Transformational, inspirational, and motivational were a few of the words used on the feedback surveys to describe the Special Education Network in Asia (SENIA) conference held at The International School of Kuala Lumpur in February, 2016. The conference, now in its 13th year, attracts classroom educators, related service providers, administrators and parents from schools and organizations in and around Asia. This year’s attendance of 450 delegates sends a clear message – SENIA has become the “go-to” conference to network and learn about best practices to support the learning differences of all students.
The SENIA pre conference started with the opportunity for educators to spend a full day immersed in learning around one of the conference strands – executive functioning, and social emotional well being. The ISKL planning team, under the direction of Rami Madani, Director of Teaching and Learning and Amy Diefendorf, elementary school counselor, recruited renowned and published speakers. Dr. Peg Dawson, author of Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents, and Smart but Scattered provided attendees with a clear definition of executive skills and valuable strategies to use in a variety of settings. Julia Cook, a highly entertaining speaker and author of over 50 picture books about social-emotional skills, helped attendees understand how to use books to address social skill deficits Dr. Stephen Shore took attendees inside the life of a person with autism. Sharing his journey from a young boy, told he could not attend school, to a college professor at Adelphi University in New York, Dr.Shore stressed the importance of reaching all students.
The SENIA conference kicked off with welcome messages from ISKL’s Head of School, Dr. Norma Hudson and long time SENIA supporter, EARCOS Director Dr. Dick Krajczer. Both encouraged the delegates to continue learning best practices that support all the children arriving at our schools doors. All weekend ISKL’s Melawati campus was abuzz with conversations, both professional and personal as educators reconnected or met for the first time and discussed their takeaways from the various dynamic and informative workshops. These conversations and the ability to network with like-minded professionals is one reason so many delegates look forward to SENIA each year!
SENIA Board Members (L) Karli Koning, Catherine Deen, Ericson Perez, Lori Boll, Kathryn Balsamo, Frederick Wagner, Tanya Farrol (Not in photo)
At the heart of SENIA’s mission is that of advocacy. The SENIA board was honored to award Tobin Zolkowski with the Student Award. As the only deaf student at Jakarta Intercultural School, Tobin’s perseverance and determination have allowed him to find avenues to make a difference. From addressing the student body on ways to communicate with the deaf to volunteering as an interpreter in the local community, Tobin’s advocacy has had an impact. The SENIA Advocate award winner, Dato’ Dr. Amir Singh spoke of Malaysia’s journey towards inclusion. As many international schools are on similar journeys, his words of encouragement and wisdom resonated with the crowd.
SENIA 2016 gave back. Personal touches made SENIA a memorable event. This included allocating free tickets for local Malaysian school teachers, donating to specific charities in lieu of conference trinkets, supporting local organizations that employ young adults with disabilities, and providing opportunities for students with disabilities to showcase their talents.
The ISKL SENIA Planning Team
Bersatu! The participants at SENIA 2016 came together, showing their commitment to learning and engaged in rich conversations, both of which will have a direct impact on the children under their care.
This article was written by Kathryn Balsamo, SENIA Board Member in collaboration with Rami Madani, ISKL Director of Teaching and Learning. A printed version of this article was published in the EARCOS Journal.