- How to see the bigger picture
“Holistic” is a bit of a buzzword in Conductive Education. Despite appearing heavily motor-based, CE is actually an integrated, holistic system that aims to facilitate cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development. When I work with a student I am not just looking at what they can do physically, I am thinking about what they have done to get to this point, how it is impacting their confidence, how they are reacting to what we are doing, what they are learning from the task, how it will impact their daily life, etc. It is also holistic in that it goes beyond the child and the disability, taking into considering the family and community environment, culture, and social structures around them.
- How to aim high
As I have mentioned, expectation is massive. Across the board conductors that I have worked with just expect more. It will be hard, it will take time, but progress will be made. If you don’t shoot high you have nowhere to go. Humans have incredible abilities to adapt to difficult situations, often we just need someone else to expect it from us, to believe in us.
- How to be outrageously positive
Like, seriously positive. In our training we would at times have to reword sentences if they were written in the ‘negative’. For example, “John can’t stand for more than 30 seconds” would be phrased as “John can stand for up to 30 seconds.” Call it semantics, but I call it a more positive outlook. We are also taught to be realistic but extremely positive with the kids. Again, impacting our language. I once heard a parent lamenting that their child was suddenly being very picky about how they did things when the conductor commented on how “great” it was that they were communicating so well what they did and didn’t want. If there is a positive angle to find, a conductor will find it.
- How to look for small victories
Today one of my kids zipped her lunchbox independently. And it. Was. Great! I spent three summers teaching a kid to put toothpaste on his toothbrush. (It’s amazing how many steps it can be broken down into). The day he did it by himself we went out for ice-cream. Because… it matters! It may look small, but it’s a big deal. Huge moments sometimes look pretty average.
- How to be careful with my language
When trying to complete a task, we do not process negatives as well as positives. So, for example, if you are stretching your leg out, your brain will more easily process “stretch it out” than “don’t bend it.” Little details in language matter. When giving feedback we are taught to be very specific to help the participants make the link between what a movement is and what it feels like. So instead of saying “Good job, you’ve done that well” which takes their attention away from what their body is feeling at that moment, we say, “Well done, you’ve stretched your leg very well, can you feel that?” to draw their attention back to what they are doing and how it feels.
- How to see ability and potential
Again, I thought for quite a while that this was semantics. Is there really a difference between noticing that a child can’t fully open their hand or can initiate the movement necessary for opening their hand to grasp something? Yes, I believe so. This past week I worked with a 7 year old boy. My first impressions were excitement about all of the potential he has. I was excited because he could grasp the plinth well to keep himself from wobbling, he could take nice, controlled steps, he could aim his fork well enough to stab his food. This child has cerebral ataxia. He grasped the plinth because his muscles are weak and his balance is poor, his steps were methodical because he needs at least 3 points of contact at all times to maintain a standing position, and his aiming took twice as long because he has an intention tremor. CE understands that these are the areas that need to be developed, but chooses to concentrate on the cans; building off of ability, no matter how small. Rather than the cants; trying to overcome a deficit. So it’s not, A can’t stand without something to support him, it’s, A can overcome his balance difficulties by holding onto the plinth, can we try him holding with just one hand next time?
- How to see everything
Or at least how to convince participants that you have seen everything. CE teaches you to use the other professionals or assistants facilitating the program to know how everyone is doing with regard to their specific goals. When you first come into a group it feels like the conductors are telepathic. Eventually, you get the hang of it. It is amazing how much information you can get from a few moments of eye contact with someone on your team. Along the same lines of being holistic mentioned early, CE helps you to see what is important. When I watch a child I am considering what they are doing in relation to their goals and needs as well as the groups’. I am watching their posture when they are playing a game of hangman, thinking about their speech development when they are passing a ball, watching their reactions to their peer’s success. Conductors don’t compartmentalize, it’s about everything, all the time. But you’ve got to look for it.
- How to not care
Obviously I care about those I work with, but I am not there to care for them. Instead, I enable. When they are struggling I offer encouragement, I don’t offer to do it for them. When they drop something and it would be faster for me to pick it up, I give them the time and support they need to do it for themselves. It is my responsibility to give them the opportunity have responsibility for their own lives.
- How to plan
Every. Tiny. Detail. Walking into class: 7 minutes. Taking shoes, afo’s and socks off: 10 minutes. Conversation with communication devices: 5 minutes. Who needs a wedge on their stool? Who needs a ladderback chair to sit on? Who needs a stool? Who needs help to take their shoes off? What will S, who leaves her shoes on, do during this time? Who will help S with her task? How much help should I ask them to give? Will T need the activity words enlarged? What is the difference between R and J’s reading levels? How can I challenge both of them? How can I keep everyone busy when I have 7 kids and 4 facilitators? What task do I need to include for N? What tasks do I need to differentiate for B? Etc, etc, etc. We are trained to think through every detail. We heard countless times that “success is 90% planning.” Being forced to put that level of detail down on paper helps you start to think in that kind of detail. Thinking in that kind of detail helps you focus and makes you a more effective educator. (e.g. Today I spent several minutes deciding what kind of scissors each child would use, and what the backup would be if they needed more support!).
10. How to manage time
Along the lines of planning, CE teaches you time-management skills. It takes a while to get the hang of, but I can now very quickly decide how many tasks I can include in a 25 minute standing programme for a group of 7 year olds, or a 40 minute walking program for a group of teens. In placement we sometimes found it annoying that we were “told off” if we went over or under time. But because of that we can now create programs with very specific time requirements. We can also use the time we have to its full potential, not wasting a minute.
I am sure 5 years from now this list will look very different. (–>newly<– qualified conductor.) But this is where I am now. I hope I continue to develop these areas more and more as the years go by.
What has CE taught you?