Alumnus of the Month – Claire Welander

Claire’s interest in education and helping others started at a young age. She remembers her grandmother, a teacher in a one-room North Dakota schoolhouse, telling animated stories about the children in her class. Since those impressionable early days, Claire has gone on to pursue a career in education, earning her BS in speech pathology and her master’s in infant and early childhood special education.  Her career has included time as the director of an early intervention program in Vancouver, WA and now as an early childhood specialist with Clackamas County ESD. Her teaching philosophy is, “if you treat a child as he is, he will remain as he is. If you treat a child as you expect him to be, he will be all he can be.”

Claire continues to support the GSE by welcoming students as  student teachers and as a cooperating professional for practicum.


How did your work at the GSE help you to reach your professional goals?

When I began my graduate studies, I was enrolled as a recipient to Project SELF, (Support Early Learning Foundations for Self Determination for Children with Special Needs and their Families). As I began to work with families, the printed words began to take on real life focus, and as a result, I became “self-determined.” I believe now that you can’t teach something if you haven’t embraced it. I learned that I needed to have a clear understanding of child development and recognize that each child has a unique way of learning. And I learned that respectful interactions build self determination and self discipline.

What has proven to be the most useful thing you learned while at the GSE?

The most valuable tool that I gained was to listen and become sponge-like. I learned that answers and insights come from aligning yourself with people, parents, teachers, professionals, and kids from all walks of life. I read  blogs about what is concerning to parents, breaking their hearts, and what makes them smile. I take notes from the physical therapists, speech therapists, nurses, and preschool teachers. I feel it is important to always important to listen because the answers may be discovered from any source.

I am ever appreciative of lessons learned and shared about the grief process, especially shared wisdom and reflections from Dr. Leslie Munson. Although studies regarding grief and loss are briefly covered in early intervention classes, I feel that more reflection and discussion should be given to this sensitive and worthy subject.

What is the accomplishment in your career that you are most proud of?

After graduating, I accepted the director position for PRIDE for Kids in Vancouver, WA. We built a new home for PRIDE with an astounding group of accomplished therapists, family leaders and community support. After the untimely death of a two year old student, we pledged to build “Alexi’s Garden,” which involved thousands of volunteer hours, community and city donations, and scholarships. The project created an extended outdoor learning environment to support child development across all areas. I’m grateful to have learned the importance that shared knowledge is greater than an individual pool. And I’m grateful that so many families called me friend. I never forget that. This project continues to make an impact in the community by the fact that I remain connected, and my circle continues to widen.

What does the term “impact on the community” mean to you?  How do you incorporate it into your daily work? 

I think the GSE has made a community impact by remaining interested and invested in me. I still have contact with my professors and I consider them to be lifelong colleagues. I happily accepted the challenge request to teach the Family Guided Intervention class, and both Leslie Munson and Dave Allen lent me their support and guidance.

By helping GSE graduate students in practicum and student teaching, I continue to stay alert and in tune while sharing the wealth of information that I have been given.

What advice would you give students currently enrolled or recently graduated?

Several areas come to mind. First, take advantage of seminars, workshops, blogs and discussion groups. Be creative and actively pursue many kinds of learning. Second, be mindful of what your students’ parents are saying and learn to listen respectfully. Learn to be genuinely empathetic by understanding how people feel and how to make them feel better, even when it is the hardest thing to do that day.

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