This month, we are thrilled to showcase the amazing work and ideas of Karen Palmerlee, a Resource Specialist Teacher at Butte County Office of Education in Bangor, California! Congratulations, Karen! The following is our interview with Karen on her inclusion philosophy.
When were you first introduced to inclusion? Why did you choose to become a champion for inclusion?
Even as a child, I remember believing that everyone should belong. In the mid 70’s, right out of high school, I traveled to the South Pacific and experienced everyday life in rural island villages. I noticed that most everyone seemed to be wanted, accepted, involved and appreciated. This had a lasting impression on me. I discovered KIT in 2000 while completing my M/M & M/S Credential. It was like winning the jackpot to have an online organization available anytime that focuses on inclusion, provides training and research-based resources, all while fueling my passion, feeding my soul, and giving validity to what I believe in!
Many of us have something we feel passionate about, something we find we are modeling and sharing with others every chance we get, often without even realizing it. I’m a believer in using our higher power to find purpose that taps into our special gifts and brings out the best in us. For me, that’s inclusion. When I discovered KIT’s “Person First Language”, it took something important to me, using appropriate language, especially when addressing people, to a whole new level. By simply changing around a few words, the focus shifts to putting the person first, not the (dis)ability. I believe this “honors” us all and raises awareness.
What do you love about inclusion?
I love how inclusion can touch the lives of everyone in such remarkably positive ways! It’s especially fulfilling when it’s obvious, such as a new student entering your inclusive classroom and smiling with such delight as they look around and realize that this is a place where they belong and want to be. Then you notice their parent give you that look of relief and appreciation, as they confidently walk out the door and leave their precious child in your trusted care.
What is your vision for an inclusive world?
My ideal inclusive world is one where attitudes and environments promote inclusion and access for everyone possible worldwide! I believe we are all lifelong learners, regardless of our situation or location. There are many valuable organizations, resources and support systems available to help us create our visions and achieve our goals. Even large goals can start with each of us examining our expectations, attitudes, words and actions that we model. If this empowers and motivates others to spread this vision, pay it forward, and take action, then perhaps one day, our world will be more like one amazing interconnected inclusive global village. One can dream…
Did you overcome a barrier or roadblock regarding exclusion/inclusion?
Well, there have been many barriers I have faced while attempting to be an advocate for myself and others with or without special needs. I have experienced the frustration in dealing with people who are unwilling to listen or collaborate on any level to find solutions. I believe this helps me have more compassion and patience when working with people who are experiencing barriers. They may just want an opportunity to effectively vent, discover possibilities and find appropriate connections that support their unique and changing needs. It truly does take a village, and it is all about building relationships.
What is one of your most memorable inclusion experiences?
I feel truly blessed to have so many memorable inclusion experiences, even those that were not so positive, since upon reflection, they helped me grow as an educator and person. It’s especially encouraging when a past student or family member shares how their lives were touched or changed for the better, by our inclusive classroom and practices. A special memory is when I saw a past student with high functioning autism, confidently and capably working at a local business. He proudly said “Hello Ms. Palmerlee”, shook my hand and politely thanked me for being his favorite teacher. Then he pulled out an almost completely worn out, folded up 3×5 card from his wallet where I had written “I believe in you” almost a decade prior. Wow, talk about touch your heart– that made it all worthwhile!
What is your top tip that you would give to someone working with children?
Something a mentor shared with me, as a brand new teacher, is the importance of connecting with children in a genuinely caring way on their unique level, so it has meaning to them. This might include knowing their name, remembering things they say or do, focusing on what’s important to them, what makes them smile, what they consider as being fun or interesting. This can give such great insight into how to best reach them, encourage them and help them meet their full potential. She suggested personally greeting students every day with a smile, kind word or action depending on their level of trust. Even small positive acts can make such a difference in the life of a child. We can all be observant and diligent to take advantage of any opportunities that promote inclusion and self-determination. This can be effective with everyone!
–Written by KIT Staff
Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.