The beautiful thing about inclusion is that the approach is as unique and individual as the each member of the respective community. Verna Myers puts inclusion simply 'Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance'. Inclusion is not about including the excluded, it is not about one-size programming, and it is certainly not about fitting everyone into the same square. Rather, inclusion is an approach to society that focuses on creating opportunities for all members within the community. What does that look like? It depends! Inclusion is not a carefully choreographed tango, but rather it is more a free form sock hop.
In an inclusive school system, all students are given fair opportunities to participate, to be present, and to succeed. Inclusion requires an understanding that there is no normal and that is ok. It requires people to step away from 'like-minded' individuals and view society, opportunities, & experiences from various perspectives. Inclusive communities do not define success of an individual based on standards, but rather, based on personal achievements. Inclusive Education takes an open, fluid and unlocked mindset. It takes collaboration, positivity, and commitment. Again, Inclusive Education is a journey. We are all on different paths and in different locations, but we all need to keep moving forward. Inclusion is fair, it is just, and it is just the right thing to do. Everyone wants to feel they are valued, respected, and a part of the community.
Again I ask, why practice Inclusive Education? I want to highlight 3 important areas that Inclusive Education nourishes- and I mean truly inclusive communities, the kind that create opportunities for all is members, allow for all of its members to be achieve and participate. Inclusive Education journey is reflected in our actions, not just in our words.
Belonging & Value
Inclusive Education encourages a sense of belonging amongst its community members. When anyone, especially children, know that they belong in their community they feel personal value and pride. Children want to come to school, they want to participate, and they want to learn and take on challenges (at least trust that they can). Unlike in traditional school settings, Inclusive classrooms are based on the unique individualities of each student within the class community. Emphasis of learning is based on meeting each child where they (and being okay with that) rather than placing an emphasis on the curricula. In other words, the mindset switches from meeting or not meeting to learning as an individual journey. Choice, communication, connection, and compassion are key to success in Inclusive classrooms.
Inclusive Education promotes natural connections between students. Rather than staff directed opportunities through pull-out or scheduled interactions, Inclusive communities allow for natural and authentic interactions guided by the students. Interactions might be as small as a few hellos and high fives or as large as a group project, but they are directed by the students. The authenticity of each interaction allows for the members of the class to get to know one another at a pace comfortable to them, they develop a connection on an individual level, and these connections support the development of belonging and value of the community members. As educators, our role becomes about creating on-going opportunities for all our students to participate within the group. Often in traditional settings, social interactions are set-up by teachers and/or paraprofessionals with the support of the 'meeting' student as a leader in the interaction. Despite good intentions, these interactions place the students on two separate platforms: the one who meets and the one who doesn't. Inclusive classrooms aim to reduce the notion of meeting vs not meeting by focusing on the individuality and contribution of each member.
Inclusive Education is all about the individual as part of a community. a community is not complete unless all of its member have been given opportunities to grow, learn, participate, and be apart of the community. Decisions are made based on what is best for all the students, and not just some of the students. Inclusive communities support the notion of the 7 10 split: aiming for the centre pins will only knock a few down, but aiming for the outlying pins will give you the LARGEST impact.
Creating Inclusive classrooms is hard when the focus becomes about curriculum guides, and standardizations. In these types of settings, students are divided into groups: meeting vs not meeting, able vs disable, typical/normal vs different, you get the point. When we group or label students based on abilities and focus our class expectations around one group over the other, it sends a loud message of exclusivity- regardless of your words or policies. However, when we open our minds and our doors to the idea that all students can and will participate, all students can and will learn, and all students are a part of our group a shift takes place within our actions. We move our class from a class based on ability into a community built on respect, value, and individuality.
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