We had a moment a week ago, where we were discussing what inclusion could be with someone who was in an entirely different district. We know that inclusion feels like it is stalled. That for every child, inclusion looks different, and for some students this is appropriate. For most students, this is not what they are experiencing in their entire education process.
We know that inclusion is viewed as a challenge in many districts. And for all our friends who keep pointing it out: we are now forty years away from the original research that has pointed out that for both students with disabilities and students without disabilities, there are long-term and short-term benefits for their education. And that those benefits show up again in the lives of people with disabilities.
What makes inclusion possible thought? Professors and parents who have firsthand experience might tell you that inclusion is a mindset. Students who can tell you inclusion is ‘belonging’. Teachers who work in inclusive environments may tell you its about having all the players together working together (special education, special education services, administration, students). And certainly, every single workshop on inclusion starts with a definition, whether brought by the presenter or created by the workshop. Inclusion is advocacy by both self-advocates and allies. And it is not the cacophony of voices but one single voice going in one direction.
What we know is that not every experience is inclusive. Whether or not it is certain classes, certain educators, or certain schools.
Does it need to stay ‘small’ to be successful?
There are pockets of inclusive schools all around the country. And the predominant age group tends to be elementary. This is why secondary is where Renay focuses much of her time. And these schools historically are under five hundred students. Sometimes as much as seven hundred. But is it possible to keep scaling the image? We know of entire districts of more than two thousand students are inclusive. We know it just takes a ‘yes’ if we borrow from Beth Foraker. It does not take much to have success.
What can we do?
- If you are not working in an inclusive environment, ask why.
- If you are not working in an inclusive environment and the answer is ‘we tried it and it didn’t work.’ Ask about what was not working.
- Look at the average age of the staff. Newer teachers are often being educated in inclusive practices and want support to be that change. However, the nuances of newer teachers: they do not always have enough emotional space to take on change, especially in their first two years. It is not that they do not care. The demands on a new teacher are many.
- Is the whole campus inclusive or just the little ways that are involved with certain subjects or certain teachers?
We need to have a brief but pointed fact that inclusion is not some new-age philosophy. It is what we want in our communities. It is what we want for our future. Not just people with disabilities, but this is the main purpose of ParaEducate to bring that awareness of who is not at the table. Who is not being educated? When we do not see what is going on, we do not understand what might truly be experienced or expected. Our collective change can bring attention to someone else who takes those questions of inclusion of people with disabilities to work environments, to college environments, to our religious institutions and many others.
All The Hands?
So often we speak in this blog about an idealized world and we know that paraeducators are doing a lot of different things for a variety of students who all have different needs. And some of those needs are not the result of a disability.
To be all the things, an ally, an educator, a confidant, an authority figure, a compassionate being, a contract of wisdom, and a fellow human, it just might be too much for some. So how do you balance all the things that are expected? Sometimes we focus on one or two of these skills. Some folks only demonstrate a handful of these skills ever. And it is entirely all right. Asking for those individuals when they are ready to step forward makes all the difference.
What We Bring
Renay was recently asked what might make a paraeducator flexible enough to work in the different demanding environments of inclusion across an entire campus. And one of the points Renay thought about was a small percentage of Renay’s experience: general education teachers who have disabilities or have a family member with a disability. It does not matter the type of disability or the experiences of that disability. But that distinction makes for an interesting population helping students with disabilities. Knowing that exclusion within disability is a step into the side of students with disabilities as an ally. Just like the importance of being ethnically diverse. These silent traits we bring with us affect how we interact with each other and our knowledge of what a student might see within the world.
The world will need us to keep waiting. And the world will change. We can still be that advocate for our students. For our families we serve. We can see those moments and celebrate those moments in our school communities.
Do you have any comments about this month’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online here, here, here, here, and on our website. ParaEducate is a company providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published once a month during the academic school year. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.