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An Open Mind in Special Education

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When you are a special education teacher, it’s important to keep an open mind and never stop being willing to learn and try new things. Our students rely on us to do so. The children we work with are the ones who have been marginalized, and chances are if you’re a SEIT your students are the ones who not a lot of techniques have worked for. That is why we have to keep an open mind and be willing to learn and try new things in our profession if we are going to be the most effective teachers we can be. 

Am I the only one who often finds myself at work and repeating the AA’s definition of insanity?

No, I’m not an alcoholic. I’ve never been to an AA meeting, but in my family when someone keeps trying something over and over again, we’ll look at them, click our tongues and say, “The AA’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

I’m not actually sure if this is really an AA thing. I can understand why it might be associated with them, though.

Just like addicts can convince themselves to do the same thing again and again, thinking it will end differently, teachers can do the same thing. Hopefully not with drugs though.

I’ve seen teachers do the same interventions again and again, and after seeing proof that it didn’t work, repeat the strategy again.

Not best practice in my opinion, so why does it happen so often in our field, which is supposed to be reflective?

That is because sometimes people don’t have the right mindset going in. We finish school and we stop learning or we work for long enough and we stop trying new things. 

So this blog is going to cover what an open mind is and why special education teachers need to have one! 

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An open mind sounds like something a hippy or some new-age person would say. 

Honestly, I do get that. I grew up in a very funky place where a lot of the Hippies retired after Woodstock, and all of them talk about keeping an open mind to the possibilities of the universe and using human bodies to spell out the word love in the street.

I can just feel my teenage self gagging.

But really an open mind is quite a simple thing, and you don’t even have to be a hippy to understand it. 

Mirriam-Webster defines it as “A willingness to listen or accept different ideas or opinions.”

Now, I also want to clarify a few points. Having an open mind doesn’t mean you have to accept every new idea you hear. Or that you can’t be critical of things.

If someone fell from the sky tomorrow and said the key to curing autism was to eat clarified coconut oil that he just happens to be selling for a thousand dollars, I would have some follow-up questions and doubts. 

The key to having an open mind is to be willing to hear new ideas and consider them, instead of dismissing them with a simple, “but this is the way we’ve always done it.”

That’s how we wound up with ABA being so prevalent in our field, and we all know how I feel about ABA.

It is vital for special education teachers to have an open mind because not all strategies will work for all students. If they did, there wouldn’t be special education. 

Now I’m not knocking techniques, interventions, or programs people have used that have worked for them for most of their profession.

If you have one of those systems, that’s great! 

But has there ever been a student it didn’t work for? If so, what did you do? Back up and try it again? Or did you maybe want to try to learn something new to grow as a teacher?

Without an open mind, teachers can get stuck doing the same thing over and over again, and while it might work for most students, we have an obligation to try new interventions and strategies for the kids it’s not working on.

Teachers with an open mind can look at a situation and say this is not working, let’s try something else, and research and try new teaching techniques, without feeling defensive.

They’re better teachers for it because maybe they’ll be able to take what worked for that one difficult case and apply it to others. Having an open mind allows you to keep learning and trying new things. It just makes you a flat-out better teacher. 

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be critical of new techniques or something that doesn’t seem safe or in the best interest of your students. 

But there are probably a lot of other research-based techniques out there besides the ones you’ve been using.

Now having an open mind might feel scary. Especially, if you’re being asked to try a whole new therapeutic approach, but I would encourage you to try it anyway.

You don’t want to become the person who is convinced that the way they do things is best, refuses to change their mind, and ignores the students it doesn’t work for.

I don’t think any of us want to be that teacher. 

A big part of having an open mind is letting go of your pride. When you are trying new things, you’re going to have a lot of false starts and make tons of mistakes. 

You have to be okay with that, and it only seems fair to me. 

We ask students to try new things, make mistakes, and learn all the time. Why wouldn’t expect the same of ourselves?

If it sounds scary that’s because it is. But sometimes the things that matter most are the things that are the scariest. 

It also helps not to do it alone. When you have a student who isn’t responding to your usual methodologies research other strategies. Talk to your coworkers and try something new.

They might know something about what you want to try and be willing to try it with you.

Remember, we are part of a team, and it’s okay to ask for support as you go on a journey of professional improvement.

Having an open mind opens you up to new things and allows you to keep growing as a person. I might even argue that it’s one of the most important credentials we can have as special educators. 

With a closed mind, you can miss out on many opportunities, and not just the ones about learning and growing. You can miss financial opportunities as well. I know some families who won’t hire SEITs with closed minds. 

Taking time to learn and develop an open mind can be difficult. However, it isn’t something you have to do alone! Make sure to follow me on Instagram. Send me a DM about how you are doing on your journey to open-mindedness. I would love to hear from you!

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