Inclusion in education is a big topic these days, well actually it has been for several years now. All of the students I ever taught were included, so I guess it has been a topic for over 30 years.
What does inclusion mean exactly though? What does it look like? How does it happen? There seems to be much confusion amongst the people who are setting up inclusive environments.
Teachers view inclusion one way, IEP teams may look at inclusion another way, and the parent may also have a different definition. My personality is to deal in facts, not emotions, so I figured it would be easily answered with a definition, so I looked it up. According to a Google search of the definition of inclusion it means "the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure." That wasn't helpful since it is a pretty broad definition with nothing very specific listed, so I looked up the definiton of "include" thinking that would specify more. Nope, to include means "make part of a whole or set."
Okay, but those are general definitions, surely the special education law of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) would have a clear definition, right? I mean this is the legal document that directs inclusion, right? Wrong. IDEA doesn't even use the word inclusion at all! However, in referring to Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) what it does say is this: To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily. (IDEA 1412 (a) (5) ) Sadly, that doesn't give a clear cut picture either.
The very generic terms of "supplementary aids and services" "satisfactorily" "educated" and "cannot be achieved" leave a LOT of room for interpretation. However, there is a reason for this and it is a very good one. Each and every Individualized Education Program (IEP) is designed for only one individual. The law understands that each individual has different and unique needs and therefore cannot dictate one set example of inclusion or what "educated with children who are not disabled" should look like for everyone. This is also where the problem lies because most teachers believe if a child is in their classroom they should be learning the same academic material as everyone else. Parents of children with disabilities have told me they want their child learning academics AND social skills with their same age peers as much as possible. Most of the parents I have ever spoken to are more concerned about their child having friends, being accepted, and being able to get along in social environments than their academics. These parents know that once their child is out of school (for the day, summer, or forever), it isn't their grades that will make them happy, it is the relationships they have with others. However, they are still desiring for their child to learn as much as possible and be exposed to the general education curriculum of their peers.
There are probably hundreds or thousands of ways to include children with an IEP into a classroom.
I'm sharing 5 that I believe will work no matter who the individual being included is. I believe these are easily accomplished and take little or no extra resources.
5 tips for inclusion for Educators
1. Talk to the rest of your students about how to include everybody, no matter their ability level. (Treat them nicely, help them with their accommodations, differences are differences not something wrong, etc)
2. As you are preparing your lessons, think of ways to include all students and plan for those as you plan your lesson, not during the lesson.
3. Whenever you see the student, whether coming into your class or in the hallway, greet them and tell them you're glad to see them in the same voice as you speak to your other students. Do not baby talk. (Lead by example)
4. Give the student a designated space within (not a apart from) the rest of the students' seating. If name tags are used at your level, put the students name on this spot. Give the student a locker among all the others, if all the other students have lockers.
5. Work with a special education teacher to make/find/buy/modify/accommodate materials to align with what you are teaching all your students at the level the student being included is capable of achieving. If you are in a private school and don't have a special education teacher, reach out to me for help with ideas.
5 tips for inclusion for Parents
1. Have a direct conversation with your child about including everyone in their class or school. (Treat them nicely, help them with their accommodations, differences are differences not something wrong, etc).
2. Treat everyone you meet with the ideas from #1. Talk to the parents in the pick up line, at the grocery story, post office, gas station, etc (Lead by example)
3. If you know of a child in your child's class or school with differences, reach out to the school or teacher with your name to pass along to the parents of that child. Then get to know them when they reach out.
4. Invite the child over for a playdate with your child. If you aren't comfortable having the child alone, invite the parent also or ask if there is any information you should have or will need to know if something comes up. If you say you are going to it, please follow through. (Parents of children with disabilities are also often left out of social situations).
5. Invite the entire family over if your children aren't in the same grade or class so you can all get to know one another.
Shelley can be found on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube. She is the host of #nolimits and co-host of Friday with Fran video podcasts. Shelley is the author of Those Who "Can't..." Teach: True Stories of Special Needs Families to Promote Acceptance, Inclusion, and Empathy.