There is no easy, scripted or one-size-fits-all approach to teaching in an inclusive system or to being an inclusive teacher. Often, it is an extremely challenging task to be an inclusive teacher in an inclusive education system. Unlike some alternative pedagogies, most public school systems still subscribe to a more traditional approach to education: grade level curricula, formulas for services, political guidance, union collaboration, and so on. Though there is a place for a traditional education, however, it is often at odds with creating truly inclusive systems. Once such example is the prevalence of special education. Pre-inclusive education, special education was a necessary component of the systems. Special education programs ensured students requiring intensive supports were being educated in an appropriate fashion. Of course, it opened the door to the door, (rightfully), to the argument of why are we separating our students based on disability.
Fast forward about 3 decades, and most public school systems have implemented inclusive policies. In many cases, special education schools were closed or reduced and all students now have the opportunity to attend their neighbourhood school. I am aware that in some areas, specialized schools are still available either with or without public funds. However, we are still early in our journey of realizing truly inclusive systems. In many cases, inclusive policies have not generalized into inclusive practices and, even more challenging, inclusive mindsets. Many of us still view inclusion as a way to include excluded populations. With smaller departments being at the head of inclusive policies and programming for students requiring support, the practice remains of certain 'specialized' teachers being responsible for students requiring supports. In some inclusive school jurisdictions special education policies are still driving forces when it comes to programming for some students. Whereas, inclusive systems should be moving away from the mentality of mainstream vs special education and towards the mentality of all students require support in varying levels and for varying amounts of time.
Remember, inclusive education is an approach that aims to ensure ALL students are given fair & just opportunities to learn, participate, achieve, and to be present in schools. All students require support in their academic journey at different times- it does not make it special education. Simply put, in an inclusive system ALL students are part of the mainstream and are provided with the necessary supports to ensure that they can be present participative, and achieve new learning. Many current public school systems have not left their traditional pre-inclusive education approach behind. Rather, systems that have been created are complicated, segmented, and resemble more of a Frankenstein system than a cohesive and collaborative system.
SO, what can we do? Like many of you, I am a teacher in a public school system. I have very little impact, if any direct impact, on policy, practice, and the 'bigger picture'. What I can do is to create an inclusive environment in which all my students feel welcomed, valued, and a part of our class community. It is not easy. I have to dig deep into who I am, how I think, why I think certain truths, and develop an understanding of different perspectives. It is hard work!
The 3 strategies that I have implemented in my inclusive classroom start with me confronting my implicit bias. Understanding my beliefs and their roots has helped me to develop stronger skills and a deep awareness of others.
3 IMPORTANT STRATEGIES TO START USING....working towards...TODAY
These 3 strategies are so important in developing your inclusive classroom. I promise you there is never time, we are always too busy and with too much to do. However, by implementing these 3 strategies- or at least thinking about it- you will start to change your mindset about how you approach your students. Remember, your classroom is a community of unique individuals. They all bring strengths, challenges, and fun to the community. Not only is it your job to teach, but it is your job to ensure ALL your students know they are valued members of the community.
Check out my posts on implicit bias. Confronting your unconscious bias is key in developing an inclusive pedagogy within your classroom. Here are those posts: Bias In Teaching and Inclusive Education Chatter.