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Friday, October 8, 2010

In unexpected places

The last two days have been very eventful in my conductor life. I had two meetings:one with a Mediated Learning school (set up by a parent with a kid with CP attending this private school and who had made great improvements in the past with CE) and one with a Stroke support group in Vancouver.

To be honest, I was very excited about the first meeting; because I knew from my student times that there is an important link between CE and mediated learning. I knew that both, as Andrew Sutton named them, played in the same ball league called "transformative pedagogies." I also know that there is some written material,from the big players of CE and mediated learning, describing that there are indeed similarities just waiting to be explored. Maybe to create something new- something big – something exciting. For my part, I was excited to see the similarities live at the place where transformation is supposed to happen; to learn from others who know what it means to create potential instead of achieving it; those who aim for more rather than accepting the traditional professional perception as the ultimate truth.

I guess for those reasons, it was more shocking to encounter only doubt, competition, aversion, we-want-to-see-proof-it-is-good-first; a slam-the-door-in-your-face kind of attitude.

I lived the last couple of years of my conductive career in a very protective environment. I worked in centers and an institution for Conductive Education, where it was established that CE was the one thing the clients chose to do and kept on choosing to do. There were warnings that other professionals might not like what we do or even verbalize that, due to the great effect it had on clients' lives.

So, what if those professionals did not like it? In CE eyes we were not doing anything wrong: we worked holistically with the clients, giving them learning opportunities and teaching our hearts out.

Now, I find myself in a very different position. I do not have the support or protective environment such organizations can give. Nor do I have the client base to not care; plus it kinda felt personal. No, I do not have a PhD. I possess a simple undergraduate degree. But does that really matter, when I can offer people and their families ways of approaching their needs from a point of teaching and learning. In my few conductive years, I have witnessed and contributed to improvements; some that had been declared impossible.

So what does a degree and apparent knowledge of what happens in the brain (questionable of how much truth is in that?) matter when you know you can help the learning process and help people???

I do understand as a professional you have to have some skepticism about new or innovative technologies and innovations. There are a lot of quacks out there, as one conductor states on her blog. I love reading her blog and have referred some of my parents to her as a great source of knowledge for their natural need to seek the holy grail ( I do hope there will be more...) At the same time I always wondered why other professionals wouldn’t see CE as being one of those quacks??

In her blog she wrote:

Therefore, quack therapies of all sorts thrive. They promise the impossible, which is either a cure or at least some level of improved abilities or functions. Miracle cures[replace with improvement of ability and function] and stories of miracle cures are everywhere; they are circulated on the internet and in every possible media and by hearsay. These stories are often very catching and emotional, describing parents’ journeys on their way to finding the therapy, often in a faraway country that made the very much sought after positive changes in their child’s condition.

If you look at the history of CE and even at what the story is right now you read you will get

• maybe not a cure but “some level of improved abilities”. CHECK
• “stories of miracle [level of improved abilities]”CHECK
• “catching and emotional, describing parents journey on their way to finding the therapy, often in a faraway country that made the very much sought after positive changes in their child’s condition CHECK and DOUBLE CHECK

Why, as an educated professional wouldn’t you doubt every single word of it? Yes, there is research out there, but that hardly helps the situation. In the best cases it shows that CE is no better or worse than other approaches, and most cases state a lack of scientific relevance. So, if in their eyes, CE does not DO more, why bother.

The last statement is something I have heard from professionals before. I have also heard many other professionals say, `Well, we do that too.`

But do they? And if they don’t, how shall we be able to show them??? Because, and correct me if I`m wrong, the thing we do different is most of the time invisible. Creation of attention? motivation? learning opportunities? increasing problem-solving? improving self-confidence? etc. Those are hardly things you can touch, let alone see. So why wouldn’t you think, CE might be hocus –pocus?? Because we have touched peoples lives and brought improvement that mattered??? This dearth of scientific relevance matters little to me. CE remains important to me and to the individual families to whom it has happened.
And that’s why I became a conductor and that is why I hope to remain one as long as possible.

Meanwhile, what can we in the field of CE do??? I am not a hundred percent sure, but I think Susie planted a good seed to stop the crazy talk in CE; in particular - blobology. In the last two days, I have heard people trying to explain that what they are doing is better because they know what is going on in the brain and they use this to have the “right” reasons to do something, unlike someone like me who didn’t have a degree in esoterica. I just clammed-up and smiled, as it wouldn’t have helped to argue. Because that was fact, wasn’t it?? I mean a Master`s must prove this.

The other time I heard it was when I gave a presentation to a stroke support group today. It was right after my presentation, someone asked if CE could be explained by neuroplasticity. I replied that yes, that neuroplasticiy exists; and yes it’s proven that neurons can make new connections; and yes, that learning is possible no matter what age you are or what your circumstances (yes there are exceptions but I haven’t come across them yet)but that this is about all we know. We do not know how each thing that is taught in a certain way affects each individuals brain structure. And in the end this doesn’t matter, we know we can learn. Let`s find a way how. And those great and funny individuals at this particular stroke association understood me; and were still excited about to hear more.

For my part, I have learned you don’t necessarily find friends in the places you expect; but you do find them where they are because they want to learn about you and about what you do and what you have to offer.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Common sense? or is it????

On my first day of my conductive training at NICE, Andrew Sutton said to us something like that: “The most important thing you are going to learn is common sense.”
I was wondering, if it is so common, why would we have to learn it?? But did not question it further.

Since that day the question of what is common-sense and what is not has come up a lot. And I am sometimes surprised what apparently is not and even more what is.

My Oxford dictionary defines common-sense as: “good sense and sound judgment in practical matters”. So, in other words you do something because it makes sense. This requires that it has been thought through and with your current knowledge it’s the best you came up with. I remember that we decided within our group of students as long as you have a good reason why you do a certain activity, it couldn’t be wrong. However, you have to be able to let go of your initial idea and modify or change it if it does not bring the anticipated results. And yes, I do have to change from my initial idea quite often and I do not always have the right answer straight away and that is okay, as long as you recognize as this needing improvements.

Sometimes observing how other (semi)- professionals work with children with movement disorders leaves me puzzled on what exactly their thought process was.
E.g. last week I observed that a teacher assistant helped a child with a motor disorder to complete a school assignment. The assignment was to create a poster introducing the child and illustrate its interest.

When I got there, the assistant was putting glue on the paper (which judging by the straight line she cut out by herself) with the child sitting next to her. In an attempt to make the child have an active role she stacked the piece of paper on the child’s finger and ask the child where she should stick it. The child at this point staring at the ceiling and obviously having no interest whatsoever in the current activity. The assistant realizing this just took the kids hand and made the hand stick the piece of paper somewhere on the paper, without any verbal acknowledgment of the passive role of the child.

This made me wonder what she thought she assisted to teach?
I was at the school incognito, which means I was not there as a professional, but believe me I would have loved to be. I wanted to teach the assistant ways how she could have given the child more of an active role, how she has to expect the child to answer if she asked the child a question, how holding a glue stick would have been more feasible and active than sticking a piece of paper on the kids finger, how a great looking poster means nothing unless the child made it, etc. I wanted to teach how to teach the child, so that the work she does makes sense.

Unfortunately I couldn’t, but hopefully will be able to one day.

And, yes what I discovered after my first day at NICE and rediscover daily is that you are not born with common-sense. It rather is something that needs to be built or learned from experience so it makes sense to do.