The Debate Continues – Are We Doing a Good Job at Inclusion in Our Schools?

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.

 

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Response to: Are There Times When Even Adults Choose Not To Comply For The Sake Of Self-Reg?

I read a great post today by Aviva Dunsiger on compliance and self-regulation entitled Are There Times When Even Adults Choose Not To Comply For The Sake Of Self-Reg?

I really suggest you read it. Aviva is writing about something we don’t talk enough about – the pressure for adults to conform. Again, this is something we do in education, we are expected to do everything in our power to respect the student’s need to self-regulate and possibly opt out of difficult situations, but on the other hand, we expect nearly blind compliance from the adults in the system. She ends her post with this question:
Maybe not complying is still a good option at times, but just in a different way than our four- and five-year-olds chose to do so. Are there times when, even as an adult, you also choose “not to comply” for the sake of Self-Reg? I guess the troublemaker in me continues to exist.
At the end of Aviva’s post I added this response:
Great question. I think as adults we need to get much more comfortable with noncompliance. Especially when we work for large organizations like school boards noncompliance is healthy and necessary. I became increasingly uncomfortable with the pressure to comply especially as a school administrator in a Catholic school system. The pressure to comply was always tremendous. To not comply was seen as disloyal.
To question ideas was not encouraged and loyalty to the party line was a value that was rewarded. Cheerleading of board initiatives was seen as the best way to use Twitter and other forms of social media.
I wish this was not the case. Noncompliance should be encouraged. Noncompliance is a way to promote independent thought which is what I always thought we were supposed to be teaching our children to do.
Aviva is making an excellent point here. To opt out, to question, to take a different path is just as important for the social-emotional health of adults as it is for children. It is dangerous however because it will put you at odds with the vast majority of people who are comfortable with or unwilling to question the status quo.
When we discourage noncompliance and independent thought, what does an organization lose?
To call for strict compliance means that decision making is left in the hands of the few in the highest positions of authority. To question their ultimate authority will lead to sanction. This means that alternative positions are not encouraged by teachers, consultants and especially school administrators.
Consequently, adults in school boards are reduced to ‘cheerleading’ tweets. While there are many educators that go beyond cheerleading, it is seldom that they seriously question the status quo – something that is established by a small group of people whose authority is never questioned.
I have seen this demand for compliance with other large organizations. The Catholic Church and its agencies and large education corporations are two I have had some experience working in. It seems the larger you get the less room there is for thinking outside the box. It makes me wonder how innovative thought and action ever takes place!
When it comes to opting out there are not a lot of options. You simply cannot dissent if you work for a large school board or other big organization. This means that your social-emotional well-being is secondary to the well-being of the organization.
Adults always have the right to opt out, but that comes down to leaving the organization. In my case, speaking critically about my school board meant that I would be suspended without pay. So, I complied.
This was not a good situation, but I did have the option to opt out and I did. I left the organization and I started to write. From a social-emotional perspective, this is a good thing.
It might have been better if independent thought and initiative had been encouraged while I was a school administrator. You really lose something when you demand blind compliance. Opting out is good for adults, it would be even better if we could do this more while remaining members of the organization.