That being said, I've also worked in the public schools since 1987, and have observed several "not-so-wonderful" inclusion moments. Since my passion is teaching children with disabilities, and I promote inclusion when possible, I've seen outstanding mainstreaming, and I've seen practices that make me cringe. The following letter to my teacher friends is a short incomplete list of thoughts that appeared in the forefront of my mind tonight.
Dear teacher, friend, educator,
Today you will meet my student---a wonderful child who also happens to have a disability. A group of professionals who work with the student, and the child's parents, have determined that the child needs to be included with his peers in your classroom for most of the school day. You and the child are about to embark on a one-year journey together---one in which you both will be challenged in many different ways, but you both will also marvel at moments of success, laughter, and joy.
To help you out, here are some hints to make this inclusive experience the best it can be:
1. Please read the child's IEP. If it's not handed to you, seek it out from your special education department. Make sure you read it in its entirety since the child's special education services and classroom accommodations are legally required. You may need to advocate for implementation of these services.
One teacher I heard about didn't know speech therapy services were on the IEP. She could have advocated for the child to receive what he was legally entitled to rather than letting the year go by with nothing.
2. Make a plan to meet the child briefly before the school year starts. Let the child and parents come in to see your classroom, seating arrangement, schedule, and your happy demeanor.
A visit before the school year begins will help to alleviate anxiety both with the child and the child's parents. Some energetic souls even take the time to make picture books of various people and classrooms in the school for the child.
3. Please post a helpful schedule. This helps the child, but also helps adults who come in to work with the child in this inclusive setting.
When I go into one particular classroom for reading workshop to work with a student, I never know what is going on. I have to ask an assistant, or other students. The schedule is never posted and often not consistent from day to day. A posted schedule for reading workshop for each day would help. If I can't figure out the schedule, my language impaired student can't either!
4. You may want the child to have his own personal schedule. You can ask his special education teachers, speech pathologist, or other EC person to help make one.
|Child's personal schedule|
5.Don't group all of the children with disabilities together for things like Reader's Theater or Partner Reading. Don't put them all at the same table, and don't group them together on field trips. The goal is inclusion, and having typical peer models.
The Reader's Theater groupings actually made me really speak out---this was a public display of the old-school tracking system. It's totally the wrong message for all the kids in that class.
6. Watch this video entitled Including Samuel. This is a preview of a longer documentary about inclusion. It's only 10 minutes, and worth every minute. I've shared this movie link with parents of children with disabilities, and they cried.
I could probably write about 25 more tips, but that will be for a later time since this is a simple blog and not a textbook. Inclusion is about acceptance, individualizing, creativity, and some planning. Use the resources at your school (your special education folks) and advocate for what the child is entitled to on his IEP. You and the children in your classroom will form a community where everyone will thrive.