Author: Karen Copeland
I had the honour of attending the PEAK Parent Center Inclusive Education Conference in Denver, Colorado at the end of February. This conference was two full days packed with inspiration, hope, ideas and community; attracting student advocates, parents, community advocates, teachers, administrators and more from across the United States. As often happens at conferences like this, the passion, courage, wisdom and resilience shared at this conference was front and centre.
Sometimes we may feel like attending and sharing at conferences such as this is like preaching to the choir. But is this a negative? I have been thinking a lot about this over the past few days and I have discovered that in order to keep moving forward, preaching to the choir is something we must continue doing.
Think about it. A choir is comprised of a number of voices. Not all voices are the same. Each voice brings a certain element or dynamic to the music. Some voices are able to reach the most difficult, challenging higher notes, while others are adept at finding the low notes, the ones that sink right to the depths of our diaphragms. And there are many others who are comfortable with the notes in between.
Singularly, they present one vision (or more accurately, sound). One version of the music they are tackling. It doesn’t mean that being singular isn’t important, but how much is that sound enhanced when all are singing together? How does the dynamic change? the message? the impact?
There is a strong sense of community within the choir. There is an acknowledgement that every voice is important and critical to the end result. A belief that unique voices add to and enhance the message.
Our voices for inclusion are just as unique and powerful. We have some members who can and do advocate at the highest levels, and others who know they will make the most impact in the depths of their communities.
Just as in choirs, there are members who have been around for a long time. They are familiar with the music, with the message, it comes easy to them. They can act as mentors to the other members of the choir, the ones who may be hesitant or tentative to use their voice to its fullest potential. They may not yet have discovered how to attain each note, but with guidance and practice, their skill begins to solidify and their voices become stronger.
Sometimes people unexpectedly join a choir. For whatever reason, they have found themselves attending their first practice and might feel anxious or even a bit alone. These are the members that need the most support. The other members rally and come alongside. They are welcoming and encouraging. Gentle when they need to be.
And that is why conferences like the one I just attended are so valuable. While we all may believe in the overall vision and direction of the choir, we need to hear all the voices together to truly understand and embrace that vision. Our message becomes stronger, our voices become louder and the result is beautiful. I am so proud to be a part of this chorus of voices that are making a difference for all members of our communities.