As a Fulbright senior specialist, I arrived at Adam Mickiewicz University (UAM) in Poznan, Poland, in late July and spent the rest of the summer working there. Poznan, which is 150 miles east of Berlin in northern Poland, was warm and the university was in full summer mode with faculty collaborating on research projects and graduate students working to get a head start for fall.
I had first visited UAM in October 2010 with a small group of faculty from the Department of Special Education — Kristin Stang and Janice Myck-Wayne — with the intent of building a research partnership. When the faculty there described their education system, we learned of the vast differences between us, especially the way in which students identified as needing special education services were assisted in the schools. It then became our goal to assist with curriculum development in the area of special education. Dr. Stang returned for four weeks in June as a visiting scholar. She participated in school visits, gave lectures to faculty and students, and enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with the education faculty on a research project.
When I arrived as a Fulbright Scholar, it was clear that progress had been made because of our involvement and that the door was open for me to assist in the development of innovative programs. I was excited to learn that the first cohort of 60 UAM students completing a double major in elementary education and special education of children with mild to moderate disabilities will begin their program in this month. This is a direct result of our partnership. The faculty from the Department of Special Education will continue to support UAM’s elementary education program faculty with curriculum development.
Besides the time I spent giving lectures and developing curriculum, I was able to begin collaborating on several research projects. One project focuses on inclusive education and the perceptions of Polish adults about people with disabilities. We hope to demonstrate, through a longitudinal study, that negative opinions of people with disabilities will slowly change as inclusion curriculum is added to the teacher-preparation programs at UAM.
Another research collaboration is an examination of social skills rated as important by classroom teachers in Poland. This is a comparative study with teachers in the United States to determine which social skills are the keys to success in the classroom. Our faculty team will continue to work closely with the faculty at UAM to further develop these two projects.
Plans are currently being made for faculty from UAM to visit Cal State Fullerton and local school districts. We welcome their expertise and reflections.
Melinda R. Pierson is chair and professor of special education at California State University, Fullerton, CA