So, why do some parents have to advocate so much louder than other parents? Why do some parents feel lost with the school system while others seem to know exactly what to do. Some parents feel they are viewed as the problem while other parents feel they are part of the team. Some students seem to get support (big or small) easily) while others seem to not get the appropriate support or any at all. THIS IS NOT FAIR….but it is the reality.
Most school systems in most jurisdictions in North America are inclusive school systems in policy. However, not all schools or systems take the same principled approach to inclusion. Before I move on, it is important to note that I do not believe Inclusive Education is one room, one grade level, all students. I do believe Inclusive Education is an approach that ensures all members of the school community are given a fair and appropriate education. What is a fair and appropriate education? It is one that creates a community of belonging and values each member for who they are and what they can and do contribute. An Inclusive community provides opportunities for all its members to learn, to achieve, to participate fully (based on each individual), and it ensures all students can be present in the community. I do not believe Inclusive Education has separate spaces because a ‘student cannot function in the classroom’ or requires ‘pull-out’ because it is the only way to meet the needs of the students. Inclusive communities start with the members, the students in this case, and create a community that focuses on the individuals as part of a group. If a child requires a pull-out method because they benefit from one-on-one support in a low stimulus or isolated environment then they get that rather than, the more common approach, being pulled-out because supports are pulled in every direction and it is the only way to make it work or give a teacher a break. That is not inclusion. Well, I digress back to you parents.
Since Inclusive Education is not always inclusive and it is not always the same, what does this mean for your child? It means you need to advocate to get your child the supports they need. You may not know what they need or you may think they need something different than what they are getting. In this case, or any case, listen to the school- especially the teacher. I can say teachers and administrators are there for your child and they want your child to succeed and grow. However, sometimes the message gets lost in frustration, confusion, insecurity, or ignorance. It is important that you advocate loud and clear, but it is also important that you work as part of a collaborative team. I do not always have the answers for supporting individualities (big or small), but I always pull the parents into the discussion. I let them know what I have done, where I am concerned, and I ask for their input or their experiences. Likewise, I expect a parent to communicate to me their concerns, questions, or challenges. I also just check in with my parents regularly letting them know something their child worked on and really enjoyed- maybe a quick call, email, or even just a hello at the door. We are all adults cheering for their child, so we need to work as a team, we need to connect.
Advocating and connecting are HUGE in the success of your child regardless of the supports they need. Remember, every learner requires support at some point in their school journey- no child is immune from support. Another key component in ensuring your child is entering an inclusive system is making sure that the school creates an inclusive culture. An inclusive culture is one that goes beyond the policies and creates a community that embraces belonging, that provides learning opportunities for all students, and it is one that places equal value on all students’ learning journey. So how can you do that…..
Here is a list of a few things that you should look for when you are visiting local or potential schools for your children: