TIC TALK Podcasts

Exploring personal experiences of inclusion

TIC TALK 20: Matt Schinelli

A podcast with Matt Schinelli
February 2015
Matt Schinelli

Matt Schinelli

New Jersey All People Equal

Matt is the founder and driving force behind New Jersey All People Equal. NJAPE are making a significant difference around New Jersey with lots to learn from their passion and expertise. Matt runs a thoughtful, innovative and professional ship – always looking to improve, always looking for new opportunities.

Transcript TIC TALK with Matt Schinelli

Peter:

All right, today it gives me a huge pleasure to welcome Matt Schinelli to Tic Talks.

Matt:

Hello Peter, how are you?

Peter:

I’m good, I’m good. We’re here in the Little Falls Recreation Center and we’ve just finished actually so I managed to grab Matt at the end of a conference run by New Jersey All People Equal of I guess you’d call them sector partners and organizations locally around New Jersey. And maybe, Matt, I’ll get you hot off the plane of the conference. Tell us the kind of purpose of today, how did you pull the New Era Conference together?

Matt:

Well we really thought that it was a good time to put the inclusive thought process into reality. And so the thought of the New Era Movement Services Conference was to collectively bring valuable players who were involved in this game of movement and inclusion together and try and build a common bridge, a common understanding that there are good resources out there. So that sort of was the first goal, the first goal was to connect people. The second goal was to deliver content, deliver a reasonable expression, a reasonable explanation of how inclusion movement services can be approached.

Peter:

Okay we’ll come to that straightaway then, I was going to work my way slowly to it but let’s get to it straightaway. You gave a really succinct explanation of your approach to inclusive movement services as opposed to kind of separated adapted programs. Could you try and explain that to us what that means? I thought that was really interesting.

Matt:

Well I think traditionally, when we start thinking about serving individuals with disabilities in a sports and recreational manner, we begin from an adaptive perspective which is predominately self-contained, predominately individualized and predominately driven by an IEP. The alternative to that is the approach that NJAPE uses and that’s the inclusive services model. That model mandates to a certain degree that in order for it to be authentically inclusive, it must take place in the general physical education setting or the general community, there is no self-contained component of it. That number two, you redefine what outcomes you are establishing as meaningful gain.

An example of this is traditional adaptive physical education, it follows a progressive skill approach where an individual is taught a skill and they progress from that basic level to the next level to the next level until they’re ready to participate. The inclusive services model, the inclusive model that we adopt is one that says skill progression is important but it’s actually further down the line. We really just begin from the activity itself to highlight that individual’s ability and uniqueness and bring it into the game and then teach progression from just that place alone, not the comprehensive game.

Peter:

You call it the Dennis Rodman theory, can you explain the Dennis Rodman theory because that’s a really good analogy to explain what you mean.

Matt:

So I guess some of this does get foggy and some of it gets kind of sordid and idealistic but we use an example of Dennis Rodman, who was a very famous basketball player for the Chicago Bulls and a few other teams but his real claim to fame was playing alongside Michael Jordan when they won multiple championships and set records that might not be approached again.

And so the Dennis Rodman approach—theory, is that Dennis Rodman was not very good at dribbling a basketball ,he was not very good at shooting a basketball, he was not very good at passing a basketball yet he made many millions of dollars a year, won multiple world championships and is viewed as an all time great but for one thing and that one thing was simply rebounding the basketball. So the head coach and Michael Jordan, the predominant player of the era, maybe ever, allowed and tolerated and actually saw the strength of what Dennis Rodman was, which was one specific area of the game, but without that rebound, without getting that loose ball, so many other things couldn’t have happened.
So we think that idea of placing an individual who might look different or perform different but has one actual ability and trying to find that ability in a place where the game needs it is really a much more authentic, long lasting version of inclusion.

Peter:

That’s a very good analogy and come back to—you mentioned IEPs earlier, individualized education plans. How do you think—you seem to be saying—and correct me if I’m wrong, you seem to be saying the IEPs actually work against inclusion in many ways, it’s so individualized that it fails to take into account the contextual environmental impacts and the group impact, the group importance and all the other things that happen about inclusion, the IEP seems to ignore. Have I got that right?

Matt:

I think you do but I think I can maybe say it in a little bit of a different way. I think the IEP has a real purpose, it has a certain, obviously, need, because if you’re not working on individual purposes, then an individual might miss out. But I think that the placement of that as far as the priority list for a teacher is misguided. So the IEP really stands as the first level of involvement. In other words, the teacher is bound by the IEP first over the general curriculum, over the socialization, over anything else that you create. And when you place an individual’s needs before the general needs, then I think there’s a disconnect towards the concept of inclusion.

So although the IEP can’t legally be ignored and it has an importance, certainly and it is parent-driven, which is essential to the whole process, I think that the explanation needs to be where those goals will be met but they will be embedded in a secondary, tier, they won’t be initially the first stop along the way.

Peter:

The one thing I picked up on, and correct me if I’m misinterpreting it at all, one thing I picked up on today that some of the people involved in schools here are almost giving an example of how they’re almost—not afraid but reluctant to say no, this is—there’s much more broader issues here, the IEP process and the guidelines and curriculum that we work to is restrictive. There almost was a reluctance for them to speak out about that, they were looking for others outside of the system to speak for them.

Matt:

And I think that may be a little bit of human nature, we all want to have job security, we all want to be able to be part of the team, so to speak. But I think that anyone who really honestly has worked with children with special needs and has been boxed in by curriculum or IEP knows that there are many shortfalls to that and so there is a resistance, there is a look for the outside light house source and say wait a minute, there’s another way to do this and we hope that NJAPE can be one of those light houses.

Peter:

Okay earlier today, I was talking—I was at the conference on habits and culture at the time and I’m interested to get your thoughts around what kind of cultures, because in your environment here, which is quite a complex environment you have around this area in many ways. What are some of the imbed cultures that need to be challenged, that need to be addressed, things that need to be changed in order to make your community more inclusive?

Matt:

I think right off the bat in the realm of physical education in sports, we as Americans and certainly people here in New Jersey, are very much a sports driven society. And sports is one of the paramount entertainers of who we are but it’s deeper than that, it actually is a developer of culture. And when you have something that’s so powerful, you default to it, it’s so—I call this the TV sports world where physical education teachers, coaches have gotten into a terrible habit of defaulting to what they see on television as the only way to play the game and that is actually the point in which they should be heading their ship towards.

And so realizing that there’s only a very small minority ever reached that level. One percent of one percent of all athletes get to the professional level and most careers only last two to three years across all sports. It really says that we’re really following something that is potentially going to be a glass ceiling and that’s a bad habit.

Peter:

Okay how do we change a bad habit like that? I agree completely but how do we change a bad habit like that?

Matt:

Part of what we need to do, in my opinion, is to allow joy to come back into play and to allow creativity to come into play and NJAPE has really taken notice of society that’s already begun to push back against traditional sports. We have events like mud runs and these essentially are people who are running through mud to complete an obstacle course when they could very well go to an orderly gymnasium and get the same amount of cardiovascular and muscular enhancement by being in an environment that’s cleaner. So that tells you that people are looking for fun, they want to compete but they want to compete against themselves first and not necessarily against others. And that is really one of the essences of how to change the culture.

Peter:

You’ve got zombie runs too, I’ve heard about these.

Matt:

You should go on a zombie run and send me a photo.

Peter:

I will. Perhaps we’ll put you in one.

Matt: I’d love to do one, that’d be great.

Peter:

Let’s go back in time a little bit because I think your story would be very interesting. How or why did you get involved in this area, man? Because you’ve been involved for a long time.

Matt:

Yeah I think this is my 20th or 21st year in the world of movement services for people with disabilities. For a long time, I called myself an adapted physical education specialist. For a long time, I called myself a special educator but really I think that my collective career has been moving towards an inclusive provider of movement services. I initially became involved or grew interested in this area kind of in a very lucky way.

I was an undergraduate at Old Dominion University and I was in an activity course for people with disabilities and one of the professors had seen me and thought that I had decent instincts and recommended that I apply to a graduate program at the University of Virginia. Fortunately they were looking the other way and they let me in and even more fortunate, I was able to be directly under two of the really foremost authorities in inclusive and adaptive education, Dr. Marty Block and Dr. Luke Kelly. From that program, from that process, I saw the bigger vision and it almost was laid out for me and it’s almost been 20 years and coming because it’s taken quite a long time for people to be ready to kind of embrace the challenge of looking at things inclusively.

Peter:

Yes, it’s quite a journey. I’ve met Marty a couple of times and I think I’ve met Luke as well, so you’ve had really good—and I think that’s obvious that that was really important to your early development, someone of that caliber, really, to act as mentors.

Matt:

Definitely and if I didn’t have those role models and advisors and day-to-day challenge, and really push, there’s no way that I would be the person I am today and I think that that’s one of the reasons why one of the pillars of NJAPE is to provide young professionals with the opportunity to learn and grow and to receive honest feedback. They need to hear what they do well and what they don’t do well and they need to have opportunities to fail just as much as they need the opportunity to succeed.

Peter:

That’s how you learn.

Matt:

Yes.

Peter:

Where do you think NJAPE will be in five years’ time?

Matt:

That’s a good question.

Peter:

You knew it was coming.

Matt:

I knew it was coming and the swami is unable to see, it’s too cloudy, so to speak. But—

Peter:

Now is probably not the greatest time to ask you.

Matt:

Well I think that one thing that I do know is that whether we are still around doing it or not, there will be a greater need for what we’re doing. And so where we end up is almost irrelevant to me, what’s more relevant is that we continue to push people to want more and push people towards authentic, inclusive experiences where there’s less and less self-contained gatekeepers who control the flow of access.

Peter:

And I think from today’s conference, you certainly have the basis of a network, a growing network where you facilitate inclusion across multiple channels.

Thank you, thank you. We’re really glad that you had the opportunity to join us and share with us and I think the simplicity of what you shared made it much easier for people to take back to their world and yet it’s a deep message and it’s one that will have long-lasting impact on their practice.

Peter:

Simplicity works. Matt Schinelli, I wish you so much good luck, you don’t need luck, you’ll be fine. But thank you very much, it’s been an absolute privilege to be here and a good chance to catch up in person, for a change.

Matt:

Yes, thank you, Peter, and best of luck to the Inclusion Club.