We’ve expanded to Vietnam!

Please welcome our newest Local Chapter! On Monday, September 23rd, over 25 professionals, educators and parents gathered at Hanoi International School for a day of networking, visioning and momentum-building. We can support them by follow SENIA Vietnam on twitter @SeniaVietnam and visiting their developing website.

Congratulations SENIA Vietnam!

RTI for International Schools Summit

Looking to deepen your collective understanding of the science and philosophy behind the Response to Intervention (RtI) framework and how it can be used to inform our decision-making as international school teams? Check out the RTI for International Schools Conference! The 1st annual conference will be held in Singapore, October 24-26, 2019. There’s still time to register! Bring your school teams!

If you would like more information on speakers and registration information, check out https://www.rtiforinternationalschools.org/

SENIA-Thailand Conference Update

Announcement!

Announcing the 2020 SENIA Conference theme!
Beyond Inclusion: Embracing the Integrated Experience

Start thinking about potential conference topics. The call for presenters will be coming shortly.

Inaugural SENIA India Chapter Conference

SENIA India held their initial conference at Stonehill International School’s Learning Hub in Bangalore on 2nd March 2019.

Members of the board and other interested teachers met and discussed how inclusion works in their schools, things they are proud of, and some of the challenges that they are facing. Many of these challenges were common to all schools so we hope to develop our network of contacts to support inclusion and professional development opportunities across India.

Angelle Thibodeaux, SENIA India board member and SENIA teacher rep from the American School of Bombay, shared her expertise in meeting sensory needs with over 45 teachers. Learning support, homeroom and specialist teachers were eager to find out how they can better support their students. Not only was the session very informative, with lots of ‘ah ha’ moments, it finished with some practical activities using yoga balls that could be taken back to the classroom and used immediately.

For our final session, Lia Bartholomew from Autism Teaching Institute in Melbourne, developed teachers’ understanding of ASD and how to meet the needs of students with Autism in mainstream settings. With over 25 teachers in attendance, Lia shared practical strategies, resources, responded to questions and even offered to support teachers via email and in their classes. We are very grateful to have such an amazing resource available to us.

Thank you so much to all the teachers who attended the conference and shared their energy and enthusiasm with us all!

Maria Hamblin
SENIA India Chairperson
Head of Learning Support, Stonehill International School

Are you in India, or know someone who works in India? Connect with the SENIA India Local Chapter HERE.

SENIA India Local Chapter Board Members:
Maria Hamblin, Sarika Umamahesh, Angelle Thibodeaux (Beth Rappe absent)

SENIA 2019 Conference Memories

We just finished our annual SENIA conference at Hong Kong Academy! Over 300 members (educators, professionals, and parents) from around the world came together to learn, connect with others in the field, and leave inspired.

5 Reasons I Love SENIA + 1

Since 2010 I’ve attended the Special Education Network In Asia (SENIA) conference yearly. After each, I return home recharged and excited about my role as a special education teacher in an international school. From the moment I walked through the doors of Brent, Manila nine years ago, I felt part of something big, and, for lack of a better word, special.

I could title this blog post 100 Reasons I Love SENIA (now called the Special Education Network & Inclusion Association) but will abbreviate it for the sake of time, something all of us seem short on these days.

So, without further ado, here is my list of 5 reasons I love SENIA.

1. I can use what I learned from my peers on Monday

No joke. Every year I come home with something I can try with my students that very same week. This is not the case at many conferences. I’ve been to so many where the focus is on the “why” and not the “how.” Now don’t get me wrong, the “why” is important, but if we don’t pair that with “how,” then we are just as stuck as we were before the conference began. I want the big picture, and I want action to support getting there.

During session one, I chose to attend Leah Llamzon’s presentation. Leah, an SLP from Singapore

Green’s mind is not in the group. Uh oh.

American School, has been trained in Social Thinking and shared her knowledge of the I LAUGH model with us. The “L” in I LAUGH stands for Listening with Mind and Body. Leah showed us how she makes clay figures of bodies and heads and places them in a circle. When working with her students, if one is obviously thinking about something else, she will take off the head to show the student that his mind is not in the group. Alternatively, if her student has her body turned away from the group, Leah will take the body away. This is a fantastic visual representation for our students with social communication difficulties, and right away I thought, “I’m trying this on Monday.” I tried it, and sure enough, it worked brilliantly. I now have two students whose minds and bodies are much more focused on our group lessons due to this incredibly simple tool.

Thank you, Leah!

That is just one example. I’m guessing many of you who are reading this have more. Feel free to comment here with your SENIA “take-away.”

2. SENIA learning benefits all students and all teachers

When speaking about SENIA with my colleagues, I’ve had many say, “Well, I’m not a special educator, so SENIA is not for me.”

“Ahhh…,” I say in response, “But it really is. SENIA is for all educators. Information and strategies we learn are best-practice for all students.” Kate Balsamo, SENIA’s chairperson, explains it so well in this video.

Our keynote speaker this year, Dr. Laura Flores Shaw, helped us to understand that it’s not just our pre-frontal cortex which controls our Executive Functioning Skills. Our cerebellum is also very important, and therefore we need to get up and move to maximize learning. It is obvious that it’s not just our diverse learners that need support with Executive Functioning, and adding movement to our day will benefit all learners. While working with one of my students in a 3rd-grade classroom today, the teacher, who attended SENIA, stopped the class to tell them about how important movement is for their learning. She then did a mindfulness lesson focused on movement, preparing her students for the next task at hand. You rock, Caryn!

So much of our learning at SENIA focuses on universal design. If we create systems and design learning to meet the needs of our exceptional learners, we are helping all of our students. When we scaffold our lessons, we help our students work within their zone of proximal development (ZPD) which helps all experience success. Who doesn’t want that for their students?

If you’ve had a conversation with a colleague similar to mine above, why not encourage him/her to join us next year?

3. Traveling to another country is cool

Something unique about SENIA is that each year the conference is held in another country. This year our host was Hong Kong Academy. (Thanks so much to Kristel Solomon-Saleem and Jennifer Swinehart for all the hard work they did to put on a seamless conference). Not only did this enable professionals from all over Asia (and beyond) to travel to Hong Kong, but we also got to see how Hong Kong Academy works with a managed number of students with special needs to make their school truly inclusive. I think all of us would say that it is more than obvious that HKA cares deeply for their learners and has created an environment which many of our schools aspire to.

Since its inception, SENIA has been all over Asia; China, Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Thailand, and Hong Kong. Next year we’ll be heading back to the Philippines. The conference will be organized by the Manila local chapter of SENIA and hosted at International School Manila. I can’t wait to learn from this wonderful group and see inclusion at work in another country.

4. I find myself in awe of others

As a special educator and a mom to a child with special needs, I tend to think I work pretty hard and that I’m a strong advocate for our kids. And then I come to a SENIA conference and am blown out of the water by what our students with needs are doing to advocate for themselves and others and by how adults all over are advocating for those with needs in unique and exciting ways.

This year SENIA awarded Seferina Engen from Taiwan the SENIA student award. When Seferina gave her acceptance speech, there was not a dry eye in the house. What a true inspiration! Seferina has a rare genetic disorder which makes learning difficult. Thanks to some incredible teachers and Seferina’s self-advocacy, she has gone on to do remarkable things.  She organized over 100 volunteers to run the Hero Games, an Olympic event for children with special needs in Taiwan. She also founded “Make it Shine” in partnership with a local NGO to help kids with special needs explore their creativity through art and sports.” Wow! This is a high school student. I’m in awe of Seferina. And, quite frankly, I’m in awe of all of the honorary award winners. Each featured was absolutely remarkable.

K.A. accepting her award

Our Advocacy award winner, K.A. Razhiya started a spa training center and business for people with needs. She was such a fun speaker; so full of energy and true passion for what she does.  Max Simpson, an honorary award winner, has opened a vocational training center in Bangkok called STEPS with Theera, which as many of you know, my son Braden attends. These advocates inspire me to think, “What more can I be doing to advocate for students with needs at my school and in my community?”

Therefore, my SENIA word this year is MORE.

5. Networking with like-minded individuals is a gift

Perhaps my favorite part of attending SENIA is meeting other parents, educators and professionals who are passionate about helping all children be successful. Through the years, I’ve met so many people who have helped mold me into the professional I am today. The conversations held during coffee breaks, lunch and happy hours are some of the most significant and rewarding parts of my time at SENIA. I learn so much from each person I speak with. I love running into SENIA friends. I first met Donna Bracewell, Reed Rhodes, Tanya Farrol, and Ericson Perez at Brent in 2010 and we have attended many SENIA’s together ever since. This is what makes SENIA fun; seeing old friends and meeting new ones each and every year. SENIA friends are forever friends.

+1 Lots of laughs

One of the funniest memories from this year’s conference was the bus ride back to the hotel after the happy hour. Watch out, people, I have video proof of the shenanigans going on during that bus trip!

Who knew a bus ride could be so fun?

So those are my top 5 reasons for loving SENIA. Do you love SENIA? I’d love to hear why. Share your blog or your experiences and help spread the word.

See you all next year in Manila!

Kate Balsamo Interviewed on 21clRadio

Listen to Kate Balsamo, SENIA Board Chair, as she shares her progressive views on special education in international schools.

Full interview here.

Seferina Engen Recipient of 2019 Student Student Award

Congratulations to Seferina Engen from Taipei American School as this year’s recipient of the SENIA Student Award. This award recognizes a student for advocating awareness for differently abled individuals.

At a young age, Seferina was diagnosed with a rare genetic syndrome. As the doctor explained her diagnosis, she listened to him talk about neuroplasticity and her brain. He explained that with the right strategies and a lot of effort, there was nothing she couldn’t accomplish. Teachers supported her by teaching strategies to become organized and how to break down any problem into smaller, more manageable pieces. They taught her to have faith in herself and the learning methods that were successful for her.

Through learning more about herself and advocating for her needs she began to realize that she needed to celebrate her differences and wear them with pride. She set out redefining what is “normal.” She realized long ago it is not enough to hope society changes; she needed to bring about the changes herself—or at least try her best to help others in any way she could. She organized more than 100 volunteers to run the Hero Games, a Special Olympics for special needs children in Taiwan. She also became President of Operation Smile, an association which raises money and awareness for kids with cleft palate. Finally, she founded “Make it Shine” in partnership with a local NGO to help special needs kids explore their creativity through art and sports.

Next year she will be attending university in the UK and she will continue to pursue her passion for advocating for children who are different. In her own words: “I reject this whole label – ‘disability.’  We are not disabled and we are not dumb, we just think differently. Neurodiversity is a gift to the world, not a problem to be overcome.”

K.A. Razhiyah Recipient of 2019 SENIA Advocacy Award

K.A. Razhiyah

Congratulations to K.A. Razhiyah from Panji Secondary School in Malaysia as the recipient of this year’s SENIA Advocacy Award.  This award recognizes professionals whose mission is to advocate and provide opportunities to differently abled students.

K.A. has done just that!  As part of the special education branch of her school, she championed the development and training of her students in Teratak Spa.  The idea of Teratak Spa is to provide differently abled students with the transition to work skills in providing spa type treatments – facials, scrubs, massages – as well as developing SPA products to be sold.  The students go through challenging coursework to register for their Malaysian Skills Certificate based on Modules of Spa Therapy.

The impact on the students in this program has been life-changing. “Practical, work-based learning alongside professionals and being treated like an adult can transform the motivation and aspiration of people with disabilities who have struggled in school, helping them to achieve more than they ever thought they were capable of,” says K.A.

The Teratak Spa began in the local community with students providing services for teachers, parents and fellow students.  Word began to spread about the amazing services offered by the students and soon the invitations began to pore in!  They began with providing services at the Mydin Mall, then they were encouraged to open a SPA booth at the Teacher Training College, Tesco, Balai Islam and on a Teacher’s Day Celebration for their state.

K.A. has written many articles and presented at numerous conferences about the benefits of providing students with the life skills necessary to become contributing members of society.  She has received many awards both nationally and internationally for her continued work on providing students with special needs an opportunity to be employed.  To this day, she continues to encourage the spa industry to find a place for her trained students and develop inclusion for all members of society.