Last year about this time in the school year, I sent out an email to classroom teachers with some information. In this email, I included a list of 5-6 actionable steps to increase accessibility for all students. I just wanted to share a few tidbits of information to mull over and, perhaps, have a conversation about down the road.
Below, I have included the things to think about or actionable steps for your reading. Many of you area already doing all of these things, some of you need a reminder, others might just need clarity into why these steps are important in your professional practice. Wherever you are in your journey, I think you will find the below read and attached handout (click on image or click here) helpful!
There are no mistakes- when you act with the best of intention for you students, any insight is helpful. Changes that you implement that have no effect or make things less smooth should be viewed as learning opportunities for you. Congrats, you now have some valuable insight into what is not going to work (maybe even why it did not work). When you sit down to reflect on past approaches or actions, you can draw on this insight to help shape your next path or change. I recommend keeping a learning journal (or scribbles) of what changes or actions you have taken. Include any insight you have on the outcome of those changes and actions. The second recommendation is to give everything some time. Do not throw in the towel after one week, pick a reasonable amount of time to trial the change or action. Your insight becomes more valuable when it has breadth and richness to it- in other words, give it 3-5 weeks.
It’s the small things- start with small changes. The goal is to increase accessibility and inclusivity of all students in your classroom. However, you the teacher need to buy-in to the changes and you need to make sure they become a part of your teaching, your routines, and your planning. Wet your feet first with small changes and actions that you can commit to for 3-5 weeks. Not only does this time frame allow you to gather insight on the success of the change or action, but it allows you to become more comfortable with the change and it allows you time to modify your own routines. Just start small until you are ready to implement more changes to your routines and the routines of your students. Remember there are no mistakes. Inclusion is a journey- there is no end to it.
Start with the relationship- day three of school this year, A teacher pointed to a student and she said ‘Is this Prader-Willi?’. My response was ‘This is X. She is in grade one and has a little sister in primary’. After a little more chitter chatter (to lighten the atmosphere), I did say and ‘yes she has a diagnosis of Prader-Willi’. It is important to know your students as individuals. They all have names, interests, stories to share, and important information to know. Focus on the child first. Make a connection and build a relationship. There are details about our students and information to know that are both important and critical to their education- that cannot be changed. However, you cannot let this information define the child and shape your relationship.
Set up consistent routines- keep your classroom routines consistent! Spend time building the routines with demonstration, practice, and simple language to ensure all your students have the opportunity to learn and understand the routines. It is always a good thing for our students to have the same routine used throughout the day. Keep your routines to a minimum (maybe 3-4 class routines). You should use the same routine for a variety of activities.
Set up clear & consistent expectations- much like your routines, your expectations should be simple to understand and consistent! Keep the grey area to a minimum with your expectations- how many students do you know that when given an inch, take a mile? Black & white simple expectations work best in inclusive classrooms.
Anticipate the variation in your class- you should know your students as individuals and as learners (after you start to build relationships & learn about them as learners). Use your understanding of their learning needs to shape your lessons, your routines, expectations, and the room set-up. For example, if a student has limited use of their hands, use a multi-modal approach to activities that require fine motor skills (printing, colouring, cutting, and so on). Instead of students being expected to cut out their math manipulatives, offer pre-cut pieces, technology-based activity, or physical manipulatives. In all planning and prep, keep the variation of your students in the front of your mind.
Plan for individual needs- just like you anticipate the variation in your class and plan appropriately, you will need to plan for individual needs. Choices offered need to be meaningful to the students. Choices should be planned with students’ needs in mind. There will be times that you have to help to guide (passively or actively) students to use materials, resources, or participate in activities that are geared to their needs. Going back to the example of a student with limited use of their hands, they may not be able to cut their math materials out during the lesson. This child may want to cut them out, you will need to guide them to use the precut materials or physical manipulatives. You need to be realistic about the student, the lesson/activity, and the schedule. However, you can send the materials home to be cut out the day before or as a ‘fun’ follow-up. Just explain the situation to the parents/guardian- let them be a part of the decision by offering two choices: the cutting comes home or your child uses precut materials.
Differentiate only when necessary- if a student cannot participate in the same activity or lesson, it is okay to differentiate for that student. We want all students to learn, to grow, and to move forward. Maintain high expectations for your students but be realistic about their current academic levels. Where are they currently? Where do you want them to be in X months? Or at the end of the year? For example, if you have a lesson planned for three-digit addition, but you have a student who is working on emergent academic skills, you will need to differentiate the activity for that student appropriately. You may even have a few students who are working on single or double-digit addition, do not differentiate the activity for those students- you can anticipate that those students are working at an earlier level of the same skill and plan it into your lesson and follow up. The student who is working on emergent academic skills will require a different activity in order to support their learning growth.
Communicate and collaborate- ask your colleagues, parents, social media groups(!), and support workers for help, suggestions, and to work through ideas. Inclusion is about community and mixing diverse individuals together to build a stronger community. Fresh eyes, insight, and experiences are helpful in supporting your growth, your changes, and your journey to create an inclusive classroom. You cannot do it alone!
Check out our How To Organize Your Inclusive Classroom In 5 Steps resource. It is a simple guide to help with inclusive classroom management.
Also, check out our Organizational Guide for Inclusive Teachers e-guide. It is a tool to help facilitate inclusion in the classroom. The e-guide provides you with a spot to record student information. As well, it provides you with an understanding of the program planning process for individuality within the whole class setting