Creating a School Culture of Inclusion
When a school climate is inclusive and engaging, everyone within its community benefits. Teachers, administrators, support staff, parents, and students are all co-collaborators in creating this type of learning environment. When we take into account that everyone within a school community has unique experiences, ideas, skills, and talents, we can foster an environment of openness and diverse learning for everyone.
Inclusive School Cultures
Inclusion can be defined as a compilation of shared ideas and values and best practices that promote the vast diversity each person brings to a school community. For students with disabilities, inclusion means that they are able to learn along with their peers instead of being segregated into their own learning sphere. It also means that they are better provided with the multiple supports necessary for their educational and personal development.
Students are not simply in school learning for the sake of acquiring knowledge; they are working to become the best global citizens that they can possibly be. This is the driving idea behind the concept of inclusion, and it is one which all stakeholders in a school community are able to benefit from. Diversity in thoughts, ideologies, religion, culture, and opinions is increasing throughout all corners of the globe, and those from all different walks of life who are part of a school community generally want to feel emotionally and socially linked to the school.
Stakeholders in a school can work together to ensure that the school’s culture is truly inclusive for everyone. Inclusion should be encouraged on all levels and be viewed as the way a school is expected to function, not as how it could or should simply function in the future.
Techniques For Creating a Culture of Inclusion
So, how do we come together to create a culture of inclusion in a school? In regard to working with special needs students, one of the primary methods for creating a more inclusive school climate for these students is to have special education teachers act as consultants for other classroom teachers. The consultant teacher can share their expertise and ideas with the classroom teacher in order to find the best ways to help special needs students. Teachers can also engage in co-teaching in the same classroom setting.
Creating a school culture of inclusion might mean eliminating self-contained special education classrooms, resource room pullout programs, and programs in which students spend portions of their days at other schools. Eliminating the concept of “special” is theoretically meant to encourage every child to be an important player in their classroom and school-wide dynamic.
In order to be successful in achieving these goals, it is important that all stakeholders recognize the changes that need to be implemented and sustain inclusion. Changes, of course, extend beyond the restructuring of the physical learning environment. Teachers are encouraged to move away from a “one-size-fits-all” method for teaching and grading assignments and enhance learning differentiation. Instead, students should be able to interact with various types of learning resources and experience different types of learning in the form of classroom discussion, small group work, and individual work. Also, practicing healthy (in other words, consistent and non-behavioral reprimanding) grading and establishing profound, meaningful relationships with students is essential for inclusion to occur.
Misconceptions About Inclusive Schools and How to Address Them
Many educators and parents seem to still labor under the assumption that it is more expensive to create an inclusive school. These beliefs tend to reinforce current practices and ideas without considering the options at hand for broadening inclusion. Even if funding from a district seems a little tight, creating a more inclusive school culture can result in a better budget plan if resources are adequately assessed and pooled.
If the resources simply are not there, stakeholders should feel encouraged to come up with unique fundraising ideas for creating a more inclusive school. Some school officials are taking to online donation websites like GoFundMe to pool monetary resources and raise awareness for inclusion. I’ve personally heard of people doing seo for dentist so they can afford to have their child be included in select programs. PTA members are also getting involved in holding different types of fundraisers to make their schools more inclusive.
By putting students’ needs first, carefully examining resources, considering various teaching support models, and being flexible in addressing and meeting students’ needs on a daily basis, educators can overcome the misconceptions generally held about creating a more inclusive school.
Increasing Democracy, Leadership, and Empowerment
A few of the biggest benefits of creating and maintaining an inclusive school culture is that all stakeholders can feel empowered to participate in decision-making processes, act as leaders, and take part in school-wide democracy. Oftentimes, in non-inclusive schools, there are students (especially those in special education classrooms or who are ESL/ELL students), faculty, staff, and parents who do not feel empowered to participate in democratic decision-making processes regarding the functioning and future of their schools. By setting the goal of having and maintaining an inclusive school culture, those who would otherwise be on the fringes would feel more encouraged to speak their minds and contribute diverse ideas.
Inclusion is not an impossibility. Many schools are striving toward the goal of establishing and maintaining an inclusive school culture. Making a school more inclusive allows for a broader sense of diversity, and more members of the school community might feel encouraged to participate because they realize that their ideas, opinions, and experiences matter.