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“Building a Culture of Inclusion and Belonging” Webinar

Updated: Jun 22, 2021

On March 23, 2021, in cooperation with the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the nonprofit Roots of Inclusion, Dr. Carol Quirk presented “Building a Culture of Inclusion and Belonging.”

Audio Transcript

Carol Quirk (00:00:00):

We moved from mindset to systemic change. And then I’ll move that to focus on school basis and what an inclusive school looks like. And the last part I’ll address some barriers Several of you have provided questions and I’ve tried to intersperse answers of those questions throughout. But in the end of it, we’ll talk about some of the barriers and opportunities because sometimes the same thing is that some barriers are also opportunities. So let’s begin.

Carol Quirk (00:00:33):

What is inclusion? What do we mean by it? So inclusive education begins in the school house, but there are many other communities in a neighborhood. So when we think about inclusion as a thing, it has to happen somewhere or in some space, either a physical space, a virtual space, or some kind of a defining space. These are all in a neighborhood, the kinds of physical places: a home, a work environment, recreation. I know that we’re doing a lot of this all virtually now, but there are these communities within which we may participate.

Carol Quirk (00:01:14):

So we’re going to focus on the schoolhouse. The state education director for special education in Georgia posed this question in a meeting I was in just about a month ago and what she said really struck me because she said she wanted all of her administrators to ask the question as if they were students. Is this school for me? Because often we’re thinking about, are students ready? Are students able to go into a classroom? Can students go into a school? Are students able to participate in instruction at a certain grade level when their performance level is far below that? What we should be asking: is this school built for me, not, am I ready to be in that school? Do I have a sense of belonging? And we’re thinking about in the every day engagements within the school building extracurricular activities, socially and academically, do I have a sense that I belong here? When we’re thinking about access to social and academic activities, we’re thinking about our participation. So do we feel like we’re a valued member valued for what’s unique about us as well as what we share together, and then are we actually participating like our peers do who don’t have disabilities? Are we valued and brought into those engagements.

Carol Quirk (00:02:43):

This picture on the right are students in a cafeteria, it looks like middle school, probably high school. Any of you who are educators especially in secondary schools where you have a special program for students with more extensive support needs and they spend most of their day together in a classroom. When they go into the lunch room, are they sitting in a table along the side of the wall? Do they enter early? Do they leave early? Is their schedule and engagement socially like their peers? How much do peers engage with them in those environments? So, you know, we might say, well, in the cafeteria, they are included, they’re there at the same time as everybody else, but are they really included? Are they valued as members in the same way that other kids are valued? And are they participating in the same way with the same opportunities or are they sitting with adults with less social engagement?

Carol Quirk (00:03:49):

When we’re thinking about being included, we’re thinking about the level of comfort that students have engaged in instruction. The content of which at grade level may not be at their level of performance. They need adaptations for that, but is there a sense of comfort that they will learn and be able to participate? Are the materials modified and provided to them in a way that they can engage with peers? Which means that the lessons need to be designed with a sense of universal design for learning, differentiating based on the actual students, that you have their interests and talents, and then further adapted for students who have IEPs as they’re needed to address the unique needs of their disability. And is that okay? Is that an expected thing to happen?

Carol Quirk (00:04:40):

Now when we’re thinking about building a school for all learners, this is a quote that I found that I think is particularly important: “planning for the successful inclusion of diverse learners and meeting the needs of our students with learning differences requires thoughtful something between general education teachers and specialists.” So what does it require? We have children in a classroom, diverse learning needs. We may have students with an intellectual disability. We may have two students with autism. We may have one student with a significant behavioral challenges based on trauma in their past. We could have any number of students. We could have students who are learning English. What does it require between the specialists and the generalists? Time, planning, and collaboration.

Carol Quirk (00:05:37):

There’s this thought, I think, you know, in many schools that, and by many administrators as well or IEP teams, that there is a place that’s special and we should have our students go there when they have more extensive support needs, because special things happen there. And those specialists they know and understand and care for those students. And I, the general education education teacher, I’m not prepared. I don’t know what to do. What we really need is time planning and collaboration. And if you haven’t done this before, you may need some support in how you use that time in order to plan and collaborate, which is basically planning tools.

Carol Quirk (00:06:18):

How do you look at your lesson plan? How do you match that to the IEP? How do you look at the communication and other ways that students are expressing themselves and how do we match that to the expectations that I have for all learners in my class. So here’s a pretty good diverse group of students, and we’re going to put them in school and here they are in that physical building, in a regular ed classroom. Now I just talked to you about membership and participation in order to get learning as the markers of inclusive education, because we know the law doesn’t mandate inclusion. And I, my colleagues in New Hampshire and Kansas and Oregon, as we have worked together in the past, really emphasize that inclusive education is an equity issue. We have an equity lens to look at. Are we providing the services that all students need available in all parts of the school, building from a variety of generalists and specialists who collaborate together?

Carol Quirk (00:07:23):

What I’ve realized more recently is that we can’t ignore the issue of place, because if you’re not there, you cannot be fully included. There is a school that I’ve been working with that is really working very hard to support teachers to promote inclusion. And they have a physical education class. It’s an adapted PE class where the students who have intellectual and developmental disabilities participate to get their physical education. So they’ve invited general ed students who actually sign up. They can get a course, they can get training, they can get credit if they’re a junior or senior, and they go into this class and they interact with and support the students who need more supports to participate in physical education activities. The teacher who’s been there for 17 years is a very good teacher and they don’t understand why it’s not inclusive. Why is it not inclusive?

Carol Quirk (00:08:23):

It’s because of special place. General ed students do not go there for their physical education. They go to other parts of the building. And so we’re working with the special education teachers to understand it’s not that you’ve done anything wrong, and it’s not that you’re not good teachers. You are. We want to take your talents and these students and give them opportunities to enroll in the variety of other physical education courses that are available to all of our students. And not only that, we’re going to for each and every student with the family, so that we make sure that their needs are met and provide some additional information to the peers in the class, and perhaps assign a student teaching assistant. So we’re spreading the wealth by spreading the opportunity to engage with these students and enable them to participate in other parts of the physical building.

Carol Quirk (00:09:17):

So you have to be there. We want to promote membership and a sense of belonging. And if you think about, for kids in your school who’ve been bullied, who are left out ,particularly challenging in middle school. My children as middle-schoolers both had some challenges in being accepted in different parts of the cliques and groups of kids, but the adults then have to be cautious and aware of what’s going on in that social interaction. And they have to model the acceptance and appreciation of students who have those differences so that there is a sense of belonging that’s fostered. The participation engagement is what’s going to happen as a result of that collaboration among specialists and generalists as they create lessons and look at how students are engaging in learning. And this will lead to the academic and social outcomes with students achieving more and having more appropriate or acceptable social engagement and behavior.

Carol Quirk (00:10:22):

These are the components that say is this school built for me? And it’s the membership, sense of belonging, and participation that will create the opportunities for academic and social success. Now, I did not plan to share research with you. I’ll, I’ll mention a few things. But all of this that I’m saying is based on research. We do have a lot of different research in the last 40 years for students ranging from students with learning disabilities, to students with particular disabilities like autism or other health impairment or emotional disabilities, to students who have intellectual disabilities. And looking at whether it’s their learning, social engagement, friendships, whether there’s a difference in participation based on where you live in the country. And all of this research is pointing to positive outcomes. There are no negative if outcomes to being included, there’s none recorded anywhere. And I subscribe to a lot of journals.

Carol Quirk (00:11:25):

What’s interesting is that there is additional research that looks at college students and adults in terms of the concept of belonging. And in this research, they described a sense of belonging and have asked the participants, the people who were being researched about their different levels of belonging, and then looked at the outcomes they experienced in life. And people who report a greater sense of belonging are more likely to have academic success in college and more likely to be employed. So we know that these are important characteristics.

Carol Quirk (00:12:02):

So inclusive education. So what does this mean in practice? I will be talking a little bit about natural proportions when I talk about how schools transform and natural proportions refers to the percentage or proportion of a population in your community. So if you have 20% of the students in your neighborhood, if you have a neighborhood school, are learning English and their primary language is another language, you would expect 20% of the students across your classes or grades to be English learners.

Carol Quirk (00:12:41):

If 12% of your students have disabilities, you would expect approximately 12% of your students across your grade or your subject in secondary education to have disabilities. So we’re also thinking about students who are gifted and talented. When I first started this work, we really thought special education students with disabilities. We then realized that we are including kids in general education. This is the general education initiative, but as we still focused on children with disabilities, we realized that we can’t just be inclusive if we’re only talking about one group of students. Who are the students who are suspended, is that a subgroup of one more than another? Who are the students who are not coming to school whose attendance is low? Is that one sub group more than another? Are we looking at racial differences and disproportionality? So all of these things need to be considered when we’re really talking about inclusive education and natural proportions means that we’re being very considerate about how we’re assigning students to subjects and classes based on their natural proportion in our community.

Carol Quirk (00:13:54):

If your school has inclusion classes, you’re not fully inclusive, you’re on a path. Because what are those other classes? Are they exclusion classes, classes where kids don’t have to go, or if I’m in the inclusion class does that mean I need more even if I don’t have an IEP and can I go to the other class where there’s no students with disabilities? So we want to think about labels. Another barrier that I had seen in some schools is where the IEPs are written so that if you’re a student with a disability and you’re going to be receiving services in a gen ed class, you can only go to a co-taught class. Well, there’s no, there’s no law about that. That’s a tradition and mindset that we have that you have to be in a co-taught class in order to receive your services. So we’ll drill down a little bit more on when we talk about school transformation.

Carol Quirk (00:14:54):

The intentional support for social engagement means that we’re not expecting students to just fit into the social environment in the classroom or a school building without supports. Students who look different, communicate differently use different equipment may need to have an introduction to the rest of the peer community so that peers are comfortable and understand that they certainly can approach the student talk directly to the student and not to an adult that’s standing there. And, you know, look for ways that students can be engaged.

Carol Quirk (00:15:31):

And I want to tell you a story about that, because this is I think significant of the fact that children more easily adapt than adults. I was in another state in the Western part of the country, observing a student who had Down syndrome. He was in second grade and he was fully included and the teachers were doing great. He was very slow because of low tone in his movements. And as he was moving class to class or like from the gym to the cafeteria, from the cafeteria to his classroom, he often lagged behind. So we were moving from a, the library upstairs, going down the stairs to his regular class. And as the students marched down the stairs, he would get further behind because he was slower on the steps. So I was moving back so I could stay back and just see what was going on. And one of the boys who I’d noticed had talked with him frequently, he moved further back as well.

Carol Quirk (00:16:31):

Until finally, as they got to the bottom of the steps, they were the last two boys in line. And the other boy, the peer, looked at me not knowing who I was, but clearly seeing that I’m observing what’s going on. And he just looked at me and he said, “Hey, look, I’ve got this.” And for him, it’s like, “why is she hanging around here?” And he was fully prepared without any prompting because that’s how the culture of the class was. If this boy ever needed supports, the other students were expected to just support him in natural engagements, not in instruction, but just being a member of the class.

Carol Quirk (00:17:11):

Adapted materials and instruction. And I think this is one of the biggest fears for general educators, especially if a special educator is not assigned full time. It’s can be pretty frightening to think “I’m responsible, I’m accountable, and I don’t know what I’m doing.” So there does need to be time spent with those teachers with some planning tools to help them in advance of a unit figure out how they’re going to adapt, who’s going to do what are the big lessons that we’re going to learn, how do we match this to the skills that the students should be learning based on their IEP which should have goals that aligned with grade level standards. Are teachers using cooperative and collaborative learning with their kids instead of a lot of verbal and print learning? And our schools are moving really well in this direction. And secondary schools probably need to focus on this most.

Carol Quirk (00:18:08):

And then finally it means changing the roles and relationships, which, you know, special educators are very caring. If they’ve been in a self-contained class they have learned how to teach in that way. They have learned specialized instructional strategies, and we want them to bring those strategies to their general educators so that the general educators can collaborate in the design of lessons. Cheryl Jorgensen, in one of her books, talks about an inclusion facilitator. I think that a special educator does shift to be an inclusion facilitator, but they are also a direct teacher. You’re a direct instructor, a co-teacher, a co-planner, a co-assessor of student learning. And there may be times when you are the direct Instructure instructor for a small group of students in a classroom where you’re co-teaching some kids having disabilities and some not.

Carol Quirk (00:19:12):

So now I’m going to shift to the LRE or least restrictive environment. You know that I was just talking about inclusion as being about membership participation and learning in the general ed setting and the general ed curricula. But what about LRE? So I’m going to explain a little bit about what the law says and how we look at the data because the LRE data is only about place. So in the IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act this is some of the language. It says that each public agency must ensure that children with disabilities are included and are including children in public and private institutions are educated with children who are not disabled. So there are certain language that is repeated over and over in the law. So one repetition is that you’re educated with children who are non-disabled. It also says that special classes, separate schooling or other removal of children occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that supplementary aids and services are not enough to achieve satisfactory progress.

Carol Quirk (00:20:29):

So the federal law does not talk about continuum of placements. This is what it says right here, but the regulation. So after a law is passed the department associated with that law, in this case the US Department Education writes regulations. So when the US Department of Ed wrote the regulations, they wrote about a continuum of placement with the idea that the least restrictive place was being educated in the school you’re supposed to go to in the class you would go to if you don’t have a disability along with your peers. But that removal would occur on a graduated basis, only as much as needed in order to implement the IEP and make satisfactory progress. So our LRE data is, is based on time. It’s based on time in and removed from general education.

Carol Quirk (00:21:30):

This, I put this in here because the law says that special education is specially designed instruction. And that specially designed instruction is adapting regular ed. Adapting the content, the method, or delivery of instruction for two reasons, addressing the unique needs of a learner based on how their disability affects them. And then secondly, ensuring access to the general ed curriculum in order to meet the educational standards. Now, there was something called a policy letter or guidance letter that was put out around 2016, I believe from the US department of education that strengthened this saying that the intent of the IEP is to promote progress and access to grade level content even for students who are taking the alternate assessment. Now, the law talks about supplementary aids and services specifically for this purpose to enable children with disabilities to be educated with non-disabled children. So the whole idea is that special education is instruction to address the disability and to enable the student to meet grade level standards and be educated with their peers without disabilities.

Carol Quirk (00:22:56):

That’s the whole thing in a nutshell. It does require on IEPs that we have something called an impact statement that asks how does the disability affect involvement and progress in the curriculum and participation with non-disabled peers. We’re seeing the same language over and over again. Now it also says in a comment section. So when the law was last reauthorized, I think it was 2004, when Congress is going to reauthorize a law, they put it out for public comment and before they publish the new or revised or reauthorized law, they also publish the comments and they describe how they responded to those comments. Did they say, “Nope, sorry, we’re not doing that. And this is why.” Or do they say, “this is the comment. This is the request. This is the rationale. You know what, you’re right. We’re going to change that.”

Carol Quirk (00:23:54):

So there is a section and if anyone is interested, if you put that federal register number in, you will get exactly to that part of the federal register — where it says public agencies are strongly encouraged to place a child with a disability in the school in classroom that they would attend if they did not have a disability. So there’s some discussion that’s happening or has happened around the country about, well, do you have to go to the school that in your neighborhood, or can the district send you someplace else to be included. And sending you someplace else simply doesn’t make any sense when you think about the intent of the law, which is to be educated with your peers. But if you’re bused away from your friends, your siblings and neighbors who go to the neighborhood school, you’re missing out on a whole part of that intent.

Carol Quirk (00:24:46):

Now it also talks about if you’re thinking about removing a child, if you’re thinking about serving them outside of general, ed, you must consider the full range of supplementary AIDS and services. So when you justify your removal in that section of the IEP, you should talk about, well, we thought about this supplementary aid and that one, we considered all of these things, and these are the reasons why we cannot implement those in a general ed classroom. And I think if, if teams really thought about that, they would find it really hard to figure out why they can’t implement those supplementary aids and services in a regular class. Now it does also, IDEA also does talk about removals and there are two reasons that are mentioned both in the comments and in some of the language, which is if there are harmful effects on the child or on the quality of services.

Carol Quirk (00:25:47):

So there is case law meaning that families who have wanted their child to be included and the district said, no, we want your child to go to a special self contained classroom where in the judgment of that lawsuit the judges talked about if there are harmful effects on the child or not. So you must consider if there are harmful effects on the child or the quality of services, if they are going to be removed from their peers If a child does have a behavioral problem that is disruptive so much so that it impacts the education of themselves or others, then they’re saying, yes, the regular ed class is not the least, not the most appropriate place for that child. In thinking about this, though, I want you to think about kids who’ve been given certain labels. EBD is the one that I’ve come across most recently, emotionally behaviorally disabled or some language like that.

Carol Quirk (00:26:50):

What happens to those students? Think about this. Where do they go? They go to a place in the building or in another building in your district that has services that are intended to address the behavioral problems. How many times, however, do students return to their regular class? Some do, but is that the intent of the program is it really intentionally designed that way? One district that was really working to be inclusive, they designed because they did have students who were very disruptive. They designed what they considered to be temporary behaviors support programs. And they were in they couldn’t put them in every school. So they had them in, they called regional programs like a school across a couple of miles away. The principal of the school, where the child belonged, had to come to that program every two to three weeks and observe the child in that setting, really sending a message that this child belongs to you in your school, look at what’s going on here, look at how they’re supporting the student with an expectation that within one and a half to two months, they would be returning that child. Were they successful a hundred percent of the times? No, but that was their intent. And that was their purpose.

Carol Quirk (00:28:14):

Now, importantly, the law specifically says the fact that that a child needs modifications to the curriculum is not allowed. That’s not the reason that you can use legally to disallow a child from being included. So now let’s, let’s look at the data, remember that this is only place and it’s not quality of instruction. So this is the most recent data published by the US department of education for the 2019-2020 school year. I’ll be able to show you Washington’s data over time. So at the left end a lot of the territories like American Samoa, Northern Mariana’s they are small and they often are more inclusive. They physically have less places to send children, but we also have Alabama, Nebraska, Vermont, Colorado, Mississippi has actually been working for the last several years on promoting inclusive practices as well as Indiana. So these are States where there is some history of a systematic effort either because of university partners, connection to a technical assistance center or some other motivation where they’ve really tried to look at inclusive practices.

Carol Quirk (00:29:41):

The States that are here New Jersey, Hawaii, New Mexico, traditionally have been, over time, continue to have students in more self-contained classes. So you can see that Washington state is currently, or in the 19-20 school year, at 57.73%, 58%, which means that 42% of your children are removed for some or all day. You have very few students in separate facilities, unlike many of the East coast States that have a higher percentage of children in separate places because they had built buildings. So now this is so let me just go back. This is what you would call in Washington LRE one. Different States have different ways they refer to it. So this is your LRE two data, and this is children who are placed in regular ed 40 to 79% of the day. Now, the problem here is you could have a student who in one year was in going to a special class for core subjects and was actually included in general ed 42% of the day, but was getting most of their instruction in a separate place.

Carol Quirk (00:31:07):

And the next year school is trying to be more inclusive and that student is now receiving almost all, but they have two classes. So they’ve gone from maybe 42 to 65%. That’s a, that’s an increase in participation in general environments. That’s not going to show up here. So this is something that has been noted as somewhat problematic in looking at this, because you could be in this category for a long time, but actually have increased participation in general ed. Now, Washington state’s was pretty high. The average seems to be, and I don’t always like to look at averages, but the average seems to be certainly under 20%, you know, usually around not more than 15%. So a larger number of your students are being removed for probably, you know, reading, language arts, and math instruction.

Carol Quirk (00:32:06):

So this is what we might call self contained, this is your LRE three. And the reason we refer to this as self contained is because if you’re in special classes for 60% or more of your day, so you’re in regular class less than 40%, almost all of your instruction, almost all of your instruction is in special education settings. Typically what happens is you may participate in what we call the resource of special area subjects like art, music, physical education, health, technology electives. So you may have some time with peers. Now, what you want to think about is the quality of that interaction. So are students in a special class, are they going to art together? So you have an art class that has the kids who have more significant support needs and are they enrolled as members of that class? So there’s a lot to think about again, in terms of your membership and participation.

Carol Quirk (00:33:14):

So this is Washington state over time. Now, the reason I’m showing this is because it’s really important to think about your change or your projection over time to evaluate your change. All districts are generally, and have been for the last 20 years, improving the extent to which students are participating in gen ed. So LRE one participation in general ed over 20 years, from 2000 to 2020, went from 51% to 58%. So there’s a 7% more students are participating in general at 80% or more of the time. So as Washington state has engaged in your inclusionary practices project, you have engaged in some very systemic efforts with multiple partners to promote change. Now, while I’m going to say again, that place is only place and not an indicator of quality. It’s not an indicator of membership and participation. It’s the only measure we have, and we can’t count it as inclusion if you’re not there.

Carol Quirk (00:34:35):

So what you want to look at is what happens in the change process. So this is one district’s journey. This district from 2000 to 2018, the blue bars are the time in which they systematically and strategically engaged in partners, had a district leadership team that focused on inclusion, had demonstration sites that they started with four schools added four more added eight more, took a breather didn’t add anymore because they needed to support those schools. Then added more schools until all 30 of their schools were included. So this happened, they began the discussion actually in 2002, 2003. That should probably be a blue bar now. So look at the trend until they get close to 90%, but what’s important is they have maintained that trend over time. So they have been able to maintain 90% of their students included in their neighborhood schools in a regular ed class, at least 80% or more of the day. You might ask, who are those other 10%?

Carol Quirk (00:35:49):

And I can tell you the answer, the other 10% are students with medical needs, students with significant behavioral challenges. Some of those students with behavioral challenges were students with unpredictable behavior students with significant emotional disability or mental health concerns. Ssome had students with emotional disability coupled with family concerns of high mobility rates and other family issues that impacted their participation and attendance et cetera. So those are the students who are those 10%. Now we’re working with another district who was on a path, they’re not there yet. They started in 2016-17, they started a little bit more slowly. They started with three schools, they added on two more then they added on three more. Last year they didn’t add any on because, this school year rather, because of COVID. But what you can see here is the change in trajectory.

Carol Quirk (00:36:58):

So in developing demonstration sites, what they’re not doing is dumping kids. They’re not just placing students and taking students out of special classes and just moving them over. They’re very deliberately in both of these examples identifying schools where they’re going to build the capacity of the educators and move kids. Because I worked with districts who did not want to have a strategic move. They didn’t want to upset families. They wanted to do it very gradually by building capacity and while their educators became more proficient, their movement was very, very limited because as long as educators don’t have to move kids, they don’t have to change.

Carol Quirk (00:37:47):

So another way to look at it, I’m just going to show you a couple more slides here, because if you’re a state, Washington state is looking very strategically at working with districts, targeted districts and targeted demonstration sites. So here’s an example. This is the state of Maryland, and this is in the year of 2000-2001. I want you to notice two things. I want you to notice the change in participation in general ed and the yellow districts are ones that asked their state for a partnership in order to improve their inclusive practices, which lasted over anywhere from four to eight years. So I’m going to go to the next slide, which is these districts. Now, of course they’ve been rearranged because the districts who were the yellow districts now moved up and they are the districts, and have maintained this probably for the last five to eight years, where they are the ones including or placing students in general ed 80% or more of the time consistently. Now I’m going to go back because this is the rate overall. The average was probably around 50 to 54% at that time. And I want, this district over here, that’s a little over 70%. I’m going to show you which one that district is. While everybody increased their LRE, this district, where are they? I’m going to show you this one, it’s right over the engaged. They have only increased by a couple of percents. So everybody is doing a little more, but not everyone is pushing really hard.

Carol Quirk (00:39:40):

So how do we change? How do we make that? How do we go from mindset to systems change? Mindset is nearly impossible to change unless we have demonstration sites where people can see what it looks like to include chil