Associate Professor of Special EducationJoined USJ: 2007
Working to Change Preconceived Notions
What does it take to change preconceived notions, even when they’re proven to be wrong? Turns out, photography helps. Kathleen Whitbread, always “a teacher at heart,” has had a lifelong commitment to students with significant disabilities, concerned over their segregation in education and community life. It led her to a surprising, challenging, frustrating and invigorating discovery: while it was routinely assumed that children with Down syndrome could not learn to read beyond rudimentary sight words, recent research has disproven that notion. Getting educators to act on the new reality has been an uphill climb.
So, Whitbread developed an innovative approach. Working with USJ students and a photojournalist, she launched a website featuring current research along with magnificent images capturing the literate lives of children with Down syndrome. The photos document “Literacy Celebration Days,” during which Whitbread and USJ students provide free reading screenings, instructional workshops and resources for parents to share with their child’s teacher. The response has been “incredibly powerful, changing peoples’ minds little by little, and showing what these children are capable of,” Whitbread says.
Communication and Collaboration
In working with undergraduate pre-service teachers and those pursuing an advanced degree, Whitbread stresses “communication and collaboration.” An upbeat, optimistic and determined person by nature, she recognizes – and teaches – that “we all bring our own view of the world to our work, along with our unique and individual style of communicating with others.” Teachers, she stresses, “need to be in tune with our biases and beliefs so we can work constructively with students, families, colleagues, administrators and community members.”
Passion for Education
Undergraduates often are uncertain of their precise direction, and many have never interacted with students with disabilities. “At some point,” she reassures them, “you’ll find your passion.” And they do. The many field experiences at USJ help, along with advanced coursework. That includes professional conferences, where Whitbread often invites students – many of whom attend, alerting them to paths they may not have considered, or even known about. Whitbread encourages students to engage in their own research and present their work in professional venues. “You can start now to share what you know with others,” she says, emphasizing “that is what teaching is all about.”
Ph.D., Educational Leadership, Union Institute and University
M.S., Special Education, Southern Connecticut State University
B.S., Special Education and Psychology, Southern Connecticut State University