The world is moving so fast and education is not exempted. The speed at which new trends and fads arise is crazy- and it is hard to even know when a trend has come and gone. However, inclusion has been around for a few decades now and it is not a trend or a fad that will come and go. It is a movement to ensure that the mix in society is valued and reflected in our schools. If anything, this movement is getting stronger traction on a global scale. Prior to the introduction of inclusive education, students with learning disabilities, cognitive impairments or physical challenges were seen as having a deficit. They were assumed to be the problems. In the not so long past, education worked on two streams: able & disabled. THANKFULLY this mentality is no longer the case. THANKFULLY we continue our journey towards realizing truly inclusive school systems.
I know that the current implementation of inclusive education systems present themselves with challenges. It is important to remember the challenges are not with inclusive education, but with how inclusive systems have been implemented over the last few decades. With the introduction of inclusion being the driving force behind education systems, many things should have changed. Class sizes should have been reduced, schools should have become accessible, resources and staff should be plentiful, and systems & structures should have been put in place to support the variation in students. However, few things changed. Special Education schools and classes shut down and students requiring additional supports were placed in traditional neighborhood schools. In many cases, the additional supports provided in the specialized schools were lost and our most vulnerable students were expected to fit into a traditional one-size-fits-all mold. The presumed frustration with inclusive education comes back to the lack of change or inability to set up systems & structures that support all our students and not with the notion of inclusive education.
To get back to a more positive note, through inclusive education all students are given a fair education that provides appropriate support for each child (this is the aim). There are teachers who have studied inclusive education and there are teachers who just do it! The beauty of inclusion is that it is an approach and an attitude to society. It is not an art or a practice. When thinking inclusively, individuals become the focus of the group. The idea that all students are different, all students require varying levels of support, and all students are valued members of the class takes precedent.
The Learning Environment of the Inclusive Classroom
What makes the inclusive classroom different from the old traditional classroom setting? These are just a few things to note:
The fact that all of the students can participate together is awesome!
Some Inspiring Teaching Quotes to Check Out
There are moments wherein teachers may feel teaching in inclusive settings to be a challenge for various reasons. I know we love what we do, I know we love our students and want the world for each of them. Here are a few good quotes, among many, that will speak to the heart of your practice.
1. When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.
This quote talks to a key feature in our professional practice, reflection. Children are children. They are not broken nor do they need to be fixed. Our job is to educate our students based on their needs, a curriculum (for better or worse), and to be contributing members of society. If a child is struggling to learn in the environment that we provide, change it. Reflecting on what is working and not working is huge in meeting each student at their unique level and bringing them forward.
2. See the potential and find the unique strength in every student.
Every child is capable of learning. Every child has the right to an awesome education. Our job is to give each child an education in order to support whole person development. Every student is unique in their interests, skills, needs, and experiences. It is important to celebrate each student for being unique, but it is also important to use uniqueness to develop relationships, points of connection, and, at times, to support strategy development.
3. Children who learn together, learn to live together.
School is not only about academics, but about building positive communities. Students need to be contributing and valued members of classroom communities and school communities. Learning how to be a part of a community when you are young is a life skill. All our students will be members of the greater community once they leave school, we must ensure they are prepared for to live and work in a community.
4. Everybody is a genius. If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.
In today’s classrooms there is so much variation within your students. There is no longer a norm or an expected. Offering choices and options for your students must be a part of your practice.
5. A class teacher dedicated to engaging their students can have a huge impact on the student’s experience of education and their outcome in life.
Imagine knowing you made a difference to each of your students, how great is that thought? Well, you can and you do make a difference to your students. Anticipating the variation in your student’s learning, the spectrum of learning, when planning your lessons will help to ensure you continually meet your students at their levels. Do not fret if you cannot reach every student the first time- this happens! It is about planning for the spectrum of learners, reflecting on your lessons, and changing what you need to to help your students. Teaching is not about us, the teacher, but it is about the students and their learning.
6. Fairness is not giving everyone the same thing. It is giving each person what they need to succeed.
Inclusion is about the mix of people. Inclusion is about supporting individuals within the mix. It is not about shaping the mix to a one-size-fits-all mold. Rather, it is about welcoming and valuing the mix of people in our society.
7. Inclusion is opening our minds to new possibilities, making room for different perspectives, and enriching the experience for everyone along the way.
Inclusion is about the journey and not the destination. Keep your inquisitive side open and maintain a willingness to learn. Jump out of the box and push the limits. Plan for all your students and plan for yourself. Ask questions and collaborate daily.