Over the past week, there has been a good deal of material written about inclusion especially in Ontario. The discussion was reopened by Caroline Alphonso’s article in the Globe and Mail – Educating Grayson: How Do We Make Inclusion Work?
We look at the exceptions and say that inclusion works, at best, this is only partially true. What happens when a system (inclusion) depends on exceptional teachers and schools? Is inclusion really sustainable when we depend on exceptional practice?
Aviva Dunsiger wrote an excellent article on inclusion as part of this debate. This is a sensitive, reflective piece and it does show that inclusion can work in some circumstances. Aviva made some wholesale changes to her classroom and the learning environment did become more inclusive. The article does bring up an important question. Is this the exception or is this the rule? In the article, Aviva writes that a board team came in and gave its recommendations and then left. It is telling that her first response was to question her own professionalism.
Well, when the team members came in and spoke to me, I left feeling as though I was the worst teacher out there. I totally broke down. Heaving sobs. They wanted me to change my classroom around for one child. Why?
Aviva was able to put together a plan with her EA, but that does not mean the system is working. Her story may be the exception. The onus is still being put on the classroom teacher to do something truly exceptional with no increase in support apart from a visit from a group of school board experts.
Is this good enough? Are we being reflective enough to bring about significant change or are we hoping that exceptional teachers and schools will simply become the norm and the problem will go away?
One person made an excellent comment on Aviva’s post. She noted some of the things that still need to be in place for inclusion to work better in schools.
self-reflective, flexible and open teachers, and as you noted:
leadership that creatively considers
-class size and composition (just because they have a dx doesn’t mean they should be in the same class every year),
-teacher training and updating of that training (a lot of parents don’t want ABA style or even punishment-reward style motivation anymore as new research becomes available)
-availability of community members that have knowledge and experience (there is no us v. them, only how can we help?)
-stress levels of families, students and staff & how we can alleviate those!
-lastly to choose staff that are open-minded and flexible and accepting that their way might need updating or that visual/reward/breaks won’t work for everyone, but it will work for more than one!
The comment about the involvement of community partners really strikes me here. Schools generally see themselves as silos and do not invite community agencies to play an active role in solving the problems all schools face. Most educators are unaware of the community resources that surround their schools. This is an area where we could really improve upon.
We need school boards and schools to be much more critical of their own practices. We all love to promote the exceptions and say they are the rule, but that is simply not the case. Who assesses school boards on the effectiveness of their own practice?
There is little oversight, so boards love to say how well they are doing in areas like inclusion. How many times did I hear that our school board was easily one of the best in the province? The more you say that the less critical you become.
I hope this debate continues. There are many great voices out there and it is good to see educators speaking out. The exceptions and innovations need to be celebrated, but the system as a whole needs to get much more responsive to the needs of our children and parents.
2 thoughts on “The Debate Continues – Are We Doing a Good Job at Inclusion in Our Schools?”
Here’s my comment (it seems to keep disappearing from your post): Thanks for all of your kind words, Paul, and thank you for writing this follow-up post! As I read through your reply, I should point out a couple of things. While the Team came and gave their recommendations, they never left me on my own. They continued to be very much involved with this student: visiting regularly, offering to make resources if I needed them, and answering all of my emails and questions right away, when I had them. And I had many! I actually ended up teaching this same child for four years, and formed some very positive relationships with the Autism Team during that time. They helped me work through different small problems over the years, but they also ended up being one of my biggest advocates, and celebrated so many different successes with me.
I realize that educators may be the front line in education, but we don’t have to feel as though we’re alone. I didn’t. At times over the years, would additional supports and resources have been helpful? Absolutely! But I also learned that I have a choice: I can think of all of the reasons that something won’t work, and use these reasons to stop trying, or I can make an attempt, try SOMETHING, reflect, and try again. Many times, I’m pleasantly surprised with the successes. I’ve tried hard to do the latter.
I’ve worked with many different consultants over the years, and I’ve been so grateful to all of them. They have been there for me and for kids, and they’ve offered many great suggestions. Is my reality the exception? I hope not! I think that just like with kids, there’s value in everyone having high expectations for themselves, being willing to try, fail, and try again, and reflecting and learning during the process. A great educator I worked with once said, “We’re in teaching for the kids … there’s no ‘but’ after that.” I think this is always worth remembering. Maybe the inclusion reality that I want is a utopian ideal, but I don’t think that it needs to be. I’ve so often found that the changes I make for that “one child,” benefit so many more students than that. Very curious to hear what others think.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Hi Aviva. A great comment, thanks. We are planning on doing the podcast on inclusion next Wednesday if you are available. Stephen has one teacher he wants to include and I want to get the perspective from an intermediate teacher. I agree with all your points and I think you were very well served. My experience is based on a different perspective as a former elementary administrator. While there are great examples like yours out there, the story of Grayson resonates as well. For every success with integration there are stories like Grayson’s that stand in contrast.
LikeLiked by 1 person