Grand Together: The people and journeys that define Grand Erie

“The best life lesson this work has taught me is the realization that the smallest of successes can actually be huge – monumental, even,” says Jeanette Duffield, Learning Resource Teacher based at Waterford Public School. “This is what inspires me every day.”

Her role as a Learning Resource Teacher focuses on providing supports in the delivery of special education, and handling the administrative and educational needs of students with specialized learning requirements. It means building collaborative networks between parents, classroom and other special education teachers, Board leaders, community organizations, and other professionals. Her role brings together these parties into a multi-disciplinary team that can provide the highest level of supports advocating for and enabling the best learning environments for students.

Duffield’s teaching career began with a placement working with blind and deaf-blind students.

“It really made me think outside the box with my teaching,” she recalls.

Early family experiences shaped her understanding of special education, too.

“My older brother went through the special education system, and that was the first time I really saw people coming together to advocate for what he needed,” she says. “I saw the time and energy it required, what it was like to not have all the answers, and also how good it could be when that collaborative process worked well.”

A particular group of students from years ago really stands out in her mind.

“It was a Grade 4 class, and there was a lot going on,” she says. “Each day was completely different from the last.”

She’d worked closely to support a student named Frank Wall, and together with teachers, support organizations, and his dedicated foster mother, Frank had a successful year against many odds. Frank was now in his ninth foster home, and the anger and frustration he harboured came with him to school each day.

“We’d use this little airplane analogy to describe how we felt that day,” says Duffield. “A good day was a ‘jet day;’ it meant you were flying smoothly, without bumpy turbulence. It became a way to communicate a lot of the complicated things he was feeling.”

Jeannette and Frank Post with a photo from years ago

Jeanette and Frank with a photo from eight years previous, captioned ‘Have a jet day’

This past year, Duffield overheard her fellow teachers and office staff at Waterford PS mention a co-op student on placement from Waterford District High School. They remarked on how polite he was, and what a positive impression he was making in his role working in special education at the school.

“Then one day, I see Frank walk through the doors,” she says. “I couldn’t believe it was the same student from eight years ago.”

Today Frank is an aspiring Child and Youth Worker, and begins courses at Fanshawe College this fall.

“I love working with kids that don’t quite fit our traditional idea of the classroom,” he says. “[This work] is all about seeing the full picture of what’s going on in someone’s life, and changing our points of view to help them succeed.”

For Duffield, it’s a proud moment indeed.

“There’s nothing better than seeing someone go on to achieve their personal goals,” she says. “Knowing all the steps along the way, and the many pieces of the puzzle that have to come together to make it happen… it’s pretty incredible.”