Ask the Expert - 2018 Keynote, Paula Kluth, PhD
Posted on 07/23/18 in School by Milestones
When it comes to inclusive learning, Paula Kluth is a go-to expert in the education community. As a consultant, advocate, and author/co-author of over 15 books, Paula has a breadth of knowledge on how to provide inclusive opportunities for students with disabilities and how to create more engaging schooling experiences for all learners. We were fortunate enough to have Paula as one of our keynotes at the 2018 Milestones National Autism Conference where she shared key strategies to teachers and parents alike.
Learn more about Paula and hear how she thinks the classroom experience will change as our understanding of autism evolves.
First things first: What did you think of your experience at the Milestones Conference last month?
Paula: Very good! Really wonderful mix of folks at the conference. Parents, lot of paraprofessionals, therapists; that was a really nice departure from some conferences I've been to. Self-advocates, folks on the spectrum, families... just a really great blend of folks and I think it adds to the energy a lot.
Yes, Milestones works really hard to create a conference that serves professionals and parents simultaneously. What would you say are the benefits of that?
Paula: I think having a conference where you bring together a lot of different stakeholders is critical for on-the-job, if you will, development; in other words, you’re not just learning from the sessions but you’re learning as you’re attending and as you’re having a side conversation at lunch. We’re all providing each other, the professional development or the advocacy development or the social support for another parent or a parent to a teacher. I’m sure if you had these interviews with other attendees they would say, “the most important thing I learned was this other mom gave me an advocacy trick at lunch or at the coffee break.” When we have more stratification and separation in audiences, sometimes that’s necessary and appropriate. Unfortunately, you do miss those intersections, those happenstance moments and the "aha’s". So it’s nice when you have these experiences where we are bringing together all those populations that we discussed. Self-advocates, folks on the spectrum, families, grandparents, doctors; it is really a way to learn incidentally and to learn alongside somebody else and maybe even start a community for yourself in a new way.
Can you tell me a little bit about where this passion for inclusive learning and public speaking came from?
Paula: I wouldn’t say I’m a product of an inclusive school, but there were certainly students with disabilities at my high school and some really progressive teachers that I met when I was 17 and 18 years old. They encouraged kids with or without disabilities to connect in all kinds of creative ways. That really got me thinking. At first, I thought I would probably be a social worker or a therapist. I definitely thought I would do something along those lines, but after seeing these teachers doing what they were doing I think after one semester of studying something else, I knew education was for me. So my former high school teachers I think were secretly thrilled because in teaching, we don’t encourage kids to be teachers all too often. I feel like at the high school level, we help students find mentorships in the business community and teachers say ‘Hey, you’re really interested in medicine? Let’s get you some kind of experience at the local hospital,’ but we can also just pull the curtain back and show them what we’re doing as teachers and a lot of students will be interested in our profession. I certainly was.
Your keynote and a lot of your teaching products cover the topic of harnessing the interests of your students/children to find new success. What advice would you give to parents who are still struggling to utilize their child’s interests for good?
Our knowledge and understanding of autism is always evolving which affects the teaching industry and our educators. How do you see the profession continuing to adapt to keep up with this?
Paula: I think the profession is adapting to keep up even though it may not be at the pace that we always want. Technology is going to change a lot how teachers think about teaching and learning, and I also think it’s going to change how we think about students, especially when it comes to assistive technology. In the next 10, 20, 30 years, kids are going to be able to show us what they know in ways that we literally cannot imagine right now and so we’re going to be able to serve students in a way I think that’s not only more targeted but more appropriate. I think we’re going to see that students with a range a disabilities are far more competent than they may appear to be when they don’t have those technologies, again, some of which don’t even exist right now. So I think teachers are going to be really moved by, if not themselves using a lot of these tools, how those tools are going to allow students to present themselves in new ways which will help the field evolve.
I also think that tools are going to help us teach differently and understand kids differently. You know when I was a teacher, we would cut and paste to make an adapted book. Today, we have websites where it can automatically give you four different levels of text. Things like this will help us understand what is not only critical for students with disabilities, but it’s going to help us personalize instruction for all students in a way that’s actually really exciting and interesting for teachers. Teachers want to do that, they just may not always have the materials or the ideas at this moment for that particular student.
Where do you get your inspiration as an author?
You’ve spoken to audiences in a lot of places: What would you say is the one thing you never get tired of while being a public speaker and author?
Paula: I never get tired of talking to people like when I get to sign books and I get to talk to people. Not just because signing your autograph is super fun but it’s because I love to write and when you write it’s kind of lonely. You’re by yourself. You think no one is ever going to read this and if they do, I might not ever hear about it. So people will say 'I read your book' but what’s so exciting to me, I never get tired of this, is if they say ‘you know that example that you gave, about how to teach a student who’s motivated to write?' I even forgot about that example! Like I know I wrote that seven years ago in the summer. I know where I was and to think somebody somewhere else read that and used it to support somebody, I just love that. Through writing, we are connecting only indirectly and there's such satisfaction in sharing an idea that turned out to be helpful. I love it as a reader, I love it as a writer, and I certainly love it as a teacher.
So what’s next for you? What can Paula Kluth followers look forward to?
Paula: I would like to do something I have not done before. I have some plans to go back and work in some classrooms in a little bit more of a direct way. I’ve been exploring some ideas for creating materials for children. So I’ve been looking at how we can start conversations with kids and how we can create supports that help students to help each other. It still needs flushed out but those are definitely things that I haven’t done before that I’m interested in. It is really coming full circle. I started with the children and now ideas are percolating for coming back to children again.
Follow Paula and check out her great books/products here!