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Inclusion Column

Presuming Competence

By Daniela Carrillo
Last year, I had the opportunity to attend the ISTE Conference and Expo in Philadelphia. One of the keynote speakers was Sady Paulson, a film director, editor and presenter who has cerebral palsy. She shared some powerful words that have stayed with me ever since I listened to her presentation. She said, “instead of looking at people as having a disability, start looking at them through the lens of ability. Once you start doing that you will see the true person inside” (Paulson, 2019). 
Sady has inspired many people by sharing her story. She’s a living example of how a person with a disability can fulfill their dream job. She’d always wanted to have a job she would love. However, desire was not enough. She credits an important person in her life with the way she has been able to access the world: an educator. It was Mark Coppin, an Apple Distinguished Educator and Assistive Technology Professional who introduced Sady to the technology that has helped her throughout her life. It was him who believed in her capacity to reach her dream and taught her everything she needed to become a film director and editor.
Mark Coppin, presumed Sady's competence, regardless of what her diagnosis or characteristics were. I think that as educators, we must believe in our students’ abilities to learn and grow everyday. As an inclusive school community, it is important to embed the principle of presuming competence in our daily teaching. Professor Douglas Biklen (2012) explained that by presuming competence we “assume that a child has intellectual ability, provide opportunities to be exposed to learning, assume the child wants to learn and assert him or herself in the world”. It is our responsibility as teachers to innovate and create learning opportunities for every kid in our class. Each one of our students needs us to believe in them, to guide them and to celebrate their accomplishments.
For the past two years, I have worked as an Inclusion Assistant and one of the things that I have learned the most, is that our kids are capable of succeeding beyond what we can imagine. Believing in our student’s abilities, helping them trust themselves, and creating learning possibilities for everyone, will help us achieve a true inclusive education. 
Douglas Biklen: "Begin by presuming competence": United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. 24.02.2012

Paulson, Sady & Mark Coppin. ISTE Conference and Expo. Philadelphia, Pensylvania. June 26, 2019. Keynote Speech