Gone are the days that we can call ourselves inclusive teachers or inclusive schools because we have opened the doors to all kiddos. That movement was a great starting point about thirty years ago, but now we have to do better. We know more, we have access to more resources/information/supports, and, mostly, our students deserve more.
A week ago, a teacher told that she is struggling because she has a student in her class that requires a lot of support. She has some TA support for toileting, physio-therapy, and transitions. However, this teacher feels that the student requires more TA support. After some conversation, she told me it is because she just cannot give this child the support she needs to be successful on her own. I get that!
It is a challenge to make sure all kiddos get the support they need to be successful in the classroom. However, if we start picking who we can support and who might need too much support for us then we are going back to that spot thirty years ago- when we opened the door and said we are now inclusive!
Inclusive education requires us to change what we always did to thinking openly, providing accessibility, and doing things differently. Remember my mantra: 'difference is normal'.
So, how can we start to think and act inclusively with all the challenges teachers face?
First thing, if you are reading this post (and any of my other posts), you are already thinking or starting to think more inclusively. You are gathering information, hopefully thinking about it (!), and you are probably connecting it to your professional practice. THIS IS SUPER IMPORTANT!
Building inclusive classrooms does not happen overnight or even in one month or one year. It takes time to learn, to understand, to make connections, to try, and to feel confidence. Most educators believe in inclusive education. All educators value their students and want what is best for them. I believe in these two points, teachers are great! However, the challenges with inclusive education in the classroom and schools today stems partly from lack of resources, lack of training, lack of collaboration, and lack of time.
What can we do, when we cannot change the big ticket items, to move from thinking inclusively to acting inclusively? Keep reading to find out 9 ways you can start building an inclusive classroom.....
9 ways to start building an inclusive classroom
1. Build relationships
I cannot stress this enough! The more time your spend in getting to know your students as indviduals, the easier a time you will have in planning for their learning success. With strong relationships, you not only build a knoweledge and understanding of the individual, but the child develops an understanding of you and your expectations.
2. Set up and flexible and fluid learning space
This is another important and easy thing you can do to make sure you are inlcuding all your kiddos. Whether or not you are a fan of flexible seating is not important in setting up a flexible and fluid learning space because it is not about you- it is about what works for each student within your inclusive learning classroom. What works in September might not work by the end of October, be okay changing where your resources are and the formation of the desks. Think about your space, what works well- why it works well, what is not working- why it is not working, and think about what you can to support your students better within the space.
3. Teach to small groups
You are a super hero, but do not think that you need to plan one lesson that 27 students are going to have success with every single day!!! It is okay to break your kiddos into smaller groups. Teach a shorter lesson to each group: groups can be set up based on levels, supports, needs, interests, choices, whatever works for that lesson. The other students can work on independent work or group work while waiting for their turn. Part of acting inclusively is about making the space & the lessons accessible to all your students- it is more than reasonable to assume that one lesson is not accessible for all. Use small groups.
4. Think of your students as individuals and not as thier diagnosis (or assumed diagnosis)
This is my favorite thing you can do (besides for a building a relatinship), think of each kiddo as an individual. Medical diagnosis are important for many reasons. However, they do not affect our ability to be the child's teacher. Their diagnosis might impact how they learn, what they learn, it might mean we have to be vigilant, or it might mean nothing at all. Do not allow yourself to fall into the trap of putting the diagnosis before the individual.
5. Offer choices and variation
Like teaching in small groups, offering choices and variation makes it much easier to reach all your students. Never assume one or two options is enough, inclusive classrooms offer appropriate choices that allow you to meet the needs of everyone.
You cannot do it alone! Work with your colleagues, reach out to other teachers, and team up to support your students. Collaboration is a key component of building effective learning environements.
7. Be okay with asking for help
You only know what you know....and there is so much you don't know. Guess what?? That is okay- how can you know it all, especially when you starting out to (re)build your inclusive classroom. You are here to learn! Think of yourself as a sponge, ask questions, learn from others, ask for help- take in information.
8. Connect with parents and ask for their input
Connecting with parents, especailly the parents of the kiddos who challenge you the most, is necessary. Not only can they support you in getting to know their child, but they can help you in providing appropriate choices & options, as well, they may have suggestions in how you cab set up your space to be effective for their child as part of the group.
9. Work on identifying, acknowledging, confronting, and changing your underlying assumptions
You need to be ready to change! Developing inclusive actions takes a lot of time because you have to change how you think, how you act, and, in some cases, you have to change your beliefs. This step is incredibly important in building inclusive classrooms because you are changing how you have always done things. You can do it, but you have to be prepared to dedicate time to the process. However, once you start to open your mind and question your actions from different perspectives, your actions will start to change- things will speed up....I promise!
(** click on link to head to our website and grab your free copy of part 3 of our PD program for identifying, acknowledging, confronting, and changing your underlying assumptions).