Professional Learning Series with Immanuel International Academy & Mizzou Academy

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Strengths-Based Approaches for our Communities and Classrooms 

Dr. Kathryn Fishman-Weaver is quick to share that she had a lot to learn as a new teacher. “I started my teaching career at a public school in East Oakland, CA. While I made countless mistakes those first few years, I also got three important things right. First, I believed my students were capable of achieving at high levels and always acted accordingly. Second, I genuinely enjoyed being with young people. And finally, I listened actively to the advice and wisdom of my students’ families. Two decades and two degrees later, these three things are still the cornerstones of my pedagogy.” 

Fishman-Weaver’s passion for teaching children with disabilities shines through when she talks about inclusion, accommodations, and strengths-based approaches. Recently, she got to share this passion along with several stories from those early classroom years with over 50 other passionate educators in West Bengal in India. The professional learning series, “Strengths-Based Approaches for Our Classrooms and Communities,” was made possible by a partnership with Immanuel International Academy, Mizzou Academy, and the Be the Change Volunteers

Be the Change Volunteers (BTCV)

Be The Change Volunteers (BTCV) was founded by Dr. Jimi and Cristi Cook in 2007 after a service trip to Rwanda, which resulted in their first school build. Since then, the organization has ballooned into a global non-profit organization that uses education to change the world.

The BTCV website says, “Our mission is accomplished by partnering with local communities to address infrastructure, equipping, and training needs. We operate primarily in remote underdeveloped communities that have a demonstrated need for educational facilities and resources. Our organization is unique because we do not simply send funding to these communities. We provide on-site, in-depth needs assessment to help identify long term solutions to be completed in phases over time.”

Brian Stuhlman, the Mizzou Academy middle school coordinator, has supported BTCV initiatives for many years. Last summer, he and Dr. Fishman-Weaver met with Dr. Cook to explore how Mizzou Academy might be of service to schools in the Be the Change community. That conversation led to wonderful connections with the school team in West Bengal, India. Because of a generous BTCV technology grant, Mizzou Academy was able to get started with projects at Immanuel International Academy (IIA) in India this semester. These projects include this professional learning series.

Strengths-Based Approaches—Professional Learning Series 

On October 11-13, Mizzou Academy hosted professional development for educators on the topic of inclusive classrooms for children with disabilities. Over 50 educators in the Siliguri-area in West Bengal attended the trainings, which covered neurodiversity, inclusion, (dis)ability, strengths-based approaches, advocacy, and functional behavior assessment. During the series, participants learned strategies to support students in their classrooms, disrupt common myths related to disability, and set specific action-goals to cultivate more inclusive classrooms. At the end of the training participants received continuing education certificates from Mizzou Academy. 

Participants shared that the series helped them think through language, practice, and mindset. School leader Chuichui Kashung remarked that the lessons on people-first language and functional behavior assessment were especially helpful and new to him. 

At the close of the series, Fishman-Weaver recapped key lessons from the trainings and guided participants in writing action goals to put these new practices to work in their classrooms. “We can change the world through courage and connection,” said Fishman-Weaver, “and the best place to start is in our classrooms.”  

Soso Chamberlain, an educator and parent in the Immanuel International Academy community, called the series “inspirational, positive, and warm.” She said this series “planted seeds in our hearts and minds that will germinate into action in the coming days. We’re now going to be more intentional in our thinking and approaches not only in the classroom but also in our conversations with others.”


Many professionals contributed to this series. Dr. Kathryn Fishman-Weaver planned and facilitated sessions. Angie Hammons ran technology for the series. Stephanie Walter gave a resource overview of our Learning Library. Emily Kebert designed the certificates, and Jean Zenner prepared them. We are grateful to Dr. Jimi Cook and Grant Venable for making this connection to the leadership team at Immanuel International Academy, and especially to Chuichui Kashung, Dr. Jilda Marbaniang, and Poimila Raman for making this series possible. 

Chamberlain hopes that “IIA will arrange more interactions like this with Dr. Fishman-Weaver and the Mizzou Academy team in the future.” We share this hope. Along with the certificates, Mizzou Academy sent a note encouraging IIA to reach out anytime. “We are now good friends and look forward to future collaborations.”

As part of our strategic planning process, the Mizzou Academy team has engaged in intentional work around articulating our core values. These values are partnership, innovation, access, and inclusion. Over the next year, we will be sharing stories that highlight these values. This series aligns with our value of inclusion.
BeliefDiversity, inclusion, equity, and representation are vital to effective school communities.
Guiding QuestionHow can we cultivate a safe space and center a multiplicity of perspectives?
Source: Mizzou Academy Core Values Document