Here at The London School Thiene we are known for our quality language teaching but also for our belief that all learners can be successful and that everyone in our learning organisation is still learning. Over the past few years we have been focusing more and more on inclusion, which has meant supporting and empowering students with disabilities as well as championing the rights of non-native English speaking teachers.
One of the most exciting projects over the past year has been our participation with For Action, an organisation based in Bassano. Through training and empowerment, it aims to encourage young disabled people into employment. Our remit was not only to prepare the participants for Cambridge Exams but to get them ready to face the challenge of work experience abroad. We saw our role as giving our students tools to communicate in English and the confidence to go into this new, and perhaps intimidating, environment.
The big emotional pay off came when one of the participants organised an event for disabled people. Paraplegic as a result of a car accident, her enthusiasm for learning and making connections with those around her was a real inspiration. During this event two of the shyest course participants, one with a speech difficulty, performed a song which moved many of the audience. We are very much looking forward to the end of the project when all three groups will be awarded their Cambridge certificates ranging from Key to Advanced, a fitting finish to this part of our journey towards inclusivity.
For our teachers it was a stimulating experience which they approached with enthusiasm and sensitivity, aware of the various difficulties faced by the students in terms of learning, mobility and self-esteem. Our time spent with these groups made us reflect on how we treat our students and staff, a renewed awareness that everyone deserves special consideration as we are all fighting our own battles, whether seen or unseen. Chiara, one of our students, sums it up well by saying, “Communication isn’t easy for anyone, least of all for me. The work I did in Malta gave me the possibility to learn how to listen – listen to myself and others. I shared laughter, joy and pain. This helped make me a person who is stronger, more aware, more independent. I’m very grateful to For Action for giving me a second chance.”
The ethical code we work to is incorporated into our staff handbook and shared with our students when they join our courses. Adhering to it has caused some difficult moments – discussing inappropriate comments about race or sexual orientation with students made during lessons, refusing to change our programme which acknowledged when put under pressure to do so by a religious group, turning out offers of work which stipulate “mother tongue only”. The latter has also led us to be an influencer in the industry, explaining to clients why we focus on quality and professionalism, not birth country, when employing teaching staff.
All of these experiences have led us to promote inclusive teaching in inclusive schools by holding an annual conference inspired by the values we’re working with. All In: Include and Educate 2017 is the first in a series bringing together educators from diverse backgrounds to promote a continuous dialogue on inclusion. This year the event will take place on the stunning Venetian island of San Servolo. The prestigious conference venue also offers accommodation and world-class catering, included in the price. If you would like to join the discussion, guarantee your place by purchasing your ticket here.
We’re All In, we hope you will be too!