What does it mean when I say inclusive education? This is a fully loaded term, one that policy makers, teachers, administrators, parents and educators still have not fully figured out yet. The organization inclusive education Canada suggests that inclusive education is all about how we choose to develop and design our schools, classrooms, programs, activities and lessons so that we can meet the diverse needs and preferences of every type of student with varied learning styles. Inclusive education is about assuring that all students have equal access to a quality education. I would also like to recognize that I know inclusive education is not synonymous with education for students with disabilities but for the sake of this blog, inclusive education for students with disabilities is what I will be focusing on. In examining the different avenues that the concept of inclusive educations takes forward, I find it important to begin by looking back, reflecting on where RSEKN’s conversation of inclusive education was almost a year ago, and then building ideas from this base.
While reading a RSEKN South August 2018 blog post on inclusive education and whether or not students should be taken out of the classroom, I was inspired as I focused on a particular section:
The classroom is a place of learning. When you remove a student from the classroom, you remove them from the possibility of learning. This is even more troublesome for students who require additional time and support to achieve success in learning. Frequently removing students from the classroom also affects their emotional and social well-being and disrupts their peer relationships.
My mother has been in early childhood education for the past 28 years and prior to going into teacher education, I worked at a daycare with her where all of the classrooms were inclusive to students with disabilities. I had not realized this at the time, but the ways in which my mother had so flawlessly made a class of 25 plus students aged 3-5 years old work so well when she had anywhere from 5 to 10 students with special needs is truly inspiring and something that I have taken with me in my future practice as an educator. Similar to my mother, I have always known that working with kids was my passion. She has worked with every age group and every type of student, and there are not many people who are as patient, kind and understanding of every child’s differences and learning needs as she is.
In my own experiences as a teacher candidate and now as a supply teacher, I have worked with lots of incredible teachers who have shown me how well inclusive classrooms work when it is done properly and done thoughtfully, and my mother is just one example of this. I have friends who are also recent graduates of the teacher education program who are in the exact same position as I am and who just like me, are doing the best they can and learning lessons along the way. As teachers and educators, we should constantly be trying to improve the ways in which we do things to better meet the needs of our students. Being a teacher means that you are a lifelong learner which who will constantly be reflecting and re-evaluating how you could improve things both inside and outside of the classroom to meet the needs of every type of student.
Every student deserves to feel safe and welcomed in their classroom community and every parent wants their child to feel that they have a sense of belonging in their school community. It is wonderful that Canada has moved towards an inclusive education model however, I do feel that we still have a lot to learn to figure out the best possible ways to include children with complex needs in regular classrooms. This article by the Globe and Mail from January 2019 mentions that inclusiveness can’t work without a thoughtful rethinking of how we teach children with diverse needs and how we structure the school day. Establishing inclusive classrooms needs to go way beyond just simply integrating students, but also thinking more critically about the ways in which we are choosing to teach our students.
Written By: Sidney Pompa-Sidhu