Last week a few of us ventured downtown Toronto to the Metro Convention Centre to participate in the annual Geneva Centre for Autism Symposium (a fancy word for a conference 😉 As expected and anticipated, there was a TON of information, sessions, amazing resources, and creative sessions offered to us, the delegates attending. Everywhere you went there was another expert, new strategies for classroom improvement, how to REALLY listen to our students and how we can attend to their needs compassionately and effectively! I LOVE being surrounded with people who care so much for the field they are in, the wisdom they possess and the new information we are provided with as educators.

Even MORE so, returning to school late Friday afternoon to see all of these students after being away for 3 days brought this heart a far greater joy! All of the strategies, information and resources are only as good as you take them. WHERE do we take all of the information and resources we are being provided with? Is it kept in a notebook, or is it applied to our classroom?

I considered writing down all of the “Top 10” things I learned at the conference, but I thought I would attempt to sum it up in a slightly different way for you. Leading with this…

50% is knowledge/science and the OTHER 50% is FUN and being creative with the knowledge you possess.

I don’t know ONE person in the entire world who doesn’t need some form of reinforcement for the work they are asked to participate in! For anyone in the working field, a primary reinforcement is monetary value (a paycheque) Perhaps a secondary reinforcement may be social praise/encouragement from a boss & teacher, maybe an extra lunch-in or a “Fun Friday” at school to encourage learning and incentive building! Learning- regardless of your environment needs to be intentional, incentive building and FUN!

How do we make learning FUN when everyone’s “incentive” is different? The only answer to this question is to develop meaningful relationships with people. What makes a person willing to socially engage into an activity? We all have different “special interests” and for many of our students, those special interests are incredibly rewarding. When I was in school, the moment I began learning with music, I was immediately captivated by the teachings, as many others are as well (and candy- that always did the trick for me 😉 The more incentive building lessons that are naturally integrated- the more interest there is in in learning!

I believe we are constantly learning how to integrate our lessons and teachings with our student’s incentives in mind. I walked away from that conference going… WOW! How awesome is it to know our students by name.

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A huge goal for our students is this idea of Social Engagement– that is, the amount of participation one has in a community. Within the school setting, that community is primarily the classroom. Teaching Social Engagement within the classroom setting is also setting the tone for areas of their life outside of the classroom. This concept does not always come naturally for some of our students, so we work extra hard at finding that “it” factor for each of them to not only draw them into a lesson, but into an activity with their peers where they are learning and fully participating together as a group while integrating incentive based activities. 10 years from now, will our students remember EVERY single thing we taught them (some might 😉 but likely not- but it is our hope that the consistent social engagement they participated in within the school setting carries them onto the next opportunity they are presented with! They remember that engaging with other people brings excitement, new information and friendships!

Every day we LEARN something- let’s make it worth it!