Ann Gillies holds up two of her own adapted books.
Ann Gillies, PhD, displays two adapted books she created. Her students are creating adapted books, with text in Swahili, to donate to a community center she is visiting in Tanzania soon.


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Passion for Inclusive Education

In recent years there has been a worldwide conversation about inclusive education systems and the degree to which students with and without special needs learn side-by-side in the same classroom. Assistant Professor of Teacher Education and Exceptional Learner and Special Education Coordinator Ann Gillies, PhD, is a part of this conversation because she has spent her career traveling around the world pursuing her passion for creating inclusive, yet individualized, learning experiences for all.

While Gillies background is in primary education for students with special needs, her love of working with people with disabilities began when she was ten years old volunteering at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. A class of special needs students visited the petting zoo area where she volunteered. She was immediately drawn to better understand the kids with whom she was interacting.

“The experience I had was so unique and challenging and energizing,” said Gillies.

Gillies works to provide CMU students with similar experiences by inviting students with special needs on campus for game days and community building days. Through these experiences, Gillies’ students learn how to adapt lessons and meet individual student’s needs.

“It is so much of a richer educational experience working directly with students, young students as opposed to reading about it in a book,” Gillies said.

Regarding her own experience-based learning, Gillies visits different institutions in different countries, like Australia and Ghana, to learn more about the best practices for inclusive teaching methods. This summer Gillies has been invited to Moshi, Tanzania, to help teachers in a community center develop and implement communication systems specifically for children with Autism.

Describing the process, she said, “We usually start with pictures of things that they love. That communication system is called PECS- Picture Exchange Communications System.”

To involve her current CMU students, Gillies has assigned her students to create adapted picture books, with text in Swahili, to donate to the community center in Tanzania. “It’s a really good experience for my students because they will use these strategies in their classrooms as well,” Gillies said regarding the adapted books.

Gillies’ passion for inclusive education has lead her on a lifelong journey seeking opportunities to share this passion with others. She said she hopes to help her students find their own passions believing that, “if you are passionate about what you are doing, you will do the necessary work and you are going to do it right.”

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