How to Create an Inclusive Mindset at Your School
If school hasn't started for you, I am assuming it is starting soon. If you are starting at a new school or have been at your school for 10 years and they still haven't jumped on the #inclusion bandwagon, here are the easiest steps you can take the first couple of weeks of school. You gotta
Befriend your community
Education your community
Get involved in your community
BEFRIEND YOUR COMMUNITY
Let's break each one of these down. The first one is a step that you will have to be working on all year. And I am not saying just say hi or have surface level conversations with your coworkers. I mean, genuinely be interested in your team. You want to include your students in their classrooms and they need to trust you and you need to trust them. You also want inclusion to be successful, which means when your student has a behavior that the general education teacher isn't used to, everyone needs to be prepped on how to react in the moment and continue on with their lesson.
This picture was taken my second year of teaching
Scroll down for my fourth year of teaching
My classroom neighbor was described to me as a cranky old man on his last year of teaching. But he was a 3rd grade teacher, my students were mostly 3rd graders, and he was right next door. I spent every recess duty with him talking to him about his rose garden and the opera. Two things I did not care too much about, but learned an extensive about of information about both and was genuinely interested. This teacher, who never opened up his door to students from the special education classroom, pulled up a seat for my student.
This student went in every morning for 30 minutes with an aide, sat in the back of the classroom next to another peer, and happily listened along to the reading lesson. Today, I would argue that this isn't inclusive enough. Inclusion is having all students participate in their class, but for this situation, it was a HUGE win!
Genuinely befriending this community wasn't only good for my students. Those coworkers became lifelong friends for me. Not only did I move a 7 hour drive away from them, but whenever I visit the Bay Area, we make time to see each other and they are always up to date on my push for inclusion and have continued the practices since I left. The first step alone did wonders!
EDUCATE YOUR COMMUNITY
Do not start mainstreaming or including students if you have not educated their community!!!
*If your school has never practice inclusion before.
The best way to continuously educate your community is to lead by example. When you're in the teacher's lounge and someone says, "did you see that down syndrome kid on the news? I thought of you and your students!" You can say, "How fun, a child with down syndrome was on the news, what was the story about?" Keep being the example to use person-first language and keep special education positive but not too special. There is a fine line between saying good job to a person with a disability for an actual accomplishment and an everyday task.
I also strongly suggest to lead ability awareness activities with the students BEFORE you practice mainstreaming. Here are some of my favorites below (click on the image). Ability Awareness activities should be age-appropriate to the peers, discuss the disabilities of your students (I.e. physical disabilities, autism, deafblindness etc.), and gets them thinking. I always love adding more, so please send me ability awareness activities that have been successful for you!
GET INVOLVED IN YOUR COMMUNITY
Anything I could jump onto, I would. The school holds a talent show and there is a teacher performance? Down. The PTA holds a Halloween festival every year and needs volunteers? I am there. A holiday performance? All of my students will perform with their grade and I will send adults and volunteer my time to make it successful!
If I want my school to change their mindset and include a population of students that weren't being included before, I need to include myself. As a former special education teacher, I felt excluded a lot. But I didn't wait for people to include me. I included myself, in the activities, the conversations, the recess duties.
Over time, my coworkers trusted me, the PTA wanted to make sure they were including me (and my students), and the students quickly adapted to inclusive practices. After just 4 years at my school, all of my students were included for hours throughout the day, invited to birthday parties and playdates, and celebrated #autismawareness month long after I left. As promised, here is a picture of that same team 3 years later. Inclusion built a stronger community for everyone.
If you have any questions or need help getting inclusion happening at your school, reach out to me.
Inclusion starts with you
I just want to help