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New teaching approaches for students with SEN

The 1st short term joint staff event of the project I.D.E.A.! Together We Can! - Individuals with Disabilities Education Aim - took place in Istanbul, Turkey from 26th November to 30th November and has been completed successfully.
There were 26 participants in mobility - teachers, coordinators, education staff and 6 students (2 from Slovenia and 4 from Poland) – meeting at Metin Sabanci Special Education Schools to exchange good practices, experiences and knowledge, therefore, facilitating the enlargement of teaching methods in return to each partner’s school.
All planned activities focused on how to teach students with special needs and the observation of the Turkish Educational System policies to promote SEN students developmental skills.
Although this was the first meeting, all the group felt immediately comfortable, created a dynamic network and strengthened professional bonds fostered during the projects’ construction and online previous contacts.
The Turkish team was dedicated and tireless throughout the mobility, organized all activities carefully, followed the project’s plan, gave support to partners at all time, ensured their safety and well being and were always present, escorted each group and provided a translator for each activity so that a dialogue could be possible between visitors and host staff.

Sunday 25-11-2018: it was the day of arrival for most partners but at different times.

Monday 26-11-2018:  Mr. Burak Keskin, the host coordinator, welcomed the group in the hotel hall and led us to Metin SaBanci Center.
In there, the group gathered together to listen to a welcome speech by Mr. Faik Benli - Deputy General Director, followed by Mr. Burak Keskin – Deputy Manager of Goal Oriented Projects - presentation of the Cerebral Palsy Turkey, Mr. Murat Kurt – Principle of Metin Sabanci Education Schools – presentation of the Schools, and Mr. Ozgur Konuk – Vice Principle of Metin Sabanci Schools – presentation of Special Education System in Turkey.
After that, there were astonishing music and drama performances of Metin Sabanci Special Education School’s Students and a guided tour in Metin Sabanci Center. Finally, there was a brief ceremony to exchange gifts and souvenirs both to the host team and school and among teams, as well as the hand over moment of the mascots / travelling school mates within partners. These mates will travel together with their new host to their country, experience new adventures that will be registered in a diary, and only at the end of the project will return to their home school.
The group had lunch in the school canteen, together with school students and staff, and tasted some typical dishes.
In the afternoon, we started with an orientation tour of Metin Sabanci Special Education Schools, then, Sense Education classroom based activities: teachers and students (accompanied by their native teachers) were divided into groups and participated in classroom instruction planned by physiotherapists to support the sensory and perceptual development of children in the sensory chamber. We can highlight the quality and adequacy of equipments and techniques very suitable for the target public. We found interesting that together with the sensory stimulation activities, like cooking, students were driven to fulfill everyday life routines such as having a snack by themselves. Students were stimulated by means of sound, movement, touch, smell or light and we could see that they reacted according to their disability; we also noticed that  they were used to the music and films usually given, not reacting to the ones our teachers suddenly invited them to listen or see. The groups were heterogeneous, 5 or 6 children each with different ages. At the end of the day, these students’ parents asked to know the foreign teachers and students that had been observing their young ones which we found important because that showed concern with their children’s privacy.
Project coordinators had their first meeting to think over the actions that have already taken place and prepare the following ones. Therefore, coordinators talked over the project evaluation issue, dissemination actions, Etwinning platform and project’s web page. All partners participated and decisions were taken by mutual consent.
The group went back to the hotel at 16:30 and had dinner together at Çiya Kebap restaurant.

Tuesday 27-11-2018: We went again to Metin Sabanci Center to take part in classroom sessions where technology was used as an alternative communication device in classroom. Ipads were used as an alternative communication tool for students with few visual field contact due to cortical visual impairment due to cerebral palsy; students were asked, for example, to follow with their eyes a loved object moving on the iPad while teacher constantly presses him /her on command. We were told that such sessions took place once a week as reinforcement for classroom daily learning; the exercises were based on gaming to encourage visual and spatial stimulation, as well as writing, reading and listening for less severe disabled students. iPads also save time, material, help students write and develop skills they couldn’t with their hands. Once again, equipments were of very high quality and strategies well designed to reach the designed goals. There was always a member of the host team going along with each group to translate and assure communication between host teachers and staff and foreigners.
The group had lunch in the school canteen together with staff and students, we could see, once more, how students were given autonomy to serve themselves or had to be helped by occupational therapists.
The coordinators had their second meeting to continue the preparation and assessment of the project implementation; we also prepared for the second mobility to Poland noticing some information shared by the polish coordinator.
The group went back to the hotel at 16:30, rested for a while and went out to have dinner together in Victor Levi Restaurant.

Wednesday 28-11-2018: At 8h45 the group left the hotel to Metin Sabanci Center for the Leadership Watch sessions. The purpose of these sessions was to act with rhythm. The instructor chose a piece of music with strong strokes and the children gave the instructions by saying “now everyone imitate me”, they used body hits in different ways – hit your hands, hit your feet, hit your knees, applause. Participants were allowed to observe and experience intercultural differences in body and sign languages as well as become aware of the importance of body language in everyday life. Afterwards, the group of foreign teachers presented a short performance which granted some friendly funny melting pot show that raised laugh, companionship, inclusion and understanding beyond linguistic and cultural boundaries.
Then, we had lunch at Tebessum Kahvesi (Smile Café). A restaurant that employes people with disabilities like Trisomy 21 and shows an excellent example of inclusion in society, autonomy and uselfulness of SEN persons. Lunch was tasty and joyful, at the end every group took a picture with the SEN waiters and videotaped some impressions for the local media.
Afterwards we headed to Era School Camlica Campus to visit the school and attended some workshops in a mainstream school:  the use of computers to access student’s proficiency levels, cognitive training, brain riser or improve visual memory. We visited Art, Robotic and Science lessons, as well as other school facilities such the Brain Gym and English Language Corner. All classrooms are new and well equipped and promote new pedagogical dynamics of project work and future classroom type lesson organization.
Return to the hotel at 17:30 to rest and have dinner.

Thursday 29-11-2018:  At Mentin Sabanci Schools for Emotion Game sessions. Teachers were divided into groups to attend these sessions which main goal was to gain awareness of emotions by using different materials (wood, clay, felt, paint,…) and to express different emotions through handcrafting. This activity allowed us, teachers, to observe intercultural differences of emotional reactions and the type of strategies the teachers use to solve behaviors.
Then the group visited Turhan Tansel Special Education and Vocational School. A school for mild retardation students that enables them to learn some skills like cooking, woodwork, tapestry and handcrafts, gardening, tourism, hotel management, basic computing,…, in order to get some active part in society, earning the right to be autonomous. Students get in touch with the mainstream school working together in some projects. We learnt that Turkish nation is now debating how to employ more disabled people and give them the opportunity to be integrated in different places in society.
Then, we visited Sohret Kursunoglu Special Education and Vocational School for severe and moderate students, starting from nursery. In this Turkish example school, students learn basic skills and receive occupational training skills, hobby type. This school has some unique facilities like a cinema room, sensory rooms, wheelchairs, a full time psychologist. We were able to visit the school and attend a conference explaining its organization and aims within the Turkish system.

Friday 30-11-2019: On their way to Istanbul Provincial Directorate of National Education, the group visited Hagia Sophia and observed which public facilities existed. Afterwards, we were received by Mr. Menderes Kaya Deputy General  Director of Istanbul Provincial Directorate of National Education, which belongs to the Ministry Of National Education of Turkish Republic, we talked about the project, our experience in Istanbul, our goals and inclusion policies in our countries, then he honored the group with some souvenirs and handed to each of us the Istanbul Short Term Joint Staff Learning, Teaching and Training Certificate.
From there we went to meet  Mrs. Arzu Gur, General Director  of Istanbul Provincial Directorate of Family, Employment and Social Services ( which belongs to the Ministry of family, Employment and Social Services of Turkish Republic and got acquainted with Turkish Social and Family policies towards inclusion and family support, as well as some projects to empower women and disabled children, to give them guidance and boarding care. We also knew that public accessibility in Istanbul is a problem that is being worked out because there are many old buildings protected by heritage laws.
At the end of the meeting, and bearing in mind those words, the group had the opportunity to visit the Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern and Old Town Grand Bazar.
We could actually say that Istanbul is an i.d.e.a city: there is a general concern about disabled people and their inclusion. We have seen good examples, schools that have high quality resources and staff, national policies to support and skill disabled persons.

The teaching staff of Metin Sabanci Schools said goodbye with a superb dinner in a restaurant facing the Bosphorus. The non stopping rain didn’t cool the newly born friendship between all participants, children giggled joyfully, feeling important on their own table, adults shared smiles and a wonderful time full of happiness and overwhelming feelings because Together We Can

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