Inclusion is journey. It is not the destination. Most inclusion and diversity policies clearly state that the organization includes all persons fairly and equally. Practices of the organization often reflect effort towards upholding and dedication to the policy. However, rarely does anyone feel that all persons are fairly and equally included into the organization. Inclusion has been described as 'the elephant in the room' due to the sensitivity of the topic. Discussing how, despite our best attempts, we are still not fully including more vulnerable groups is faux pas. The right to high-quality inclusive education is a human right. It leads to strong, welcoming, and diverse communities that work together to combat discrimination. SO, why is it still 'elephant in the room'?
One of the most influential factors shaping inclusive education today is the resistance to talking about difference. An underlying assumption many of us hold is that if we speak about those 'different from us' we may be viewed in a negative light. The contrary is true- we need to speak about difference. Inclusion is so powerful because it is about difference woven through the fabric of every community- inclusive systems thrive when difference is recognized, supported, and valued. Inclusive systems do not (unconsciously) define norm. For example, many inclusive school systems still support the mentality of us vs them OR norm vs difference OR mainstream vs special education. Whereas, in an inclusive system it should be student-centred and about each individual student. All students require support at different times, for different reasons, and with various levels of support.
Instead of thinking about being an inclusive system, it is okay to say we have not arrived! We may never arrive at a truly inclusive system. With every new student and every new circumstance, we may need to change the necessary supports to ensure that each child can participate and learn in our system. Inclusion is a journey full of frustrating and exciting detours and that is okay. It becomes more straightforward, as the crow flies, when we have open conversations``that acknowledge our struggles, reflections, questions, and successes.
A few things we can all keep in mind as we travel through this journey to help us remain on track:
- Recognize that the approach does not have to be the same in order to be equally fair and just.
- Don't overthink things: it is okay to have concerns, it is okay to make mistakes!!
- Make the unwritten written: common sense to you is not common to everyone.
- Acknowledge, confront, and learn from your implicit bias.
- Use inclusive language.
- Expose yourself to counterstereotyping: weave diversity throughout all aspects of your teaching, your resources, and your materials.
- Ensure the physical environment and decor are welcoming, accessible to all your students, and respectful to all.
- Think outside the box! There is no script or no program to follow on this journey- you know your students, you know the curriculum, and you do know how to make it accessible to all with a little fun!
- Communicate: do not go on this journey alone!
- Reflect, amend, and update: REMEMBER THIS IS A JOURNEY!!!
- Have fun and celebrate what works well, not so well, and learn: we teach our kiddos about making mistakes the benefit it has on our learning- the same is true for you!!!