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