Tomorrow Is Too Long to Wait for Inclusion

Inclusion Is All About Supports

Thaysa-Dan-Habib; an elementary school girl is sitting at her desk using a communication device with her classmates around her and a support teacher behind her. everyone is smiling

If you are not willing to differentiate instruction for the wide range of learners that you have, including students with autism, then you are in the wrong profession.

-Holly Prud’homme (General Education Teacher at Mape Wood Elementary in New Hampshire)

Are some students too hard to include in general education?

It has been my experience that the reason inclusive education fails is never because of the student; it fails because of lack of support or not the right kind of support. The following video, “Thaysa” made by Dan Habib  (Including SamuelWho Cares about Kelsey? and Intelligent Lives), is the perfect example of how a student with significant support needs is given what she requires to be successful in general education.

Is this example going to be the model for everyone? Of course not. The model is the willingness to try and listen to what each student is telling us. Inevitably, there are going to be students (and families) who don’t want to be included in general education. That is okay. Why would we want to force someone with a disability to do something that they don’t want to do? The point is that inclusive education should never be a fixed equation. You are X. Therefore you are put in X classroom with X amount of supports. When we reduce special education to a formula, we are not serving the unique needs of our students.

Inclusion Is a Mindset

Say it with me. Inclusion is a mindset. 

Now that you have said it, watch the video below. It is about 14 minutes long, and it highlights what Thaysa’s school has in place for her to be successful. Then, after you watch it, check out Dan’s other films. You won’t regret it.

Thaysa from Dan Habib on Vimeo.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted in 2012 and has been updated with a new featured image, formatting, and new post content. 

Mix Applesauce with Medicine to Create Inclusive Classroom Communities

jars of homemade applesauce

By Alex Dunn

Inclusion is not a place, but rather a philosophy that all students deserve to experience successful academic and social participation side-by-side with peers. 

What does successful inclusion look like?  Recently Nicole Eredics on her Inclusive Class Blog asked this question and found this wonderful visual from The Parent Leadership Support Group of Georgia, which was posted on their Facebook page, as a response.

From our four year Smart Inclusion research project, I would like to propose some small changes to this great image in order to recognize that in order to create inclusive classroom communities, we need to acknowledge that no two students are alike and that changes need to be made to existing learning environments to reach and teach every student; “barriers to learning are not, in fact, inherent in the capacities of learners, but instead arise in learners’ interactions with inflexible educational materials and methods.  (CAST Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning, Preface p. iv).

For those like me in the trenches, in schools every day, it is important to ask the question: How can we make a difference to the students and educators we serve and really achieve inclusive classroom communities?  A recent Twitter exchange with Jeannette Van Houten (@jvanhoutensped) and Tim Villegas (@think_inclusive) made me reflect on what we tried to do in our schools at Upper Canada District School Board in Ontario Canada over the past four years.

Educators told us that in order to achieve inclusive classroom communities they, with their students, needed to become proficient across three continuums – inclusion, curriculum, and technology.  In a way, I equate the integration of all three continuums to applesauce and medicine.  Although the technology (e.g., iPads, SMART Technology, Nintendo, Laptops etc) and other classroom manipulatives (e.g., Lego, Wikki Stix etc)  have been the all-important applesauce, I think all those involved with Smart Inclusion research would agree the key to the success for both educators and students has been the way the applesauce of technology has been combined with the medicine of bringing research-based pedagogy (e.g., Universal Design for Learning (UDL), Differentiated Instruction (DI), Aided Language Stimulation, Student, Environments, Tasks, and Tools (SETT) and Participation Models) into practice.  In short, educators cast a UDL net attempting to catch all students but sometimes, despite our best efforts, some students fall through the net and sit on the outside of education looking in which is completely unacceptable.  Pat Mirenda and David Beukleman’s Participation Model (PM) (really Differentiated Instruction with a twist) has provided us a way of catching all students that fall through the net.  As Jeannette Van Houten suggests “failure is a way to move to success”.  The Activity Standards Inventory (ASI), from the PM does just that.  Here is a link to a case study of one of our Smart Inclusion students and how we applied the Participation Model to help identify barriers to participation and subsequent intervention, including the use of technology.

A special thank you to the staff, students and parents at UCDSB for giving their nights and weekends and for sharing their work and that of their children, so that children worldwide can experience the same successful academic and social participation.  This groundbreaking research we have undertaken has been replicated in other school Districts in Ontario and Alberta, Canada.  Many other Districts, educators, parents, and students, worldwide have joined us on our journey to ensure that ALL really means ALL and that we are truly welcoming everyone, all the time, everywhere” (Pat Mirenda).

Photo Credit: Andrew Seaman/Flickr

Alex DunnAs Speech-Language Pathologist at the Upper Canada District School Board and president of Inclusioneers, Alex Dunn has presented across the USA, Canada, Germany, England, Spain, exploring technology (SMART Technology, iDevices, Assistive Technology) and theory as part of Universal Design for Learning Toolkit to ensure ALL students, achieve the goal of meaningful educational, social participation.  Recently Alex Dunn was named SMART Exemplary Educator of the Year for Canada for 2012 and appointed as an Officer for Special Education Technology Special Interest Group for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).  You can find her on Twitter @SmartInclusion or visit the Smart Inclusion Wikispaces Page

5 Strategies for Positive Behavior Support in Inclusive Classrooms

a classroom with rows of desks with a large flat screen TV in the front of the classroom

By Megan Gross

I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or de-humanized. –Haim Ginott

The teacher is the decisive element in the classroom.

I believe this quote has power outside of the four walls of a classroom. As a special education teacher and inclusion facilitator, it goes without saying that my response to a student with a challenging behavior affects the student, but sometimes more importantly, it significantly affects the behavior of the adults around me.  While a student kicks, screams, and cries, paraprofessionals, general education teachers, campus security, and the principal take their cues from me for how to respond. If I am calm and confident, they will respond in the same manner. When my students are experiencing a meltdown or crisis while working with another adult, I watch to see how that adult responds. The ones who are calm, demonstrate respect, and provide the student an opportunity to safely experience his emotions are the adults I want on my student’s team.

I’ve also learned that how I respond to a student with a challenging behavior significantly impacts current and future inclusive opportunities for the student. Regardless of the fact that I believe every student should be included no matter what, I am keenly aware that many of the adults around me don’t share the same belief. The following are some lessons I’ve learned navigating the path of inclusion for students with disabilities and challenging behaviors.

 1.    Plan for your student and staff simultaneously.

Working with administrators and counselors to pre-schedule students in classes that are engaging, meaningful, and with supportive teachers is the first step I take in supporting students with challenging behaviors. While I want every teacher on my campus to accept and teach students with disabilities, I’ve learned that my students are much more likely to experience success in a classroom with a supportive teacher.

Each teacher is provided with an IEP student profile and PBS chart at the beginning of the school year. I do my best to meet with teachers in person before the first day of school (and certainly on a regular basis after school starts) and share my experiences supporting the student and family. We review the PBS chart and I make a point to highlight the strategies and supports that need to be in place to prevent challenging behaviors. I think it is essential to have honest conversations with teachers about challenging behaviors and provide awareness about what the student’s behavior is communicating. This builds trust and if I’m including a student with significant behavior challenges, I need my colleagues to trust me until they develop their own relationship with the student. I also need my colleague to know how to appropriately respond to a behavior so I can prevent a pattern of sending a student to the special education room whenever any challenging behaviors occur.

Students should have access to any needed supports in their general education classroom to prevent challenging behaviors. This starts with teachers providing appropriate, adapted curriculum materials and access to a communication system, if needed. Students may also need personalized supports they can access at anytime during class, such as fidgets, stress balls, inflatable bumpy seats, pencil grips or weights, a photo book of classroom rules, break cards, or something of comfort to keep in a pocket/backpack. Include students in identifying useful supports and creating their personal kit. Make sure to talk with paraprofessionals and the classroom teacher about the contents and purpose of the kit, so students are not prohibited from using these tools in class.

 2.    Strategy session: Two heads are better than one.

I am not afraid to ask for help and suggestions when supporting students with challenging behaviors. I am lucky to work with some of the most talented and creative paraprofessionals, who also have hobbies outside of their work. These hobbies have offered us behavior support strategies I never would have thought of by myself. One paraprofessional sews, and while at the fabric store one weekend she found a bolt of fake fur. She immediately thought of a student who repeatedly pulled the hair out of her arms and eyebrows. At school on Monday, we cut up very small squares of the fabric and asked the student if she might want to put it in her sensory kit (a small pencil pouch) in her backpack. She did and over time learned to pull the hair out of the fur, instead of her own skin.

When I am stumped or overwhelmed, I call in reinforcements. My district has a behavior specialist paraprofessional who is incredibly astute and calm. She has helped me observe students, collect data, and train my staff in communication strategies. I also look towards my colleagues or mentors who can help me be objective and look at the big picture. Meeting a mentor for coffee before work or a quick Skype chat can make all the difference in my feeling supported, which leads to me supporting students and staff more effectively. After quick call to a former professor, I remember best practices I learned long ago but had limited opportunities to put into place, until now.

3.    Empower students and peers.

I believe students and peers of all ages need knowledge about disabilities and behaviors in order to accept and appreciate each other. This begins with how the adults in the room model respect and demonstrate appropriate responses to challenging behaviors of all students. I think it’s important to de-brief with students and classmates after a challenging behavior. For some students this might mean reviewing a social story about “what to do when _____ happens”, while other students might engage in a verbal and visual problem-solving strategy. Classmates can support students in making positive behavior choices by providing natural reinforcement or kindly telling a student how challenging behavior affects them.

Classroom presentations also open the door to positive relationships with classmates. When one of my students advocated for himself and requested he not have a paraprofessional support him in his leadership class, his mom facilitated a class presentation about autism, her son’s strengths, and how his classmates could best support him in class. The teacher and classmates reported to me how helpful this presentation was and my student experienced independence and success in this class all year long. One of the best ideas I’ve read for a classroom presentation comes from blogger Mom-NOS, who talks to her son’s elementary school class about autism, using analogies that make sense to his peers.

 4.    Develop family and school partnerships.

Students with challenging behaviors, often have challenging behaviors at home or in the community. Developing positive behavior support plans with parent support and ideas is crucial. My students have had the most success when there are consistent rewards and consequences for behaviors at school and at home. This requires ongoing two-way communication between home and school and the ability of both parties to be open to new ideas or feedback.

Sometimes relationships between families and schools become difficult. In these situations, it has been helpful to me to focus on what is within my realm of control at school: good data collection, consistent responses to challenging behaviors, and continuing to advocate for the student to have meaningful instructional and social opportunities at school. A little bit of chocolate at the end of the day helps too.

 5.    Keep perspective.

In an inclusive classroom, students with disabilities are not the only students with challenging behaviors. I think it is important to know what is going on in classrooms on a regular basis to ensure students with disabilities are not being held to a gold standard of behavior, while everyone else goofs off in class. I once had a student who was sent to the principal’s office for playfully swatting a boy on the rear-end during PE class. This behavior was unusual for my student, so I went to observe PE class the following day and discovered a large group of boys swatting each other on the rear-end (similar to athletes on the game field) after completing the game. My student was imitating his peers, but unlike his peers, he had consequences. I immediately marched into the principal’s office and shared my observations about the behavior of all the students. We agreed on a new plan, with the PE teacher and paraprofessional, and talked with the peers about their behavior and how that would affect or influence classmates to respond.

With the right supports, students with disabilities and challenging behaviors thrive in inclusive classrooms. Identifying the right supports for my students has been an ongoing process; from the moment they walk in the door on their first day of 7th grade until the moment they graduate, we are continually fine-tuning our strategies to successfully support them in class.  But, I believe the commitment to that process and including students with disabilities and challenging behaviors, provide tremendous opportunities for growth for students and teachers. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

For more information and resources to implement positive behavior support plans in inclusive classrooms visit New Jersey Positive Behavior Support in Schools’ website. This site has ready-to-use resources for conducting a functional behavior assessment, team meetings, or staff development.

Photo Credit: Cali4beach/Flickr

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2012 and has updated headings and a new featured image. 

Megan Gross is a special education teacher and inclusion specialist in California. She has facilitated inclusive education in K-12 classrooms. Megan is the co-author of The Inclusion Toolbox: Strategies and Techniques for All Teachers and ParaEducate, a resource book for paraprofessionals and special education teachers. She currently teaches high school and is the co-advisor of her campus’ Best Buddies club. Megan lives in San Diego with her husband and two children. Follow Megan on Twitter (@MegNGross).

How to Win Friends and Influence Colleagues for Inclusion

July is to the teacher what January is to everybody else.  In the bleak winter-scape, the masses are suckered into grand schemes of getting back on the treadmill or incorporating more vegetables into their cooking.  A teacher dreams and schemes in the heat of July, sweating out ideas for improvement in the coming school year.  If you truly Think Inclusive, that means inclusion is something you want to see in your school, your classroom, and the greater community.  So let’s do it—let’s think about inclusion and do some work to lay the foundation for next year.  You’ll be able to turn around and admire your classroom and your teaching from all sides and say, “I like what I see here.”  As a self-contained classroom teacher, it was up to me to make inclusion a reality in my building.

Look at your influence

When you consider your classroom, think about the setup and the placement of the kids on your caseload.  If you are a resource teacher, do you have an even distribution of students working on academic, social/emotional, and prevocational goals? If you are a self-contained classroom teacher, do your students have authentic and meaningful general classroom access? Do you have the same placements and service times for all of your students?  Think about all the kids that are part of your groups as well as the kids you work with who aren’t on your caseload.  Now look beyond your room and your students to the kids all over the building—how many quickly come to mind?  How many of their names easily roll off your tongue?

Think of the other teachers.  Do you have a go-to set of teachers in various grade levels you know you can rely on to give your students a welcoming , understanding and diversified experience? Perhaps you only have a small number of teachers who don’t make you feel like an interloper when you or a paraprofessional are working on collaborative teaching time in the classroom.  Or do you fall among the lucky few who have multiple teachers per grade level with varying strengths but willingness to work with any student you bring them?

Using your answers from this exercise, think of two groups: one is made of those students and the teachers you work with directly, while the other group has the students and teachers you work with more indirectly.

Expand Your Realm

When I started in my current position, there had been no self-contained classroom teacher in my building of over 500 students.  I realized that I was self-contained to the point that I had no realm. More to the point, I did not want my self-contained class to be an isolated  island of misfit toys.  Using the honest look you just took at your reach in the building, consider your influence and how much of the school building and population is part of your realm. This tells you how much work you have ahead of you.  If all of your students are doing the same thing and you have a very small number of kids in your “group one,” made up of kids you work with regularly, we have some work to do if you want to broaden your presence in the school.  The same is true if the same handful of teachers serve your students—you’ll need to push your borders within the school.

As a special education teacher, you can be an influence beyond your classroom and caseload to make sure you’re involved in the daily life of the school and its students.  Think of your role, and challenge the notion of the “type” of student you teach.  Diversify the flavor profile of students you engage.  Begin to seek out kids who might not be on your caseload but whose names come up in team meetings, and begin to develop a positive relationship with them.  You can start by saying “hi.” Spend a week smiling and waving, and it will do wonders.  After you get over the hurdle of those kids thinking of you as a parent, you can begin to ask about their day. Teachers will soon notice you have these relationships and come to you for advice or share concerns about this or that student—a positive step.

As the teacher in a self-contained classroom, I had a challenge to make sure my influence wasn’t contained anywhere but reached all over the school.  One way I made connections was by discussing students with the resource teacher.  We serve in differing capacities, but we don’t want a thick, dark line drawn between our caseloads and classrooms.  That’s an attitude and a strategy to consider in your building as well.  When you look at the reach of your influence, you’ll see how far you still need to stretch.  It’s easy enough to introduce ourselves to other kids in the building; we just say, “I’m a special education teacher.”

Except for about 1% of the student population, have the other teachers in the building guessing who the case manager may be for a student, self-contained or resource. This will help remove the stigma of a hierarchy structure where minor learning problems are handled by resource teacher but, uh-oh here comes the self-contained teacher, that kid must need serious help. This will make it easier for self-contained teachers to begin moving in and out of classrooms as co-teachers or group leaders.  When you expand your realm, you are no longer a one-trick pony.  When you expand your realm and other teachers cannot easily pigeon hole the type of student you work with, perhaps they will also expand the limits some unconsciously place on student achievement expectations.

Professional Contact Matters

When working with regular classroom teachers, please remember that they are the most valuable resource for the student.  Your district is thinking of the classroom teacher when allocating resources and planning professional development.  Your own access to these classrooms in invaluable for students.  Manage your professional relationships with fellow staff members with positivity, enthusiasm, and courage.  Begin the discussion with these teachers with a focus on the competence of your student. Give the teacher honest flattery, and acknowledge the fun adventures and positive experiences the class will get from working with a differently-abled peer, a benefit that no other lessons would be able to replicate.  It’s important and considerate to set aside the time to discuss the student being placed in that classroom prior to the start of the new school year.  I give teachers a letter at the beginning of the year that states how important this placement is to the student.  I let the teacher know how their specific skills as an educator and the attributes of the student come together to make this a great fit. Plan to sit down with the teacher in person to talk about how this service plan will work.  It takes more time than you think, but give it that time—the classroom teachers will appreciate it. Let the teacher know that there will be difficulties, but keep a positive outlook and long-term view toward student success.  Remind them explicitly, this is not a placement or decision that is contingent on meeting some daily expectation.  We should pledge to give and receive feedback often but will not allow a single day to derail a whole program.  Be cautious with a teacher who tells you, “ We’ll take it a day at a time and see.” You will need to support this teacher and make sure they are not just going to tough it out until their frustration reaches a point where they say I don’t think this will work. Just like you would do with students, put more supports and give more contact time than needed initially and taper down.

When working with other teachers, please give them references for professional development opportunities that will serve them well in inclusive classrooms, providing specific conferences with specific dates.  Make note of them for yourself as well—targeted professional development is a great way to grow your program influence.

Be brave in your adventure and hold onto that long view of improvement!  We have it for our students, and we should have it for ourselves.  Keep growing and trying to be better.  I don’t care where it is on some rubric—I think you’re awesome for trying to make change so that students can learn better.  Be ready to sweat out some more ideas this July, and set little goals for the next school year.  I can see your reflection in that class teacher mirror… You look marvelous!

Photo Credit: hobvias sudoneighm/Flickr

Justin Croft is a special education teacher who has been an ABA therapist, a para-professional, and a self-contained classroom teacher in elementary and middle school.  Justin is currently teaching and breaking boundaries of what self-contained classrooms mean in Oak Ridge Schools, Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  He believes the foundation of all excellence is positive expectation. Follow him on Twitter: @MrCroftsClass

Book Review: Nuts & Bolts of Inclusive Education by Barbara Newman

nuts and bolts book reviewWhat can I say? 

Barb Newman has created an exceptional resource for educators to have a solid foundation of inclusive education. While this book is intended for private Christian schools and churches to use to help guide them in building an inclusive community, it is certainly useful for anyone who is interested in inclusive education and practical strategies to bring it to fruition.

The book is split into 16 sections:

  1. A Story and Place to BeginNuts & Bolts of Inclusive Education
  2. History of the CLC Network
  3. Definition of Inclusive Education
  4. The Intake Process
  5. Preparation
  6. Writing Goals
  7. Making Goals Helpful for the General Educator
  8. Circle of Friends
  9. Parent Communication
  10. Staff Communication
  11. Lessons Plans
  12. Report Cards
  13. Working with Paraeducators
  14. Helpful Items to Keep Up-to-date
  15. Afterword
  16. Other Available Supports

The first few chapters give a basic overview of the history of special education and some initial thoughts from Barb about the call of Christian educators to emulate Christ’s attitude when planning for students with disabilities in general education.

Over the years, the inclusion of children with disabilities in general education classrooms and buildings has been very limited. While more common in recent history, persons with disabilities and their family members will be able to tell many stories of EXCLUSIVE environments. Excluded even from Christian communities such as churches and Christian schools, many have learned that residency status is often the result of a fight or legal battle. Even when granted, many children will only be received as visitors with partial and temporary rights to that community.

CLC Network has a mission and vision to see persons with disabilities as welcome, embraced, and valued members of school communities. The employees of this organization have worked for many years discovering principles and strategies that can help build the kind of classrooms that can welcome each one – the classrooms that honor God in constructing environments based on His instructions in Scripture.

The mission of the CLC Network is propelled throughout the entire manual, including the intake forms. The next few chapters are examples of forms that educators can use with parents and other school staff to help everyone get on the same page for the student that will be included with their typical peers. One of the most useful sections in the book is called “Preparation”. In this part of the book, Barb lays out strategies for the special educator, general educator, the parents of the child with a disability, the classroom peers, the parents of the peers, for the child and for the community to use in planning for inclusion. Imagine if such careful preparation went into every single placement of a child with special needs!

One of the other features I appreciate about the book is the person-centered-planning approach it takes for inclusive education. The inclusion of the McGill Action Plan System (MAPS) tells me that the CLC Network is serious about creating plans that take the strengths and passions of each child into account. The book also highlights the strategy of Circle of Friends, a type of person centered planning in its own right. Each of these strategies exemplifies the vision Barb lays out in the beginning of the book and I am happy to see it permeate the entire publication.

The rest of the book includes sample lesson plan templates and report cards to use in relation to the student being included in general education. In addition to these resources, the chapter near the end of the book on working with Paraeducators is particularly insightful. It is important to highlight how important Paraeducators are to the classroom teacher as well as the student they are serving.

Classroom teachers with Paraeducators often delight in the partnership that can happen. At times, teachers may ask that individual to correct papers, hang bulletin boards, instruct a small group of children, or even make some copies so that the teacher has the time needed to directly support the child with a disability. By approaching the classroom in this way, it allows teachers to demonstrate even greater ownership of the child with the disability and further emphasizes the role of the Paraeducator as a support to the classroom. Both adults are focused on the needs of each student in the class.

Overall, Nuts & Bolts gives the reader a greater understanding of what it takes to create an inclusive environment for children with disabilities. The one thing that is notably missing in this book is how to address the challenges inherent in the process of inclusion: staffing, challenging behaviors, negative staff attitudes, and time for planning. The CLC Network has other resources that no doubt delve into these topics in depth.

Since this resource is coming from the perspective of the Christian faith, I’ll end this review with what I am sure Barb would agree is their central message.

Jesus makes our final statement. Consider carefully how your community will respond [to inclusive education]. In Mark 10:14b, Jesus says “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” And your school answers “______.”

To purchase Nuts & Bolts of Inclusive Education by Barbara Newman, you can visit their online store  –>> HERE.

For more information about Barb Newman and the CLC Network, check out an interview that we did with her earlier this month. You can always visit their website as well –>> HERE.

One last thing…the CLC Network produced a video called Including Issac that we featured late last year on a post that gave 5 great examples of inclusive education. I would highly encourage you to watch it –>> HERE.

Thanks for your time and attention.

 

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