Inclusion is not a place.
Inclusion is not a program.
Inclusion is a shared values system and practice of including students with disabilities academically and socially.
Cultivating the WHY (the shared values system) ensures that staff members wholeheartedly believe in the mission, which will translate into the team discussing the HOW (the practice of implementing inclusion successfully). Note: Many times staff members want to jump directly into the implementation logistics. I would argue that creating a strong foundation for inclusion will ensure the school has a solid infrastructure for inclusion that will last beyond the revolving doors of standalone PDs.
1) Inventory of Existing Beliefs
Our own experiences and memories in school and our pre-existing beliefs indelibly influence our teaching practice. Therefore, I recommend facilitating conversations or activities where teachers can unpack how these forces have shaped their feelings toward inclusion. These conversations can be charged, so I recommend setting communication norms beforehand.
Another option is allowing people to provide anonymous feedback through programs such as PollEverywhere or post its on anchor charts around the room.
Some questions to facilitate conversation:
- When you went to school, were you aware of students with special needs in your classes?
- What is your current experience level with inclusion?
- How comfortable do you feel with implementing inclusion on a scale of 1-5? If not, why?
- What have you seen work well with inclusion?
- How would inclusion look like in your ideal classroom?
- What more do you want to learn about inclusion?
I cannot stress enough that these conversations need to be open and supportive. It is better for a teacher to admit biases in this safe space than venting to colleagues after hours. After all, change comes when people are willing to open up and confront their own ideals.
During one of these difficult conversations, a General Education teacher admitted to me that he thought all students should be held to the same grading standards – even though one of the students in his class had modifications in the IEP due to a Traumatic Brain Injury. I illustrated that the IEP allowed the student to receive modified work that was challenging yet accessible. I even drew a picture of the Zone of Proximal Development to help the teacher understand! After this discussion, the teacher was more open to modified curriculum and grading in his class for this student, which made the student feel more supported and less frustrated in class. This conversation illuminated to me the difference in training that can occur between General Education and Special Education teachers, which can materialize as fight between rigor vs. individualization. When inclusion is implemented correctly, it does not need to be an either/or – both values can and should co-exist.
2) Making the Case for Inclusion
To make the case for inclusion, I recommend using statistics as well as personal anecdotes.
For statistics, I recommended providing different readings for staff members to read and review. If you provide multiple readings, you could allow for a jig-saw for different groups to share out their findings.
I love this article from Dr. Whitbread, which provides academic research to support the benefits of inclusion. Since I will not be able to make these arguments as cogently as her, I included some of the facts from her article:
- “Students with disabilities in inclusive classrooms show academic gains in a number of areas, including improved performance on standardized tests, mastery of IEP goals, grades, on-task behavior and motivation to learn (National Center for Education Restructuring and Inclusion, 1995).”
- “Moreover, placement in inclusive classrooms does not interfere with the academic performance of students without disabilities with respect to the amount of allocated time and engaged instructional time, the rate of interruption to planned activities and students’ achievement on test scores and report card grades (York, Vandercook, MacDonald, Heise-Neff, and Caughey, 1992).”
- “The types of instructional strategies found in inclusive classrooms, including peer tutoring, cooperative learning groups, and differentiated instruction, have been shown to be beneficial to all learners. For example, Slavin, Madden, & Leavy (1984) found that math scores for students with and without disabilities increased by nearly half a grade level as a result of working in cooperative learning groups.”
Here are more creative ideas available for matters of convincing the heart:
- Have students and families share their experiences to the team.
- Ask staff members to use this simulation from Understood.org to better understand how students think and express their ideas. The simulation allows for you to pick a grade and a specific area of need such as writing, executive functioning, and attention to experience challenging this task would for the student.
3) Cultivating Shared Responsibility
In my heavily biased opinion, I believe this simple step can be what makes or breaks inclusion. Are you ready for it? Repeat after me: shared responsibility. Repeat after me once again: shared responsibility. Now say it even louder for those who did not hear you in the back: SHARED RESPONSIBILITY!
Did you have this reaction?
Or this reaction?
Or even this reaction?
Oh well, you have come this far – so let’s press the pedal to the medal!
Okay, okay: I hear you! And yes, saying shared responsibility and believing in it as a necessity for the success of inclusion are two different things. (Side note: if only one thing in special education could be simple!)
Here are some possible activities to spur discussion and promote buy-in:
- Co-teaching teams can represent what shared responsibility means to them through a lesson, logo, social story, skit, etc.
- Co-teaching teams can create a “recipe” for shared responsibility, which will include all of the necessary “ingredients.”
- Each co-teaching team can find an academic article about teamwork and then present the findings on a rotating basis.
And always remember:
Where did I find this cool stuff?!
Whitbread, Kathleen (n.d). What does the research say about inclusive education? Wrightslaw. Retrieved on September 20th, 2019 from https://www.wrightslaw.com/info/lre.incls.rsrch.whitbread.htm.