When you were little, did you ever end up with a nickname that made you want to crawl into a hole?
Were you tall? You’re dubbed “Legs.” Go to church? Christened “Sister.” Youngest in the family? Simply, “Baby.”
No matter the origin, it was those nicknames that caught like wildfire and not the cute ones that would stick. We’ve all heard them. Many, like me, have had them - these overly exaggerated single traits that make a person want to scream, “I’m more than that!” What I have learned in my career is that these nicknames don’t end with your childhood.
Let me explain…
After coming across a job posting for the position of inclusion facilitator, I remember the internal excitement that this was my true calling! THIS was the job I didn’t know I needed, and that in hindsight, my plethora of experiences had been preparing me for. Having made several transitions throughout my career, I was always met with a clean slate and quickly established myself as an asset to the faculty, even called a “difference maker” by a former superintendent I worked under.
My first day as an inclusion facilitator, however, was different. It was the day that I ceased being a well-respected colleague, and instead, fell prey to one of those haunting childhood nicknames as a full-blown adult.
Instead of introducing myself to my new colleagues, I was promptly informed that they knew all about me. They had been notified of my hiring, my resume, and my new job description, and revealed that the staff was already talking about me. In fact, they had already begun referring to me by a new nickname, “Magic Megan.” Now that I, Magic Megan, was finally here, my colleagues advised me that they were ready for me to solve all their problems. At that first meeting, they snickered as they rattled off a few concerns and then patted me on the shoulder as they departed the table.
It’s hard to put into words the shock that bubbled inside of me as I realized I was no longer a respected colleague, but an unknown…a whisper in the hallways...the topic of the staff room chatter...and I had been turned into a joke even before I walked in the door. My co-workers knew that I couldn’t possibly have all the answers, therefore they concluded that I had no answers at all and my role was useless. I remember this moment vividly. I was forced to grapple with the fact that I had just become a change agent.
Change is hard; it was a challenge for both me and for the colleagues I was desperately trying to win over. I realized that I had walked into a system where teachers were feeling like their favorite mug had just been shattered. My mission became crawling around on the floor with them, picking up the pieces, and helping to glue the mug back together while simultaneously convincing them that the mug wasn’t ruined, but in fact, it was better. There was beauty in the imperfections and that “different” didn’t mean “wrong.”
Being a change agent isn’t linear - it’s messy, and frustrating, and stressful, and beautiful, and extremely fulfilling if you fully commit to it. Having people who whole-heartedly believe in that change and champion it are necessary for sustainability. I fought to overcome, and eventually learned to embrace, being Magic Megan. I’ve never worked harder and it’s quite exhausting trying to prove your worth every second of every day.
For me, serving as a change agent meant understanding that the means to the end was worth it. I wasn’t there to fit in, but I was there to support. I needed to advocate and problem solve. I needed to be creative and innovative while helping maintain enough comfort to achieve buy-in. I needed to partner with colleagues and families to make decisions as a team, while always using the student as the compass. I needed to be the voice of change - from small suggestions in meetings behind closed doors to loudly cheerleading for inclusion in front of large groups of people. And most importantly, I needed to be relentless, because the students I was working to include deserved nothing less.
Through that relentless passion and determination, I was able to earn the respect of the faculty and help lead a beautiful transformation in services for students with disabilities. When I departed the role of inclusion facilitator nearly six years later, one of my harshest critics hugged me and told me I was irreplaceable.
I often find myself reflecting on the ironic parallel of my experience to that of the students I supported. How many students with disabilities are viewed through the lens of an unwanted nickname or a label that exaggerates a single aspect of their identity? How often do they want to scream, “I’m more than that?” How many students with disabilities are greeted with preconceived notions rather than welcomed with open arms into the classroom community? How many of them are exhausted from trying to prove their worth every second of every day?
Our students with disabilities deserve better. They deserve a whole world of change agents fighting to make authentic belonging the standard. They deserve to be more than isolated traits and anticipated issues. They deserve to do more than try to blend in - they deserve to thrive and contribute meaningfully.
Change is hard but it is worth it. Inclusion can be simultaneously messy and beautiful, but it also has the potential to be truly magical, if only we dedicate ourselves to the change.
Want to learn more about inclusion facilitators? Check out an earlier blog post here or contact Empower ED for support in implementing this role in your system!