Teacher Helps Special Needs Kids

By Jack Rubinger

Navigating your way through a new town, city or even a museum is stressful for many of us.  Imagine what it’s like to explore the Smithsonian or the alleyways of Rome in a wheelchair or when the all sounds and sights are distorted? Brett Bigham, a Portland special needs teacher understands the fears and anxiety of special needs kids traveling to new and strange places and is breaking down these challenging steps in a series of New Ability Guidebooks. Bigham teaches kindergarten, 4th and 5th grades at Scott Elementary School.

He was honored by the MUGU International Foundation of India, for his work in the special Education field and was a Global Winner of their Education E-Innovator Award.

Field trips are a vital part of experiential learning, but they require preparation and practice.  It’s not fair to just take kids out of the comfort and safety of their day-to-day environment and expect ease and calmness. There are many steps involved in trips — including before and after phases.  Anticipating what may happen when you may have to wait or read signs or encounter people who aren’t in your group is important for both teachers and kids. There’s universality to this situation and Bigham is hoping his 15-20 page books will be translated into many languages.

Prior to field trips, he’d do a book for his own class, now he’s written 12 books just for Portland, and he has made over 170 books  for 38 countries from Peru to South Africa.

“Photo captions with positive messages are vital,” he said. “When you say ‘this person is doing a great job viewing the art,’ you give the reader a model to follow.’”

The goal is to pre-teach the event and read the best practice books before you go to be successful.

“I am very honored by this award,” Bigham said. “To know my work is making enough of an impact to be recognized in India, puts into perspective how much it must be needed. In many areas of the world there is no education for people with disabilities. Communities may not have the money for sidewalks and wheelchair ramps. The books I make are free online and accessible with any computer or smart phone.”


Bigham has pulled together a network of community members to grow his project. “I have had people step up from the community to help these books reach more people. Sonia Landi of Portland has translated several into Italian and a German doctor and a Greek teacher have translated even more.”

Bigham was also recognized for his special education blog for the Teaching Channel. “As the only special education teacher with a regular blog on Teaching Channel, it allows me to give students like mine a voice in today’s education world. So often students with disabilities are not part of the conversation. I like to think that my work not only gives them a place in the conversation, but helps to create the conversations that we need to have.” Bigham is also the creator and host of the #GlobalSPED live chat on Twitter.

For more information, visit www.mrbsclassroom.com.

Teacher Helps Special Needs Kids

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