of the Believe In Me schools. If you know of any company, individual, or group who may wish to sponsor an additional training in the future, we would love to hear from you! Special education workshops in China are still very limited, and these trainings make a very tangible difference in the lives of the children.

~Tracey Scherr is an Associate Director of Education for Love Without Boundaries, and Carol Mauerman is LWB’s Special Education Consultant.

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