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The Top Questions Asked About Inclusive Education

Patrick Schwarz

Question One: What makes a school inclusive?

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Patrick Schwarz: What makes a school inclusive? And there are a few different ways a school is inclusive. First of all, the major point is attending the neighborhood school. What that would be is the school that you would attend if you don't have a disability, and there are some very important reasons why we do that. So first of all, one of the reasons is that those are the very people that are in your neighborhood and that are around the community you live in, so you would see them in the neighborhood. You might seem at the parks. You might see them in community activities and businesses.

And what families have reported to me when their sons or daughters go to the school that's the neighborhood school is that they actually feel that their whole family is included more because what happens is when kids in the neighborhood know each other, their families also get to know each other. So it makes a whole family more inclusive. So really the barometer is it is the school that you would go to if you did not have a disability. That's the neighborhood school.

The second one is having a general education home room. The reason that that is important is first of all, we want students to be members of the entire school. What I feel inclusion is, is inclusion means that everywhere students belong and they're with everyone else in the school and the community. So we feel that way about classroom environments. We feel that way about a home room so an individual is a member versus a visitor.

The third point is avoiding segregation. And I think there are many school practices that could come about that may create segregated situations even if students are in the same school as everybody else and their peers.

One example would be if a student with a disability went to school on a different bus. So that would be something that would potentially be segregated from all of the peers. The second thing would be if there was a separate entrance in the school for people with disabilities. Another one would be if there would be a separate table in the cafeteria for students with disabilities. Separate classrooms being on a separate wing of the school is another example of that.

And there's something that goes beyond students too. It's when personnel might be involved in different training experiences, so this might mean the special educators and general educators have different training. And that's hard when you want educators to work together in endeavors such as co-teaching and making things happen for all students and bringing your resources together, both general and special education, to make that work.

The next one is planning, solving problems, and innovative learning supports. These are types of things that make teams healthy. So one of the things when I get to know a team, I ask them How do you solve problems? And if it's hard for them to articulate an approach, there are a lot of great approaches there because in some situations having inclusive education brings about change for the school.

I have never met any change that didn't involve some issues that came forward. So we need to problem solve those things. Would anybody that is free of problems, please stand up? And I have to do this at this point. It's not that we're problem-free; it's how we solve problems that makes us effective.

And then also innovative learning supports. I'll talk a little bit more about supports such as differentiated instruction, making learning work for all students, universal design making learning accessible for all students, and individual accommodations. These would be supports that would be in particular for an individual student.

The next one is making all team members equal. So something that we fully believe is first off, we're talking about a student team is the most important member of that team is the student, first of all. Then the next members of the team would be that student's family because if you think about parents or guardians in cases of learning, who was the first teacher for that particular individual? It's their family. And when a licensed teacher doesn't have a student anymore, who's the ongoing teacher for that particular student? It is their family. So that's an essential member of the team.

Then, of course, we have teachers, and if we're talking about an inclusive model, we're talking about general and special education teachers. And then we're talking about related services, supports for students. So they can be things such as speech and language, social work, occupational therapy, physical therapy. We can get into sensory supports such as vision and hearing professionals. And those would all be members of the student's team depending on what services they qualify for.

Also in schools, we can consider the leaders as members of the team too, as well, so perhaps a school principal. It could be a school system pupil services director may also be members of a student's team.

The next one is doing away with learned helplessness. And what I define learned helplessness as is somebody is doing something for a student that, number one, they could already do for themselves; number two, be taught to do for themselves; or, number three, be adapted so that they could it for themselves. And for me learned helplessness is the worst disability of all because I think of what it does for an individual is may compound an existing disability and make it more difficult to access learning and for that individual to be independent.

The next one after that is seeing behavior as a form of communication. And I believe all behavior is a form of communication, so it's important for us to be able to look at what is the individual communicating.

So, for example, there was a friend of mine, who is now a friend, who was once a student and his name is Frankie. And one of the things Frankie started to do in the school was pull hair and kick people. He's an individual that loves basketball. He loves going out to restaurants. He loves his dog. And he happens to have autism as an attribute as well.

And one of the things we had to really ask in the beginning is what was Frankie communicating through that behavior? When we really started to examine the situation, Frankie was a new member of the school. And we took some data and we found out Frankie was pulling hair and kicking in situations that involve new people, new places or environments, or new expectations.

And what we had to do in looking at that communication is could we have it so that Frankie, rather than pulling hair and kicking, was doing something more socially acceptable when he was uncomfortable or nervous in new situations? He didn't like all the new that he was facing.

So we worked with Frankie in teaching him a replacement behavior to say when he was feeling uncomfortable or nervous is I need a break. And I need a break is socially acceptable versus kicking or pulling hair, and that would serve him well lifelong. And so we took a process and a plan and using that more acceptable form of communication for Frankie to still get him out of a situation if he needed to do that.

The next one that I like very much is providing access to after school clubs and activities. Because I feel something that is important for all students is every student, every person that I know has certain passions and interests that make life worth living. And isn't that a wonderful thing; Is when we're doing something that is our passion and interest, it's a beautiful thing in life and we are engaged in doing that.

So thinking about that, are there after school clubs that relate to interests that students have? So there might be a math club, a science club. There could be different types of clubs such as the debate team. There could be sports clubs, pep clubs, a variety of different types of clubs. And if a certain club doesn't match what the interests are, is maybe we create a club around somebody's interests. So one club that was created in a school that was just fantastic for students was the gaming club. So video games and computer games, and it became a popular club and for certain students it provided social relationships that they were really in need of through this particular club.

I've also known students who have unusual interests. So, for example, one student we worked with, Max, really likes cockroaches a lot, and people go, Ooh! when they hear that. But one of the things we connected him with was the science club of the school where he got to research about that. And we also had a guest that was an entomologist, or a professor of the study of insects, provide information to that particular team, and Max was beside himself that you could actually do the study of insects as a job. And so he was thrilled with that. So we can take even unusual interests and connect them to more common types of support which make them come to life in school and also beyond.

The next one is being committed to making it work. There's a saying is if you think you can or you think you can't, you're right either way and that is what will happen. So the commitment is really important, especially if you're dealing with something that's a change in practice in terms of how you're supporting students is not everything works right away when you're changing practice.

So what we want to do for students is we want to take a journey and take a process and keep working on it and not giving up. Don't quit five minutes before the miracle happens. And also have a system for support so when there are issues or problems that arise, we're able to solve them and take next steps with that. Because, again, I've never known a change that it didn't involve some work or some fine tuning or resolving certain things.

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