Are you familiar with some organizations and companies writing blog posts about trends in their industry as a way to influence people into thinking differently about their field?
This is one of those posts.
I will be very transparent because I don't want to waste your time. But I also want you to know that how we run public schools isn't that great. We can do much better, especially for learners with disabilities.
At the Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education (MCIE), we are committed to working with school districts to change how they deliver education services for all learners to be more inclusive.
Here are five education trends we would love to see for the upcoming year.
1) Ditching the term "SPED" to describe learners with disabilities
If you aren't familiar, "SPED" is often used to shorten the term "special education." As in special education students or teachers. But not only does the term "other" individuals and has a negative connotation, but it also implies that learners and educators with this label are so different that they belong in a separate system. A better way to describe learners with disabilities is by the services they receive. You see, learners who have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) receive special services or instruction that doesn't need to be delivered anywhere special. In fact, the vast majority of services can be provided right within the general education context. For instance, if a learner has an intellectual disability and requires adaptations to their curriculum (like providing alternate texts written at their reading level). Let's ditch using "SPED" and eliminate language that makes learners feel like they don't belong.
2) Incorporating Universal Design for Learning (UDL) with developing lessons
You may have noticed that in most modern buildings, there are multiple ways to access the inside. There may be stairs, a ramp, or automated sliding doors for people who require different ways to get in. This is an example of universal design. The building architects thoughtfully planned for all the people they thought would need to access a building. The same is true for how educators can design lessons for a wide variety of learners. In an inclusive classroom, the educators plan for learners who will require additional help as well as additional enrichment. And in inclusive schools, there isn't just one classroom that does this kind of planning, it happens school and district-wide with time for teachers to collaborate together. Here is to more UDL in every school that will benefit each and every learner!
3) Reduce or eliminate disability-specific programs and classrooms
The most inclusive school districts have no disability-specific programs or classrooms. Don't think it can be done? Look at shining examples in Cecil County Public Schools in Maryland and West Linn-Wilsonville in Oregon. We get asked (a lot) why more school districts don't eliminate their disability-specific programs. It's a complicated answer, but it is hard for most districts to change how they historically have served students if they don't have real-world examples to follow. I'm hoping that 2023 will be the year that school districts begin to explore eliminating disability-specific classrooms and follow the lead of educational leaders who realize there is a better way to support learners.
4) Stop "doing inclusion" and start thinking and planning for all learners
There is a misconception that we "do" inclusion. And I think it comes from a very good place. Of course, we want to be inclusive. It is something that gets talked about in educational spaces all the time. But rather than something we"do," let's reframe it to how we think and plan. For example, at the school level, if you are planning an all-school event like an assembly; ask how you can ensure this event is accessible to all learners. Will closed captioning be needed? Will sensory items such as noise-blocking headphones or fidget items be available? Will there be enough room for learners who use wheelchairs or other adaptive equipment? When you think and plan for all learners, it is no longer just something you "do," but it becomes part of the DNA of the school. It becomes who you are. I'm hopeful that this trend will go viral in 2023.
5) Normalize talking about authentic inclusive education
You might already think that your school is inclusive. And you may be right. But I want you to consider what we mean when talking about authentic inclusive education. When we say inclusive education, we mean schools that include all learners, even though with the most extensive support needs (autism, intellectual disabilities, and emotional/behavioral support needs), in general education classrooms. That's what we call inclusive placement, and it is the first part of what we mean. The other parts we borrow from our friends Michael McSheehan and Cheryl Jorgensen and their Beyond Access Model: Membership, Participation, and Learning. Do learners feel like they are members of the classroom? Do they feel missed when they are not there? How are they participating in the classroom? Are they relegated to the back of the classroom with a paraprofessional or are they meaningfully participating in the life of the classroom? Are they learning the same grade-level curriculum or doing something completely different and targeting a lower grade-level standard? It is an important distinction, and if you want to see inclusive education move forward in your school or district, try to clarify your terms whenever you talk to people about authentic inclusive education. Let's normalize talking about authentic inclusive education with our colleagues.
Are you ready to learn how MCIE can partner with your school or district to advance inclusive practices for all learners? We'd love to talk with you. Email us at email@example.com or use the contact form on mcie.org.
Inspired to think inclusive? Here are three ways you can help us spread the message:
Tim Villegas is the Director of Communications for MCIE, Editor-in-Chief of Think Inclusive, and the host of the Think Inclusive Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @TheRealTimVegas.