Of Building Bridges Past

Dr. Therese Cumming, Professor, University of New South Wales

2014 Building Bridges I: Sydney, Australia

  • Dr. Therese Cumming, University of New South Wales

Welcome to Building Bridges IV! We are certainly experiencing unprecedented times, and as special educators, we continue to do what we do best- adapt and make accommodations. So here we are, disappointed about not meeting our colleagues face to face but grateful that we have the technology to build the bridge virtually and share the wealth of expertise that exists in this amazing group of professionals. Since the inaugural Building Bridges in Sydney in 2014, every conference has fostered international relationships and collaboration in special education – building bridges globally and bridging the gap between research and practice.

As the UNSW representative, I feel I speak for all of us when I say that our group very much looks forward to these conferences, as their small sizes make them intimate and give us the opportunity to really engage deeply with the presenters and the education professionals that attend from the host countries, as well as the schools that we visit. The partnerships and friendships that are formed at and maintained by the Building Bridges conferences have proved to be invaluable for many of us.

I encourage all of you to embrace the new format and engage with the various presentations and especially the presenters. I myself look forward to catching up with old friends and making new ones. To our colleagues from the University of Ljubljana, thank you for the work you put into hosting us, and I hope to have the opportunity to visit you and your beautiful country in the near future. To our colleagues at UNLV, I would like to extend special thanks to Kyle, Monica, and the rest of the planning team for getting this off the ground, and then keeping it in the air when it became necessary to change formats.  So, in closing I would like to welcome you all and highlight that the spirit of the Building Bridges IV Conference will be one of resilience and international collaboration.

Dr. Elena Papanastasiou, University of Nicosia

2016 Building Bridges II: Nicosia, Cyprus

  • Dr. Elena C. Papanastasiou, University of Nicosia

The Second Building Bridges Conference took place in Cyprus in 2016, and it is with the fondest memories that I look back at it. Building Bridges II was an amazing conference, the impact of which continues to extend way beyond the few days of the conference. On the one hand, researchers had the chance to present their research related to ways of building bridges among researchers and practitioners. On the other hand, schools were able to improve their practices in regard to special education through their interactions with researchers from the USA and Australia who had come to Cyprus for the conference.

I truly hope that the conference in Ljubljana will be as successful as the one in Cyprus, and that both researchers and practitioners will be able to improve Special Education in Slovenia, in the USA, and Australia through these interactions and initiatives. 

Dr. Candy Armstrong, Ministry of Education, Belize

2018 Building Bridges III: Belize City, Belize

  • Dr. Candy Armstrong, Ministry of Education, Belize

The Building Bridges III Conference was held in Belize in May 2018 and co-sponsored by the Belize Ministry of Education, Youth, Sports, and Culture and UNLV. The conference was attended by over 200 teachers, administrators, and Ministry personnel from Belize as well as our colleagues from the USA and Australia. From this conference, international relationships were built that continue to this day. Several of our colleagues from the USA have continued to work with the Ministry of Education, Youth, Sports, and Culture as we work to train special educators here in Belize to work with children with autism, emotional behavior disorders, and intellectual disabilities. Several of the researchers who presented their studies at BBIII are currently conducting research jointly with the Ministry here in Belize. It is through events like the Building Bridges Conferences that current research is shared and international partnerships formed. The Ministry of Education, Youth, Sports, and Culture wish you a great virtual conference!!!

Welcome Address

Dr. Morgan

Welcome, Building Bridges IV Participants!

On behalf of the Department of Early Childhood, Multilingual, and Special Education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, it is my pleasure to welcome you to our virtual Building Bridges IV conference. While this format is far from our original plan of joining in international collaboration in Ljubljana, Slovenia, I am grateful to each and every one of you for taking time during this period of global unrest and uncertainty to gather together in this virtual space to consider innovations in research and teaching that we might employ to improve the outcomes of culturally and linguistically diverse students, both with and without disabilities, throughout the world. I have had the pleasure of attending all three of the previous Building Bridges conferences and, each time, am reminded of the power of our international collaboration at the center of the work that we do together; I am confident that we can build a similar sense of “all in this together for the betterment of our students’ lives” via this virtual platform. And I am excited about having the opportunity to think about innovations that we can implement together to arrive at a better space as we enter a new phase in the history of humanity.

            I think it essential that as we engage in this collaboration using the tools of technology that have allowed us to become a globalized, metropolitan society, we take time to remember the inequities that exist related to access to knowledge for traditionally marginalized and minoritized groups around the world, that have only been exacerbated during this pandemic. I think it also essential that we begin discourse around the critical need to ensure that culturally and linguistically diverse students, those from lower socioeconomic areas, and those with disabilities are garnering access to learning that builds and develops critical technologies to engage in a digital age. Twenty-first century frameworks in school settings define the critical knowledge and skills that individuals need to engage in critical thinking, problem solving, and cross-cultural collaboration in our globalized, technological society (Barak, 2017; Ko, Chair, & Lim, 2017; Misrha & Mehta, 2017). Yet, we know from research that traditionally marginalized populations of students are often the ones that have the least access to learning that develops these necessary skills (Darrow, 2016; National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2016; Pazey, Schalock, Schaller, & Burkett, 2016); unfortunately, we are finding this to be all too true as our schools have closed physically and transitioned to online learning environments. It would be so easy for us to leave this period of social distancing and isolation doubling-down on the idea that we need not be globalized; however, I believe very strongly that we need to emerge with a stronger sense of our interconnectedness and with a spirit of advocacy. We should commit ourselves to do whatever we can from our positions of influence to ensure that all students, and all citizens, have access to these critical skills. Through that, we can ensure that future generations have the cognitive freedom to imagine the world as it should be – more equitable, better educated, and more highly attuned to the diverse needs of our fellow citizens no matter their background.

            I was reading an article last week that described one amazing thing that has happened as a result of our current global pandemic: researchers from across the world are now almost solely focused on one thing – harnessing the collective knowledge of our species to develop a vaccination for the novel coronavirus and working to mitigate the long-term impacts of this pandemic. I was inspired by that idea of the power of intellect from across the entire world focused on an issue of import for all of humanity and realized that is what we have been doing through Building Bridges throughout the last eight years and will continue to do with this latest iteration of our global collaboration. For three days, we will all be focused on the topic of how to best improve the outcomes of the populations of students that we serve, who are often not considered when making critical educational decisions. What a powerful idea – to have so many brilliant minds, collaborating across time and space, to make the world better for student populations who have too often been ignored to the detriment of our global society. And to find new ways to give them access to the technological advances of the last century that can support their access and leadership in the new world that we will develop, together.

            I look very much forward to collaborating with each and every one of you, and on behalf of my colleagues at UNLV, I welcome you once again!

Welcome Address

Dr. Vogrin

The role of the Faculty of Education in the education of children and adults with special needs

In its 73-year existence, the Faculty of Education University Ljubljana has become the largest faculty in Slovenia that educates future teachers. It is also the only faculty in Slovenia whose graduates may be employed at all levels of the Slovenian school system, i.e. from pre-school, compulsory up to upper secondary schools) and are also able to work in various discipline fields. This means that we do not educate only pre-school and school teachers, but also various profiles of counsellors and experts dealing with people with special needs. For 73 years, we have been expanding our expertise and by educating future teachers who will then pass it on to many generations of young people we are giving voice to knowledge. At the Faculty of Education University Ljubljana, we are aware of the important role that teachers and teacher educators play in the development of the future of our society.

Teachers play a crucial role in the development of a prosperous future society by helping generations of students to acquire comprehensive knowledge, to develop healthy progress, both emotionally and intellectually, to apply a range of tools to deal with the complexities of an ever-changing world, and to shape their minds and worldview on a range of issues. It is therefore obvious that such demanding and responsible work can only be effectively carried out by teachers who have successfully completed high quality academic programmes. There are a number of tasks that prospective teachers must be able to perform, such as they must acquire specialist knowledge of the subjects they will be teaching, demonstrate appropriate teaching methods and approaches in their own classrooms, apply pedagogical-psychological knowledge of child development and know how to individualise and differentiate teaching, integrate ICT into their everyday teaching, teach in a linguistically sensitive manner in increasingly multicultural and multilingual classes. In addition, they should support and promote sustainable development through their knowledge, values and behaviour, recognise and provide accommodation for gifted students and students with special needs, work with parents and the local community and develop lifelong learning competences.

Across the world, as well as and in Slovenia, an individualized, student-oriented approach is increasingly emerging, which puts the needs of students first. Students with special needs should receive appropriate and timely support. It is necessary to recognize as early as possible that the child has a special need, to make a diagnostic assessment of the special needs and to provide effective support. The teacher is a key person in the identification and treatment of students with special needs, therefore he or she should extensive expertise, a positive attitude towards students with special needs and strong and qualified support of the members of the school team.

In the process of developing the so-called Bologna study programs (in the school year 2009/10), we at the Faculty of Education University Ljubljana were aware that in order to implement the principle of inclusive education in Slovenia, all pedagogical staff must have basic understanding of inclusive education. From that time on, all study programmes include a subject on inclusive education. Students learn about the characteristics of students with various special needs, which helps them to identify such students earlier. Moreover, they study about learning difficulties and particular socio-emotional needs of students with special needs, the phases of planning an individualized program and its implementation, strategies for the development of knowledge and skills necessary for effective learning and social inclusion of students with special needs in the environment. Finally, they should be able to individualize and differentiate teaching for this group of students.

Teachers are not specialists in working with different groups of students with special needs, but it is important that they are able to identify students with special needs, to provide them with appropriate support within the classroom with good teaching practice even before they are identified as students with special needs, and to help them while collaborating with other professionals who might have more expertise and experiences in working with specific group of students with special needs and so be able to respond to their problems.

Changes in schools and the wider environment can be achieved by raising awareness among peers, teachers and the general public of the characteristics and requirements of students with special needs, and also by maintaining teachers’ continuing professional development, providing schools with appropriate equipment and supplies, exchanging good practice and working together. I am extremely happy that this conference Giving voice to knowledgeBuilding Bridges has proven that experts in students with special needs are aware of the strength of collaboration. Professionals from different countries who work together are much more successful than those who work in isolation.

Dr. Janez Vogrinc

Dean of the Faculty of Education University Ljubljana

Welcome Address

Dr. Babuder

There is probably no editorial in these days and months that would not, at least indirectly, touch the pandemic of a new virus corona. What do the coronal virus and the subject of this editorial have in common? The media with their articles, press conferences, opinions of prominent public figures, and, last but not least, advertising urge us to act responsibly in the current situation. We are reminded that this situation is a challenge for all involved and that risk groups, which may include not only the elderly and homeless but also residents in residential care institutions and pupils with SEN, are the most likely to tolerate a pandemic. They stress that we are often not socially responsible enough for these groups. They challenge us to use our creativity, resources, talents, and skills to contain the pandemic. They urge us to come together by standing apart. They invite us to participate.

Sound familiar? Being creative in teamwork, working together on solutions, being socially responsible, being integrative inclusive? Inclusion is what drives society to demonstrate its responsibility towards vulnerable people.

One of the key features of an inclusive society is the effective help and support of all vulnerable groups, including those with SEN. It is characterised by bringing people with disabilities and SEN, both children and adults, into interactions with their peers and representatives of other social groups. Inclusion is more than just placing children with SEN in mainstream education. It is a philosophy and a complex dynamic process that requires continuous, systematic, and well-planned interaction with peers and adults in the regular school system. An inclusive society offers children with SEN education with a sense of belonging and equality at school and in the wider community. In an inclusive society, the school enables the acceptance, inclusion and educational success of children with disabilities because it is based on the responsibility of all school professionals, their skills and their belief that children with SEN also have learning potential. Achieving the goals of an inclusive school enables children with SEN to develop their potential and thereby increase their success in adulthood, both in socialization, in the quality of private everyday life, and employment.

An inclusive school can work when inclusion becomes the vision and professional responsibility of all school professionals who work well together. This must become a commitment and must not depend on the good will of individuals. We have examples of good practice that prove that we can. Successful teamwork with children with SEN stands out, while there are less good practices in working with adults with disabilities. This is not only true for Slovenia but is a wider, international problem. There is still too much exclusion, prejudice, negative attitudes, stigmatization, and disregard for the legal rights of people with disabilities.

Inclusive societies and schools are not without teamwork and co-creation. It will also not be enough to have teamwork of professionals. If we used to focus on problems and deficits in the past, contemporary approaches emphasize the consideration of the holistic personality of children with SEN and their living conditions, the discovery and development of their strengths (talents, knowledge, skills, resources) and the development of cooperation between the family and the wider environment. That is why we need a partnership that includes not only professionals but also children with SEN, their parents, the school, and the wider environment. Therefore, time and space in which this partnership can be created must be foreseen. When appropriate, relatives, grandparents, and other important persons are involved in the process. With this approach, we co-create solutions in pedagogical work that are individually designed for each student and in which the roles and tasks of professionals, students, parents, and the environment are defined. The child needs an individualized program and a space in which he can explore what he wants to achieve and understand that he can participate in the process of co-creation. The teacher is his companion who hears, understands, respects, and discusses with him.

Training in teamwork must be systematic and integrated into the school system in the form of workshops, self-help associations, and specific programs to develop an awareness of rights, duties, and help options. We must pay attention to the following components: work structure, teaching approach, adaptations of the learning environment, socio-behavioral adaptations, adaptations of the curriculum and, last but not least, the strengths of teachers who are the first to enter into a relationship with a child with SEN. It is important to learn from examples of good practice, such as Project of inclusive teams, inclusion of pupils with Down syndrome in regular primary school, which have produced excellent results.

In Slovenia, with the Act on the Guidance of Children with Disabilities (ZOUPP, 2011), we have the legal opportunity to pursue an inclusive practice. It offers the possibility to develop planned centers of expertise, which are to be developed according to the model of inclusive teams.

In Slovenia, we have not yet reached our goal, but we are steadily paving the way for inclusion. The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities characterizes our system, in which we still consider the proportion of children with SEN with a special education program with a lower educational standard and schools with a special program as “parallel” to an inclusive school system for all pupils, and is quite critical of it. We lack concrete objectives and provisions for the implementation of inclusive education in existing policies and legislation. The capacity of mainstream schools to provide special education programs and an inclusive learning environment is insufficient. We lack skills and knowledge of teachers on inclusive teaching methods. Moreover, teachers often cultivate (too) low expectations about the capacity of children with SEN. We face a lack of accessibility and appropriate adaptation for students with SEN in tertiary education, including higher education and vocational schools, and the field of employment and leisure. There is, for example, too many physical barriers to allow all students with physical disabilities to access transport from their homes to school.

We must, therefore, adopt a strategy and an action plan at the national level with a clear timeline for the implementation of inclusive education at all levels for all children with SEN, and establish a comprehensive monitoring system that allows clear assessment of the progress of inclusive education. An inclusive school will be difficult to achieve without an inclusive state policy. Inclusive education is a demanding and time-consuming process. Therefore, adequate professional support and material support should be offered to students and teachers. The capacities of inclusive schools should be strengthened by providing teacher training for inclusive education and by adapting educational programs and teaching methods. We must ensure that people with disabilities have the opportunity for lifelong learning and gradually remove barriers and increase their mobility.

Just as the current situation requires a different, socially responsible attitude, children and adults with disabilities and SEN remind us that we as a society must do everything in our power to make them feel accepted and equal. As one of the key stakeholders in the path towards a more inclusive society, we have the opportunity to connect, build bridges, offer the best opportunities for help and support, and move things forward together for the benefit of people with disabilities and society as a whole.

I would like the conference book to give you new ideas, offer you interesting reading and accompany you with interesting conference presentations.

Assist. Prof. dr. Milena Košak Babuder,

Head of Department of Special education

Faculty of Education University of Ljubljana

Research Teacher Education


Poster Title: Methodology Models that Address the Research and Practice Conundrum

  • Kyle Higgins, University of Nevada Las Vegas
  • Randall Boone, University of Nevada Las Vegas

The question of “research informing practice” or “practice informing research” is widely shared within the field of Special Education, but also is evident within the professional literature of a variety of educational disciplines. The chicken v. the egg conundrum (i.e., which came first) begs a similar question about the traditional “research-informing-practice” model expressed by most educational research paradigms. This presentation looks at the “last mile” problem, that is, how can we mitigate or eliminate the gap between evidence-based educational practices spelled out in the results sections of research literature, and then implement these results as best-practice interventions for individuals with disabilities. Four related research models are discussed that attempt to bring a closer, more authentic and collaborative relationship between education researchers and their clinical counterparts (i.e., teachers, administrators, associated service providers). These methodological models include (a) implementation science, (b) use-inspired research, (c) design-based research, and (d) practice-based research.



Poster Title: Tools for Effective Inclusion

  • Nancy B. Brown, University of Nevada Las Vegas

There has been an upward trend of more special education needs (SEN) students attending programs in regular schools in Slovenia. In the 2016/2017 school year, there were 10,072 SEN students making up 5.8% of the basic school population included in the general education program. In the United States, more than 60% of all students with disabilities are educated in the general education classroom for more than 80% of the academic school day. To help cultivate relationships to support inclusive practices, special educators, regular program teachers, and other professionals need to make purposeful plans to communicate with each other regarding their philosophies and beliefs and feelings toward the academic achievement of students involved in inclusive classrooms.  Shared roles and responsibilities should also be discussed to help determine how each individual can help encourage the success of each student with SEN in the regular program. For inclusion to be successful, co-planning between a regular program teacher and a special education teacher must take place. It is the responsibility of the special education teacher to provide specially designed instruction and implement techniques and strategies to help the SEN students achieve the goals of their education program. Essential for success of any lesson requires high-quality lesson planning. This poster will cover a variety of tools and resources teachers and professional can use to establish a successful inclusive classroom environment and methods to support Special Educational Needs students.  Tools will be discussed to help professionals with communication, collaboration, and planning to benefit the instruction of SEN students involved.

Teacher Education


Poster Title: Using IRIS Center Resources in Teacher Education

  • Deborah Deutsch Smith,The IRIS Center

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs, the IRIS Center (Project #H325E170001) creates Web-based materials for use in personnel development activities. IRIS resources are available at no cost to its users and are used by over two million users worldwide each year.  The purpose of this poster session is to acquaint participants of Building Bridges IV 2020 with the online resources and tools available through the IRIS Center’s Website. These materials are designed to equip educational professionals with current knowledge and skills to provide an effective education to struggling learners, including those with disabilities.  A representative from the IRIS Center will be available to demonstrate use of the Center’s barrier-free Website, showing participants how to navigate the site to most effectively access resources and tools that include: interactive Modules, case studies, activities, fundamental skills sheets, content guides for mathematics instruction, information briefs, evidence-based practice summaries, video vignettes, along with many other instructional resources.  Participants will learn how to use the IRIS Resource Locator and receive assistance in selecting Modules and other resources beneficial to educational contexts. The IRIS Center collaborates with recognized experts to develop content for its resources and materials. The How People Learn (HPL) framework of adult learning that forms the foundation of the IRIS Modules—the Center’s most popular online resources—involves the use of four overlapping lenses (learner-, knowledge-, assessment-, and community-centered) to analyze and enhance learning situations. Participants will learn how to navigate through the Modules using this learning framework cycle.  Independent researchers report that IRIS Modules are highly effective when used with adult learners, particularly those seeking to upgrade their skills and knowledge about effective practices.

Social Emotional Considerations


Poster Title: Social Competence and Adolescents

  • Monica Brown, University of Nevada Las Vegas

Nearly one-third of students with a learning disability (LD) have social disabilities. Because of the social deficits that so many students with LD have, their academic frustrations are oftentimes exacerbated by their struggles to meet social expectations (e.g., maintaining friendships, positive teacher relationships, managing frustrations, resolving conflict) in school and elsewhere. They lack the social competence to handle many of the social situations they encounter. Social competence is a broad term that encompasses a number of sub-skills (e.g., social skills, social awareness, self awareness, self perception). Typically, each of these sub-skills is somewhat intuitive to a young person or they can be taught and learned at home and in school while young. If the skills are practiced and reinforced, the skills can be used across any and all environments (i.e., home, school, work, community). Although intuitive for the majority of people, adolescents with LD often experience difficulty with each of the sub-skills. It is imperative that teachers and other interested parties (e.g., parents, supervisors) explicitly and effectively teach the skills in order for this population to successfully integrate and actively engage in activities and situations in which they wish to participate. Adolescents with LD need these social skills to attain the level of social competence required to be successful in any environment. There is wide agreement that adolescents with LD are at risk for experiencing greater social, emotional, and behavioral difficulties than their peers without LD and that these difficulties can emerge in both inter and intra-personal spheres. This poster will present each of the sub-skills and provide examples regarding how they might be taught specifically to adolescents with learning disabilities.

Language Parental Considerations


Maternal Literacy Beliefs and Practices: Effects on Children’s Oral Language Development

  • Jorge E. Gonzales, University of Houston

Cultural differences in the ways that parents think about and construct home literacy environments tacitly intervene to affect critical child outcomes, including development of language skills, most notably, vocabulary. Often in the form of culturally rooted beliefs and practices, it is these processes (e.g., language supports, maternal responsiveness, linguistic input) that mediate the relationship between family characteristics (e.g., SES, maternal education) and child vocabulary skills.  Research suggests that the impact on a child’s learning of parent socio-demographic characteristics are mediated by the beliefs and attitudes parents have about their child’s development. A family’s socialization routine cannot be understood without considering the embedded, layered, and interconnected nature of the relationships within a family and surrounding environments, including schools. Maternal education, specifically, may have a more potent influence than income on children’s development Children in homes with less educated mothers experience less quality language input, less verbal interactions, fewer cognitively stimulating activities, limited sentence structures, fewer learning materials, and less contingent responding. Our hypothesis is that maternal literacy beliefs mediate the relationship between parent characteristics and a host of child outcomes, including vocabulary development.

Bilingual Language


Language Policies in the Classroom: The Example of El Plan de Educación Bilingüe In Paraguay

  • Elizabeth Greer, University of Nevada Las Vegas

In this presentation, I consider the sociolinguistic history and context of language contact in Paraguay while conducting a qualitative analysis of an official document of the Ministerio de Educación y Cultura (MEC) regarding the implementation of bilingual education across the country. This document, written in 2006, is the second edition of La Educación Bilingüe en la Reforma Educativa Paraguaya in which the MEC took an additive stance towards bilingual education with the end goals of fostering bilingualism and bi-literacy in Spanish and Guaraní for all Paraguayan students. Using thematic coding, I examined this document as an artifact of the sociolinguistic situation of Paraguay with consideration of how linguistic hierarchies in society play out in the language policies implemented in Paraguayan schools. In this presentation, examples of how some languages are privileged over others will be provided from the official MEC document and described within the language policy and planning framework. This analysis serves as an example for scholars and educators to consider when reflecting on the language policies implemented both formally and informally in their own institutions. Attendees will be asked to consider the power dynamics of languages in their own contexts and both contemplate and critique the language policies that are being executed in their classrooms and schools.