Inclusion. A word that can mean so many different things to different people. I have to admit, when I was a general education teacher, I often cringed at the word. I know many teachers who also cringe at the word. Inclusion. What is the purpose of inclusion in the school setting? How can it do any good? How can a teacher be expected to teach a class when there are students in the room who are not at the same level as the rest of the class? Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if that one student was in their own “special” classroom? The answer is…it’s complicated…
Inclusion is when students with disabilities are included in the general education classroom with their peers, rather than being in a special education classroom all day, every day.
Inclusion is not a cookie cutter classroom model. It can look very different from school to school, classroom to classroom, and student to student. For some students, inclusion may mean receiving all of their instruction in the general education classroom. For some students, it may mean attending general education for 15 minutes during the day, or possibly going to PE and lunch with their general education peers, and receiving all other instruction in the special education setting.
This is, in my opinion, what makes inclusion in the schools so complicated. There’s not one right way to implement it. Everyone has their own opinion on inclusion in the school setting and whether it is beneficial or not. I would like to share my personal opinion.
I believe that there is tremendous value in allowing students with disabilities to spend time with their general education peers. Having been a teacher, I know this can be inconvenient and stressful for classroom teachers. But there are so many benefits for the students. Children with disabilities often learn a tremendous amount just from watching their peers. Their peers become models for them, both in behavior and language. They have the opportunity to make friends and engage in meaningful social interactions. Students without disabilities learn from the experience as well. They learn to value and respect diversity, and may make lasting friendships. Kids Together has a fantastic list of the benefits of inclusive education on their website http://www.kidstogether.org/inclusion/benefitsofinclusion.htm. I love how they list the benefits for students both with and without disabilities.
So often teachers focus on the negatives when discussing whether students with disabilities. The “negatives” should be addressed, but the positive outcomes should be the focus. When inclusion is done correctly, research has shown that there really are no true negatives for anyone. But this hinges on how students with disabilities, and teachers, are supported throughout the process. To be successful, appropriate IEPs should be in place, an appropriate schedule should be decided on by the student’s IEP team, and the classroom teacher should have a good support system. A full day of general education does not work for every student, but it is appropriate for others. The students strengths and areas of difficulty should be taken into consideration. If the student is experiencing consistent success with 30 minutes a day, try 40 minutes, or an hour. Allow the student opportunities to grow and gain independence. If 15 minutes is all they can handle, don’t expect them to last for 4 hours. The idea to have students in the least restrictive environment where they can do their best learning. It’s up to the student’s IEP team to determine what that looks like for that particular student.
I also want to encourage teachers to use the resources available to them. This may include their school’s special education teachers, speech therapists, and/or other specialists. For our student’s to experience success in the classroom, it is critical that we all work together as a team, with the student’s best interest in mind…not what is easier for us.
I’ve often heard the saying, “What’s easy is not always right, and what’s right is not always easy.” This is definitely true when we think about classroom inclusion. It’s not always easy, but it can be so beneficial.
As I slowly move into my new career as a speech-language pathologist working in the public school setting, I have had opportunities to reflect on my years as a teacher and how I can use those experiences to help the teachers and students I work with now. As a teacher, I felt inclusion was my enemy, but I understand now that I did not fully understand the purpose of inclusion. Instead of looking at the benefits, I focused on the negatives. In my new role as a school SLP, I hope I can help the teachers I work with, so they begin to see inclusion as a friend, rather than foe.