Inclusion is belonging.

The spirit of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has never been that disabled students are merely visitors in general education. Special education (and more specifically inclusive education) is about giving students access to the education received by their non-disabled peers to the maximum extent possible.

Take a look at this stair case (Robson Square in Vancouver, BC). There are ramps built into the stairs so that people who use wheelchairs, walkers, or even strollers, can access this public area and enjoy whatever it has to offer. Inevitably, people with and without disabilities use these access ramps that are included in this stair case. That staircase illustrates  the purpose of inclusive education Like the staircase, inclusive education is about creating access points to learning that are good for everyone, not just for a few students who have specific skill sets. When we design our lessons, classrooms and schools for everyone, we all win.
To see how inclusion looks for a young man with multiple disabilities watch this five minute video (Georgia Department of Education):

To see how inclusion looks using a “multi-tiered system of support” for academic instruction watch this two minute video (SWIFT Center – US Department of Education):

Indicators of a Successful Inclusive Education Program

Although different schools have unique ways of implementing inclusive education, there are certain key indicators that are typically available in successful programs. Causton & Tracy-Bronson (2015) lay out some indicators of inclusive schooling environments as:

  • Natural Proportions – If students with disabilities are approximately 12% of the school population, ideally 12% of any one classroom would be comprised of students with disabilities.
  • Co-planning – Special and general education teachers, including related service providers, plan on a weekly basis about upcoming lesson units and assessments.
  • Co-teaching – Also referred to team teaching or collaborative teaching, two teachers (one special and one general education) work together in a “flexible and coordinated way” carrying out accommodations and modifications for students who requires special education services. The two teachers, as well as paraprofessionals, have the responsibility to educate all students in the classroom.
  • Community Building and Culture – Inclusive classrooms are ones that everyone feels accepted and that they belong. One way to create community in the classroom is to have “ice-breaker” activities that facilitate the students getting to know each other’s likes and dislikes. Classrooms that help all students feel connected are part of a culture that embraces diversity and difference.
  • Differentiation – So much of differentiation is about the special and general educator planning on what strategies to use with each student. Every time student are working on similar topics but accessing it a different way, differentiation is happening. Inclusive schools make differentiation a top priority with their academic instruction.
  • Students Do No Leave to Learn – In a successful inclusive education program, students do not leave the general education classroom to work on specific skills or subject areas. Since special education services are portable, interventions can occur with the context of the general education classroom.
  • Grouping and Seating are Heterogeneous – Students with and without disabilities should be evenly mixed throughout the classroom. While it sometimes appropriate to have groups of students with the same ability, the process should be flexible.
  • Engaging Instruction – Educators should plan lessons that are engaging and have every student in mind. What if you planned your lessons with the hardest to reach students in mind? When we plan for the students who are the hardest to reach, we end up reaching everyone (Moore, 2016).

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