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.