Inclusionists get a bad rap.
Often, when we are advocating for inclusive education, what is heard is that we want students with and without disabilities in the same classroom all day every day without support.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
While there is no official definition of an inclusionist, I’d like to propose that there are some common understandings that all inclusionists agree upon.
Here are five things that inclusionists understand.
Inclusive education isn’t one-size-fits-all
Educators have known for a long time that giving everyone the same lesson the same way doesn’t produce the same result for all students. The best teachers are ones that adapt and tailor their lessons to meet the needs of their students. And when inclusionists are referring to inclusive education, that is exactly what we mean. Inclusive education means having excellent teaching practices. That is far from a one-size-fits-all mentality.
Collaboration is key for students to be successful
When special and general education teachers have time to collaborate on lessons, strategies, and pedagogy, it means they are planning for their students’ success. Inclusionists understand that this collaboration is essential, but oftentimes special education teachers are left out of feeling like they are members of a grade-level team. You know how sometimes students feel like they don’t belong and how detrimental that can be? It can feel the same way for the special education teacher.
There are too many students in disability specific program classrooms
Real talk: inclusionists understand that when you build a program to support students with certain kinds of disabilities, schools will find a way to fill them. The answer is not more disability specific special education classrooms. The answer is to find ways to support all students in general education. But, Tim, what about the students who are the hardest to include? Where do they go? Even in school districts with inclusive placement rates at about 90%, there are still 10% that are educated outside of a general education classroom. But that doesn’t mean we continue to create more disability spaces. School districts should always be reflecting on how to improve their practice of inclusive education.
Inclusive education isn’t a secret ploy for school districts to save money
If you are truly implementing inclusive education, there is going to be some cost. The training for teachers and administrators can be significant on the front end, but remember, inclusive education is about changing how we deliver services and instruction for all students. It is worth it! Throwing everyone in the same classroom without support sounds like it would save money, but practically speaking, it is a nightmare. And who even does this anyway? If you work in a school district that has implemented inclusive education as a cost-cutting measure, please let me know. I want to chat with you about it. Because I just don’t believe this is a widespread practice.
Mindset is still the biggest barrier to inclusive education
When presented with the definition of inclusive education, many people want to know what it actually looks like. And yes, there are some definite practices that need to be in place before we would call it inclusive education. Namely that students with disabilities are placed in schools and classrooms that they would attend if they weren’t disabled. But when it comes down to it, mindset matters with how well inclusive practices will permeate a school building. And that often comes from a school administrator. When a principal is on board with inclusive practices, then the expectation is for all educators in that school to have an inclusive mindset. The “how” we include students is often the easiest part of this whole process.
For us, being an “inclusionist” means a fierce collaborator for inclusive practices, not simply someone who wants to throw the whole system away without replacing it with something better. If you are an inclusionist, let us know in the comments section or by emailing me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org. You are not alone.
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.