Tomorrow Is Too Long to Wait for Inclusion

Eight Inclusion Mistakes Even Good Educators Make

no one is perfect
No one is perfect and even the most seasoned educators will make mistakes from time to time. The key is to accept responsibility, learn from those mistakes and grow in the process.

Here are what I believe to be the eight most common inclusion mistakes:

1. Not devoting enough time for planning

Most teachers will agree; there are just not enough hours in the day to do it all. But successful inclusion requires intentional planning. It’s just can not be accomplished by short-cut or ignored. Each of us is guilty of rushing from time to time, but to be committed to inclusion means to devote the necessary time to appropriate planning.

2. Forgetting that successful education isn’t one-size-fits-all

When we find strategies that work, it’s easy to assume that those same strategies will continue to work. However, the truth is that many students, particularly those with disabilities, require different strategies across different learning situations. Educators should have a “bag of tricks”, but consistently pulling the same trick out of your bag will prove unsuccessful.

3. Not having an inclusive school community despite highly successful special education programs

This one is hard for teachers to control on their own, but ignoring it altogether will not move a community forward. Advocates for inclusion must raise their voices at every opportunity and support those who have yet to fully embrace the value of inclusion. Special education teachers have a unique vantage point in a school community and can help colleagues and school leaders learn to develop more inclusive practices. It may not be part of your “classroom work”, but it is absolutely a part of the job.

4. Not using person-first language

Even the most inclusion-focused educators can lapse in their choice of words from time to time. I’m not talking about derogatory slurs, but it is ok that we occasionally say “he is disabled” instead of “he is a person with a disability”. What’s important is to recognize it and make a concerted effort to correct ourselves. Doing so will mean that it will happen less and less over time.

5. Underestimating a student

We have all done it; been wonderfully surprised when a student accomplishes something we never expected. We do not mean to underestimate our students, but sometimes we haven’t yet seen what he/she is capable of achieving. It is essential for us to always push our students to their highest potential, even if that potential has yet to be fully discovered.

6. Not practicing what you preach

Do you teach special education, but justify parking in a handicapped spot because “you are just running in for a minute”? Do you advocate for school inclusion, but then allow your own child to exclude another child in her class with disabilities from her birthday party? We need to work toward a place where we are as inclusive in our personal lives as we are in our professional ones. It’s important to be consistent models for our peers and our children, not just in formal situations, but in day-to-day life choices and experiences.

7. Going it alone

There is no shame in asking for help; ever. Yet many teachers feel that asking for support or assistance is a sign of weakness or incompetence. Teachers also often believe the notion that, “I have to do it myself if I want it done right.” Letting go of some of the control and working in collaboration with others is not only acceptable, it is critical for successful inclusion.

8. Reinventing the wheel

Educators too often recreate materials and/or lessons that have already been successfully developed and utilized. Collaborating, sharing resources and taking the time to find a proven differentiated lesson will pay off later as you free up more time to devote to student’s individual needs and issues.

None of these mistakes make you a bad teacher! Rather, recognizing our natural human tendencies and our own limitations will enable us to grow both personally and professionally. The day we stop learning as teachers is the day we should stop teaching! Tell us about some of your mistakes in the comments section below!

Photo Credit:  becca.peterson26

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I helped to build a synagogue special needs program from the ground up and I am proud to be able to offer my professional support & expertise to others through a wide variety of workshops and presentations. I firmly believe that everyone has a right to learn Torah and feel connected to his/her heritage. I can help you make that a reality. Contact me for a wide variety of professional presentations and workshops for teachers, parents and teens.

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  • Regarding point #4, many autistic people prefer identity-first language: As Jim Sinclair wrote: “I am not a “person with autism.” I am an autistic person. Why does this distinction matter to me?” From Why I dislike “person first” language:

    • Lisa Friedman

      Thanks, Shannon. I just engaged in this very conversation on Facebook where I wrote: I
      respect each individual’s right to choose the language (or any other
      choice) that is most appropriate for him/her. Yet I hesitate to parse
      out, in my writing, the finer differences in disability language choice.
      I will firmly assert that none of us should
      use derogatory or offensive language, and certainly not intentionally,
      but to get into the finer details can be slippery. For every five
      people with disabilities who prefer person-first language, there are
      likely five others who feel identity-first is more appropriate…and in
      the end, I believe that such debates just wind up dividing those who
      are actually on the “same team” in advocacy, support, etc. At the end of the
      day, I support treating one another with kindness and respect,
      forgiving ourselves and one another when we “slip up”.

      • Most people with disabilities I know are mainly concerned with being treated respectfully, as equals in a non-condescending/pitying manner, regardless of how “correct” the language is. In general I use person-first language unless I know the individual prefers something else, or if I know the majority of that disability community (Deaf, blind for example) uses it. I’m autistic/an Aspie, but I use that interchangeably with “on the spectrum” etc. We’re about students here- unless they are politically conscious & connecting with other disabled folks online or offline (or their parents are) they will be unlikely to be aware of “identity-first” language and the reasons people use it, unless they just come to that perspective on their own. I think every individual needs to figure out on their own terms what their disability means to them, in their identity, connection to disability communities etc.

        • Lisa Friedman

          Absolutely! However, teachers have the added responsibility of modeling, and using appropriate, non-derogatory language sets an example for their colleagues, school leadership, parents and others. Even if people with disabilities themselves are less concerned with language choice, the way we speak about one another shapes our culture. If we want to live in a world where every person is treated respectfully, language choices will matter.

    • Tim Villegas

      Shannon. I agree with your point. Although I try not to make too much of it unless I am referring to someone specifically that I know would prefer to be called autistic. In my writing I deal with it by switching between identity and person-first language within the same article. I typically get called out either way…which I am fine with because it allows us to have a further conversation about language. Thanks for sharing the article by the way and supporting our work.

  • Great post! As a teacher and autism mom, I have to say the biggest obstacles to providing flexible, individualized help to all kids, especially those in inclusive programming, is the ridiculous Common Core and its requisite tests. It may well be the end of inclusion as we know it. It is pushing kid back into self-contained, non-credit seeking classes. It is just plain wrong.

  • Terry M Sengwe

    I think we must try to see the person first before the disability by so doing we are likely to boost the self-esteem of persons with disabilities the identity first language I feel its derogatory because it subscribes to the charity model where persons with disabilities are viewed as unable to help themselves everything must be provided for them yet that is not the case.

    • Identity-first language is sometimes chosen by people with disabilities because they see an integral part of who they are- like for example being Asian-American, Jewish, gay etc. Not just a medical condition that’s privately hidden in a drawer somewhere.

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