Written by Lisa Friedman, Manager of Social Media and Alumni Networks.
Inclusion takes intentional planning and hard work. Even the most seasoned educators will make mistakes from time to time. We work hard to teach our children that mistakes are to be celebrated as a natural part of growth and development, so we need to heed this same lesson. Mistakes will happen; it’s how we choose to handle them that will define our ability to grow and improve as inclusive educators.
Here are what I believe to be the most common inclusion mistakes:
Not devoting enough time for planning
Most teachers will agree; there are just not enough hours in the day to do it all. But successful inclusion requires intentional planning. It just can not be accomplished by short-cut. Each of us is guilty of rushing from time to time, but to be committed to inclusion means to devote the necessary time to appropriate planning.
Going it alone
Jumping off of number one above, inclusion is at its best when teachers plan intentionally AND collaborate. There is no shame in asking for help; ever. Despite this, many teachers feel that asking for support or assistance is a sign of weakness or lack of competence. Many teachers also believe that they have do it themselves if they want it done right. Letting go of some of the control and working in collaboration with others is not only acceptable, it is critical for successful inclusion.
Forgetting that successful education isn’t one-size-fits-all
When we find strategies that work, it’s easy to assume that those same strategies will continue to work. However, the truth is that many students, particularly those with disabilities, require different strategies across different learning situations. Educators must have a “bag of tricks”, but consistently pulling the same trick out of your bag will prove unsuccessful.
Assuming that accommodating is the same as inclusion
Making accommodations is necessary to ensure that the needs of all students are met. However, simply adapting or adjusting lessons is not inclusion. Inclusion is about belonging. It is about every student being fully integrated into the life of the classroom. Making accommodations is an integral part of the process, but it is not sufficient in and of itself.
Believing that group work is the same as differentiating instruction
Differentiating instruction is a methodology which enables students to progress at their own pace via activities that are developmentally appropriate. It exposes all students to a vast array of learning opportunities and experiences. Simply assigning students to work in groups is not an effective form of differentiation.
Not having an inclusive school community despite highly successful special education programs
This one is hard for teachers to control on their own, but ignoring it altogether will not move a community forward. Advocates for inclusion must raise their voices at every opportunity and support those who have yet to fully embrace the value of inclusion. Special education teachers have a unique vantage point in a school community and can help colleagues and school leaders learn to advance their inclusive practices. It may not be part of your “classroom work”, but it is absolutely a part of the job.
Underestimating a student
We have all done it; been wonderfully surprised when a student accomplishes something we never expected. We do not mean to underestimate our students, but sometimes we haven’t yet seen what he/she is capable of achieving. It is essential for us to always push our students to their highest potential, even if that potential has yet to be fully discovered.
Not practicing what you preach
Do you teach special education, but justify parking in a handicapped spot because “you are just running in for a minute”? Do you advocate for school inclusion, but then allow your own child to exclude another child in her class with disabilities from her birthday party? We need to work toward a place where we are as inclusive in our personal lives as we are in our professional ones. It’s important to be consistent models for our peers and our children, not just in formal situations, but in day-to-day life choices and experiences.
None of these mistakes make you a bad teacher! Rather, recognizing our natural human tendencies and our own limitations enables us to grow both personally and professionally.