Not Just One Story of Successful Inclusion
By Guest Blogger Nicole Eredics, Co-host, The Inclusive Class Podcast
As an advocate for inclusive education, I’ve been asked many times over the years to share stories of inclusion “done right.” Quite honestly, however, it is difficult for me to share an inclusion story. It’s not because I have never seen inclusion success stories in real life. It’s not because I’ve only ever heard successful inclusion stories through the “lucky few.” I can’t share an inclusion story because I don’t have just one story to tell you about. The problem is just the opposite: I have too many.
Inclusion, for me, hasn’t been as obscure and mystical as a unicorn. I spent the better part of my teaching career working in an inclusive school system as a classroom teacher. It was a system consisting of approximately 60 school districts that serviced nearly 500,000 students. Within it, I worked in four different districts, teaching in more than a dozen individual schools. I taught students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Each one of my classrooms was fully inclusive. Through the years, I have taught students with autism, learning disabilities, hearing impairments and dyslexia, and students who use wheelchairs in my general education classes. By all accounts, the students in my classes were successfully included. Therefore, I have a lot of inclusion success stories to tell!
Rather than write about one inclusion success story, I would like to tell you about several common elements that have made all my inclusive experiences successful. I want to point out the type of environment and supports that have to be in place to educate students with various abilities in a general education classroom. Successful inclusion doesn’t stem from a well-meaning, yet ill-informed and poorly prepared infrastructure. Most importantly, I want you to know that successful inclusion exists and has existed for decades in schools around the globe. While every school system has its unique challenges, its approach to inclusive education remains steadfast because inclusion works. I urge you to take notice of these systems, understand them and expect to have them for your own students. Here are a few elements that are common throughout successful, inclusive schools:
An Attitude of Belonging
Inclusion succeeds when stakeholders such as administrators, teachers, parents and community members all believe that, as a society, we are better together than we are apart. The priority for social justice drives a belief that all students deserve equal educational opportunities that are meaningful and purposeful. In addition, there is trust in years of empiricalresearch, which has found no benefit to educating the majority of students with special needs in self-contained classrooms. Furthermore, the language, classroom routines, instruction, activities and resources used within inclusive schools reflect the desire to welcome and educate all students.
Expectations of Stakeholders
Successful inclusion is rooted in the expectation that every child will attend his or her neighborhood school. The child will be placed in an age-appropriate classroom and receive a general education. There is an expectation that, when necessary, the school will respond to the child’s learning needs and that schools will use resources from a variety of sources within the district and community to bring supports to the student in the classroom. These supports include instructional strategies, Individual Education Plans (IEPs), paraprofessionals, health professionals and assistive devices. Inclusive school systems expect they will do everything possible, in partnership with families, to provide students with a meaningful education. However, it is understood that inclusion does not preclude alternate, more suitable educational environments outside of the general education classroom for an individual student.
Appropriate Teacher Training
Inclusion is successful when teachers are trained and prepared to teach in classrooms that are inclusive. Before entering the classroom, they are equipped with knowledge and tools to cultivate a welcoming environment, identify student needs, use research-based instructional strategies to teach diverse learners and assess individual progress. They understand the importance of IEPs and ways in which curricula can be taught to students of all abilities. Teachers are also versed in accessing school and community resources that will provide specialized instruction when required. Additionally, there is an understanding that training does not stop at teacher credentialing. Professional development is ongoing through collaboration with school staff, workshops, conferences and access to teaching resources. Well-trained teachers who are skilled at inclusive practice and committed to life-long learning are the backbone of successful inclusive schools.
While there are more elements worthy of mentioning, the ones I have shared are at the top of my list. Once there is belief, a commitment to a standard of education and appropriate training, it is possible for inclusion to come to life. Then, we will have even more inclusion success stories to tell.
About the Guest Blogger
Nicole Eredics is an elementary teacher who has spent more than 15 years teaching inclusive classrooms in British Columbia, Canada. She is also a parent, advocate and education writer. Nicole created and co-hosted The Inclusive Class Podcast. In addition, she has developed and discovered many valuable resources for parents, teachers and schools that she shares on her blog, The Inclusive Class, on Twitter at @Inclusive_Class and on Facebook at The Inclusive Class.