Last school year we decided to focus our inquiries towards inclusion. And so we reflected, evaluated, revised, planned, and then this year implemented our ideals. It has been an incredible journey. We have had to reflect consistently to make changes and alter our plans. We’ve learned a lot and grown even more.

There have been some key words and phrases that have shaped and have defined our journey with inclusion, these are: Learning is Inclusive, nothing about me without me, what’s good for one is good for all, “push in” or “pull out” is the wrong question, silos or systems, reflect society or transform society, models of disability, co-teaching, community, we need him/her and Who We Are. I’d like to walk you through what these have meant for us.

Learning is Inclusive

Any collaborative journey has to begin with a shared understanding of the goal and destination.

Learning is inclusive:

    • providing meaningful, challenging and relevant learning for a diverse community
    • empowering self reliance, independence, confidence and grounded in a sense of belonging
    • when students see themselves as part of the learning process.
    • taking into account different learning styles
    • it is culturally sensitive

You hear conversations about inclusion from our teachers, teaching assistants, specialists, our parents and especially our students. The children model for us the ideal that learning is inclusive better than any other community members. They are our living goal.

nothing about me without me

This was a statement our Principal brought back with him after visiting Reggio with Next Frontiers Inclusion. It encapsulates the ideal that learners should have ownership over their education. With this belief we brought in three-way conferences in addition to our student-led conferences. We also reviewed our IEPs and ensured that any meeting involving a child’s education plan included the child. We used their voice and their choices to help structure their educational plan. Nothing about me without me.

what’s good for one is good for all

We had some realizations as we discussed learning support and how it had been approached. We found that our EAL teacher had some strategies for working with her students that our Learning Support teacher could use with her students. We realized that what was good for one student could be good for a multitude of students. And so we took EAL and Learning Support and Counseling and brought them together. We also looked at the supports that we had in place for learners we had previously labeled as students with need and we extended the same opportunities to all students. So now every child at ISU has a Personal Learning Profile that they co-create with their teachers and which outlines how they learn best. The idea of an IEP being good for one has now been extended to all. What’s good for one is good for all.

“push in” or “pull out” is the wrong question

Some of our discussions when creating our strategic action plan for inclusion were focused around “push-in” models of support or “pull-out.” Over the course of our learning journey we came to realize this was the wrong question. We needed to be flexible with our approaches. Every student learns differently and every teacher needs to adapt their strategies to fit the child and situation. Inclusion isn’t a this or that question, it is a reflective process that finds the strategies best fit for the teacher and learner. “There is no one right way to teach. And there is no one right way to learn. Be deeply suspicious of anyone who tells you otherwise.” (NFI, A Practical Guide for School Leaders, 2014)

silos or systems

We completed an audit of our learning support department, inclusive beliefs and practices as well as how our school functions as a whole. Are we a school of silos or systems? If you look up the meaning for silo in this context you’ll find this: a system, process, department, etc. that operates in isolation from others. Our learning support department had been just that, a silo. And so we had to find a way to make our support services an integral part of our learning system. We moved our learning support teachers and staff to a more central location, together. And we brought them into partnerships with teachers, specialists, parents and students.

reflect society or transform society

Kevin Bartlett commented, “Do schools reflect society, or do schools transform society?” and this question has come to guide our actions. We decided in those strategic planning meetings that we want to be a school that transforms the society we live in. We want our model of inclusion to be the model our children bring into their world, a model that accepts differences, embraces uniqueness, celebrates successes, welcomes failures as learning experiences, values identity, cultivates self-confidence, nurtures community, and helps “create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.” (IBO Mission Statement)

models of disability

This was the topic of a choice workshop led by one our learning support teaching assistants. It made us all question what we viewed as a disability. We walked away with new understandings; there is no thing as a “disability” what we have instead are “disabled environments.” Our schools and communities and society as a whole provide the disabilities. The individual could be abled if the classroom had a ramp instead of step, the individual could be abled if the language of instruction was Swedish instead of English, the individual could be abled if the written assessment was completed with voice to text instead of a pencil. And so we came to the understanding that there are no “learning disabilities” only “ curriculum disabilities,” “environment disabilities” and “teaching disabilities.” Our goal is to start providing the support not just to our young learners but to our adult learners in order to help reduce the disabilities we and our environments propagate.


As we were trying to find solutions to the problems we identified in our audit of learning support we came to the conclusion that co-teaching might be part of our answer. If we could find a way for our learning support teachers and staff to become co-teachers in our classrooms we could better provide relevant and personalized learning for all our learners (teachers and students alike) that would lead to developing self-confidence and community. And so we embarked upon a journey of partnership building. We soon realized that a co-teaching partnership involves so much more than just teaching, it is co-planning, co-reflecting, co-assessing and co-learning. And with dedicated time for each of these elements of a co-teaching partnership we are building a collaborative team that will remove “teaching disabilities” from our learning environments.


Maybe we should have seen this coming, if we were inquiring into inclusion, community would be a natural component; after all inclusion is defined as the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure. Our goal with inclusion is to provide learners with a meaningful learning experience in an environment where they feel safe and supported in a community that fosters self-confidence and honors individual identity. Which again brings us back to community and provides a better understanding of why community is just so essential in this journey towards inclusion. It is a cyclical relationship, education helps cultivate inclusive communities and community helps cultivate inclusive education. We have to have a strong community in order to achieve any of these goals and so community has become a buzzword around school and is the focus for why we do what we do.

we need him/her

This has been a phrase said in several meetings we have had with parents, teachers and administrators. In becoming more inclusive we have been welcoming more learners with higher needs into our learning community. Some of these needs are new to us and we are learning how to best support the learners (teachers, parents and students) on their journey towards success. We embrace the challenge of learning and developing our abilities in order to meet a wider array of needs. Our students have provided us with these learning moments that have allowed us to better our abilities. And so this has been shared with our community in comments such as: We need her, she has been teaching us how to support a child with language processing delays. We need him, he has shown us techniques for anger management. We need him, he will teach us how to better support a child with autism. An inclusive school with diversity in learners enriches the whole community.

Who We Are

This one is not about where we have been but where we are going. A TEDx Talk by Mariana Atencio, “What makes you special?”, reminded me that in order to appreciate our differences we have to appreciate that these are what makes everyone special and unique. And to do this you first have to really understand what makes you special. To see that your differences don’t define you but are what makes you different makes you special and is the key to your individual success. Affirming identity to build self-esteem is at the core of the IB’s principles of teaching for learning diversity; “Students with a positive identity are more able to take the risks necessary for successful learning.” (Learning diversity and inclusion in IB programmes, 2016) A yearlong, school wide journey into Who We Are will help us inquire into our identities and build self-esteem for all our learners and community members.

Choice Workshops & Teacher Agency

Collective Teacher Efficacy through – Choice | Voice | Ownership

This school year we have begun using some of our Wednesday professional development meetings for Choice Workshops. Our Choice Workshops are led by teachers, for teachers, to share in the learning together and honor teachers as lifelong learners. It has given teachers a voice to share their passions, curiosities and interests as well as choice over which workshops they would like to attend or lead. And maybe most importantly, it has placed ownership over professional development into the hands of the teachers.

We launched it towards the beginning of the year with our Instructional Leaders team (this is a group of educators who represent the many areas of the junior school and work towards actualizing strategic visions). This year our focus for teaching and learning is our first Learning Principle:

Learning is inclusive:

    • providing meaningful, challenging and relevant learning for a diverse community
    • empowering self reliance, independence, confidence and grounded in a sense of belonging
    • when students see themselves as part of the learning process.
    • taking into account different learning styles
    • it is culturally sensitive

This focus led us to introduce the Choice Workshops by each of us offering a chapter study from “Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in the School and Life” by Thomas Armstrong (2012). The time was structured around reading, discussing, questioning, brainstorming and strategizing for action in our classrooms. We considered ideas together for how to build a strength based school. Teachers were able to choose from two of the four workshops taking place.

This set the tone for future Choice Workshops which have included: Differentiating with Technology, Speech and Language, Brain Dance, Nature Intelligence, Growth Mindset, Mother Tongue, Autism, and more!

Teachers are sharing their expertise and we are all learning together. The workshops have been thought provoking causing teachers to reflect and dialogue about topics discussed. The collaborative culture in our school is widening through these shared interactions with each other. We have more intimate knowledge about each other’s practice and are reflecting on our teaching and learning for more efficacy in our own classrooms.

One example of a Choice Workshop I attended was titled “Models of Disability” and was led by a teaching assistant within our learning support team. He started his workshop by asking us to reflect on our view of the word disability through a drawing. The discussions that ensued had us considering the idea that there is no such thing as a disabled person but that society creates disabilities. Nelson led us further through readings, videos and graphs. We looked at how our environments can create barriers for those who are differently abled or not neurotypical. In this dialogue I saw a shift in perspective for many of us as we considered the kinds of environments (including space, time and community) we construct in our classrooms. And what about for our teachers and staff, are we all “disabled” by our environment at some time? Is “disability” static or dynamic? We discussed how often times educational organisations try to “fix” students in our school systems when really we should be trying to “fix” the schools for our students. We left with the question, are schools disabling? And with the idea that disability is not an individual problem but a community solution.

I shared that Choice Workshop with you because it was this moment that sparked ideas for strategic visioning in our PYP Exhibition Workshop. One team wrote their hopes for the vision of the junior school as:

Sharing the Planet: Rights and responsibilities; Communities and relationships; Access to equal opportunities

Community cooperation strengthens our ability to create an accessible environment for all

An inquiry into…

Challenges and priorities (form/change)

Benefits for all (causation)

Maximizing our environment (function)

Harnessing community cooperation (responsibility)

And with that thought our Instructional Leaders have been discussing plans for strategic action in the coming school year that will better support an accessible environment for all.

Supporting agency within teachers (choice, voice and ownership) builds Collective Teacher Efficacy which was demonstrated by John Hattie to be one of the most powerful influences in effect sizes related to student achievement. I would love to hear ideas from other schools about how you support teacher agency and promote teachers as lifelong learners.

Homework as a Choice?

Last school year a group from grade 5 chose to inquire into homework as a portion of their Exhibition. They surveyed students, parents and teachers about how they feel about homework. They researched and found experts with data on the effects of homework on learning. They brought all of their ideas to the Instructional Leaders for the Junior School and presented their findings and suggestions for moving forward. Their action inspired action for the whole school.

We began this year with a new approach to homework. We set out to re-write our homework policy. We began first with a definition:

Homework is the extension, reinforcement and/or review of learning that happens outside the classroom and school day.

With this in mind and with the research conducted by grade 5 and the Instructional Leaders we wrote our Purpose & Beliefs:

We have completed an inquiry into homework and looked to experts in the field. John Hattie found in his study (effects related to student achievement) that homework has a zero effect in primary school. This was reinforced by research conducted by Alfie Kohn for his book, The Homework Myth. He found that “there is no evidence of any academic benefit from assigning homework in elementary or middle school. For younger students, in fact, there isn’t even a correlation between whether children do homework (or how much they do) and any meaningful measure of achievement.” However there are many positive correlations between academic achievement and free voluntary reading (Krashen, 2011). It has been shown that voracious reading for pleasure directly correlates to positive academic gains. For these reasons, daily reading will remain the core of our homework practices. This research, in addition to our understanding of Kampala traffic, travel times, the need to be a child, the importance of family time, the opportunities to participate in other extracurricular activities and the busy lives we all lead has caused us, at ISU, to rethink our homework policy. We have developed several beliefs about homework that have influenced our policy:

  • We believe that the purpose of homework should be to help advance the child as a learner, to reinforce skills and understandings established during the school day and to help the child build on what they know.

  • We believe, that smaller assignments completed and done well are more effective than lengthy projects.

  • We believe that homework will not to be graded, instead we believe in a model of self-assessment and reflection. Students will discuss and explain or explore their thinking and learning (ie. what they agreed with or disagreed with in the article they read, what they’re struggling with in math, what new questions they came up with from their unit) with parents/families at home, with classmates and/or with teachers.

  • We believe homework serves the purpose of establishing a partnership between school and home. With homework we endeavour to connect the school day with the families at home through the assignments given.

  • We believe homework is not appropriate for children in EC-K instead suggestions for learning ideas to do at home with children will be sent to parents regularly.

Which then led to our policy:

Homework will be based upon ISU’s learning principles and students will be involved in the process to make choices about their own learning and develop the habits of lifelong learners. Homework will encourage daily reading for pleasure and will be a chance to develop connections, a time for reflection and an opportunity for discussion.

To open the dialogue up to the parent community we took this idea to a weekly parent forum. There were a lot of ideas and discussions surrounding the idea and need for homework. Some parents commented that if homework has a “zero effect size” then why have it at all? Other parents demanded more homework to teach responsibility, accountability and to enhance the learning. We hoped to find a balance between the differing viewpoints and take the first step towards a new revolutionary view of homework.

To help explain the changes further we wrote responsibilities and procedures then provided examples of what a homework choice menu might look like. These changes have allowed us to provide more voice and choice within the idea of homework and better involve our parent community in the learning. One parent wrote in to share her reflections on the changes to homework:


Just wanted to send a note (*as a parent*) and say that I’m loving the ”homework menu” that you’ve started sending home this year. The activities on is are already creating more conversation and dialogue in our house, building communication skills and questioning. The activity based ones, such as ”helping with cooking or baking” sparked our daughter to check out a library book on baking this week, choose a recipe ”Apple Pie”, read the recipe on her own (reading skills improving!), get out all the ingredients in order (sequencing), and tools (some new vocab), we measured together (math!), and with her siblings, and they had to work ”collaboratively” together to do all the steps. Following on, we decided it would be nice to have some ice cream, so took a walk together to the supermarket to pick out some vanilla ice cream together, and all ate it together after dinner (yum!)

I just wanted to say that I’m sure it was what was intended, but just feels so much more meaningful to build up our experiences and memories together, while learning, with this type of ”homework” 🙂

Keep it coming!

ISU Mother

Some examples of the choice menus are below:

“Successful” Conferences

Last year our Principal shared with us his reflections from his trip to Reggio Emilia with NFI; he brought back many ideas that are guiding our actions and choices this year:

  • shaped by our students
  • Do schools reflect society, or do schools
    transform society?
  • everyone is different, so every learns differently
  • nothing about me without me
  • empowerment of students
  • empowerment of teachers
  • inclusion

I will speak to many of these points through sharing our stories in this blog; the first story is that of “Nothing about me without me.”

As we focus on INCLUSION, this simple statement (nothing about me without me) has caused us to reflect on many practices. The first of which were our parent-teacher conferences. If we did not include the child in these discussions were we being truly inclusive, were we empowering our students, were we honoring their voice and allowing them to shape their own path? No. And so we took action to change that through 3-Way Conferences.

In designing our newly launched 3-Way Conferences we first reflected on the purpose. We want students to own their learning and share their journey. We want to establish a partnership between home and school to support each students’ learning and development. We want to celebrate the successes of every student and build a strength based school.

And so we started with the successes. We asked all students to reflect on their year so far and list their success.

I have been able to cooperate with a variety of people that I would usually never even play with.

I have read a lot more than I usually would.

I have improved on my social skills in general and my communication skills.

My organized routine at home helps me keep track of my work.

I enjoy practicing mathematics and I need challenging work.

I have good sportsmanship.

I am good at reading chapter books even the tricky words.

I learnt the meaning of some hard words.

I have been doing hard problems in math , I know place value in big numbers.

With those successes we then asked students to consider the attitudes and skills (ATLs) that would help them as they looked towards further successes. We wanted them to consider how they could use their strengths and successes to build further success for themselves – to set meaningful goals.

I would like to become more organized with my things and my learning.

I would like to be more curious and ask more questions about the things that we are learning.

I want to be able to read cool books (chapter books, nonfiction books…). In order to do that I have to improve my reading skills and enthusiasm. I like sports and video games so maybe I can find some books about this in the Library.

I am confident. I need to be cooperative by finding and working nicely with a partner.

I would like to write more neatly and “like” writing.

I am nervous presenting in front of people but I want to try to get better at confidence, therefore I’m going to practice speaking in front of a group of people before performing/presenting. And I’m going to practice at home in front of my sister and my parents because I know they are going to give me good feedback.

These stories of success and goals led to many great discussions. Teachers (homeroom, specialist and learning support) reflected on the strengths and were able to discuss plans with students to better help them with their learning. One such example was that of a student who in the past would have been highlighted as a struggling student who has trouble reading. But with our new focus on strengths she and her teacher talked about her love of music and singing. They also discussed her goal of “confidence.” The student mentioned she wanted to be more confident with reading. They looked together at how her musical strength could help her be more confident with reading. The student is now singing her books aloud and “reading” with confidence and fluency.

At the 3-Way Conferences the students were able to share with their families stories of success and personal goals for growth. Parents were then invited to share their own stories of success with their child and celebrate in the learning together. Teachers added their insights and together action plans were created to support each student on their own learning journey.

What ideas do you have for successful 3-Way Conferences? How can we continue to reflect on our story?

Looking for Success

How can we use successes as a starting point for 3-Way Conferences?

In education, and often times in life, we look at our problems and weaknesses in order to fix what is “broken.” We ignore what is working well and take those successes for granted. But is that outlook the best way to make improvements and better ourselves?

What if we looked for our successes and strengths in order to harness these abilities better and find solutions that work for us?

I recently read Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. In the book they posit that we are problem based beings rather than solution focused. One example comes from the author, Marcus Buckingham, he posed a hypothetical situation: Imagine your child comes home one day with her report card. She got one A, four B’s, and one F. Where will you spend your time as a parent? His findings showed that nearly 77% of parents fixated on the F. There was a problem, the F, and a need to fix it. Authors Chip and Dan Heath looked at this study and suggested a more positive approach that focuses on the strengths and successes: You made an “A” in this one class, honey you must be really strong in this subject, how can we build on that? They suggest a solution based focus.

If human beings are perceived as potentials rather than problems, as possessing strengths instead of weaknesses, as unlimited rather that dull and unresponsive, then they thrive and grow to their capabilities. Barbara Bush

Can we apply this reversal of self-reflection to our students in order to help them feel strong and successful?

Can we change the focus in our 3-Way Conferences from problems to be fixed into successes to be built upon?

Can we build a strength based school?

This will be a blog about the choices we make, the actions we take and the reflections we contemplate. It is the story of our learning journey.

We are beginning a journey through inclusion. We spent the past year reflecting on where we were and where we wanted to be, making choices and taking actions to help us get there.

We wrote a new mission and vision and developed Learning Principles to help guide us. The principle that is leading us this year is:

Learning is inclusive:

  • providing meaningful, challenging and relevant learning for a diverse community
  • empowering self reliance, independence, confidence and grounded in a sense of belonging
  • when students see themselves as part of the learning process.
  • taking into account different learning styles
  • it is culturally sensitiveNeurodiversity6.indd

To help direct our learning we have adopted a book study: “Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life,” by Thomas Armstrong.

It is a book that we hope will help us to look at the positive strengths of  all our students, to help those students flourish and ensure their success. The question that lies before us is:

Can we build a strength based school?