Donna Higgins, M.Ed, is a special educator at Miriam’s high school. Here, she shares why she chose this career path, as well as her thoughts on the field of special education for unique learners.
Q. Why is special education – and particularly individualized education – important?
A. Special education is important because it gives every student the opportunity to learn to their fullest potential, gain confidence, and feel success.
Q. How do you tailor your curriculum to each individual child?
A. Tailoring the curriculum to each individual child begins with getting to know my students. Determining their learning needs, interests, and learning styles are key to developing a program that meets each student where they are in order to optimize their learning and growth.
Q. How do you teach when there are multiple learning needs in one class?
A. I learn as much as I can about the individual learning needs of each of my students and then plan lessons to address those needs. I use a mixture of whole group, small group, and 1:1 instruction, present content in a variety of ways, and use alternative assessments. I am there to give my students what they need, when they need it, so they can access and learn the material in a way that is best for them. Creativity, organization, and flexibility are very helpful in managing a diverse classroom.
Q. What drew you to the field of special education?
A. Soccer has always been a big part of my life, as I played for 15 years, from age 7 through college. It is actually my love for the game that led me to become a special education teacher. When I was in high school, I helped coach a soccer team of some of the most fun and determined kids, who had a wide range of learning differences and challenges. The kids, with their positive spirit, stole my heart and made me realize that I wanted a career in special education.
Q. Have you noticed changes in the field over time? How about changes in unique learners’ needs?
A. Absolutely. There is more inclusion and acceptance of students with learning differences, which is awesome. The access and use of technology in the classroom promotes a more engaged learning environment for teachers and their students. There has been a move toward relationship building between teachers and students, so the students feel seen, heard, respected, and safe.
One of the most important changes has been in the area of transition services and the importance of helping our students get ready for life after high school. Wondering what life after high school will be like is often very stressful and sometimes scary for students and their families. Having a transition plan in place that is worked on each year can help relieve some of the anxiety and help students and their families better prepare and know what to expect.
Q. From your perspective, how does a Miriam education benefit kids with learning differences?
A. Miriam is a family – a caring and nurturing community where kids feel safe, listened to, and accepted for who they are. When students come to Miriam, they often show a sense of relief that they can finally relax, be themselves, make friends, and learn in a way that works for them. At Miriam, we have the best students and parents, and we believe in a strong partnership between the students, parents, and staff. You will not find a group of teachers and staff that care more about your children than those at Miriam. Together, as a team, we empower our unique learners by building confidence and a foundation for success.