A very common concern I hear from teachers is that 'inclusion does not work'. I cannot disagree more- inclusion completely works IF the systems and structures are put into place to support inclusive education systems. Oh, and our mindset or our professional (and personal) belief system is open and embraces the concept of difference is normal.
Most systems that call themselves inclusive education school systems are really still following an integration model or an inclusive special education system. In other words, all students are welcome to attend their neighbourhood school but very little changes were made to the systems and structures to ensure that all students are fully welcome and able to participate. Remember, changing a policy is a low lever change- in other words, when changing a policy very little actually changes or no major change happens. Switching from a special education vs mainstream model of schooling to an inclusive education system requires a lot more than a policy change.
So what is it that teachers are seeing in today's schools that is called inclusion.... but is not. Below I have compiled a list of a few of the common examples that teachers have provided me from their own experiences. Do any of these ring a bell for you?
Here is a list of some common characteristics from today's school systems. This list includes ways that school systems have become inventive to support diversity within the school system....without having to make high lever changes (sustainable & meaningful changes).
mainstream students vs inclusion students: notion that we have two groups of students those who can vs those who can't but we include them. A few teachers have mentioned this language being used during PD opportunities. (hmmmmmm)
fragmented systems: the idea that a smaller department oversees the inclusive education policy and protocols for the education system. Rather than having the inclusive education policy drive all policies, some areas have small departments being in charge of this area which leads to segmented thinking. Unless inclusive education is a the heart of all decisions for systems, it will come across as being a part of the education system and not the shaping force.
catch all rooms: these classrooms have a variety of names (depending on the school system), yet they function the same way. If a student is deemed unable to be in the classroom (?), they can go and have a calm a quiet space to learn in a small group or isolation. The challenge....their peer models are all kiddos who require similar levels of support and the teaching staff in these rooms are stretched thin- the reality is they are often very excitable and/or dangerous locations- not calm teaching areas.
paraprofessionals or educational assistants: despite having a necessary and important role on the school team, these team players are often pushed to act as a pseudo-teacher to some of the most vulnerable students. EAs have every specific roles, but they are not teachers. Teachers have very specific roles, but they are not EAs or administrators. Everyone has a role- EAs should not be expected to be responsible for a student's education (but they should support it!).
technology take-over: I have heard about some students spending their entire days on computers or tablets because there is not enough resources to support students... and preferred activities are great, right?
Many things we cannot control as teachers- even though it would make life so easy- but there are things we can do to support our students within today's systems. Despite how frustrating things can be- we have to remember why we teach. It is important for us to not let our frustrations with our systems interfere with our students' educational journeys.
Remember about options & choices, remember the power of our professional mindset, and remember how we can set up an inclusive learning environment that is supportive to all our students. Through collaboration, preparation, our knowledge, and our dedication we can and we will support and teach all learners.....and hopefully see some positive changes towards more inclusive education systems.