Inclusivity in schools can mean many different things, as many aspects of school community members should always be considered. This blog aims to outline what school inclusivity really means, what should be considered when improving inclusivity in your school community, and ways to achieve this.
Firstly, what is inclusion in education?
According to UNICEF, inclusive education is “the most effective way to give all children a fair chance to go to school,” and to “learn and develop the skills they need to thrive”. They add that
“Inclusive education means all children in the same classrooms, in the same schools. It means real learning opportunities for groups who have traditionally been excluded… Inclusive systems value the unique contributions students of all backgrounds bring to the classroom and allow diverse groups to grow side by side, to the benefit of all.”
In summary, inclusive education means that all children, regardless of any unique feature or circumstance, should receive equal access to education. All students should be treated fairly and get equal opportunities.
What to think about when improving inclusivity in your school
This is a non-exhaustive list of points to consider when aiming for inclusivity in your school.
- Sex and gender
- Race and ethnic origin
- Learners or community members with English as a second/third/etc. language
- Financial backgrounds
- Disabilities and learners in Special Education
- Familial situations, such as students in foster care or with incarcerated family members
How to improve inclusivity in my school?
Improving inclusivity is no easy or quick task, and there are many barriers to achieving this from all levels. For example, within schools, teachers must be trained to teach students with different needs. In the case of physical disabilities, school buildings and campuses may need to be redesigned so that all students can access the places they need and want to go. Within communities, there may be stigma and discrimination issues that prohibit inclusivity. Then, on a state and national level, laws and policies should facilitate inclusive school practices so that district leaders have the right governmental or state support.
Inclusive education means that all children, regardless of any unique feature or circumstance, should receive equal access to education.
The great news is that there are steps school districts can take in the right direction, and chances are there are some that your district is already taking. Here are some of the quickest ways schools can increase their inclusivity.
- Inclusive language
Use language that aims to include everyone and not alienate certain groups of people. For example, when setting home tasks, teachers shouldn’t tell students to work with their parents, but rather their caregivers. For younger children, teachers could even say adults.
- Extra materials
Provide extra materials to supplement mainstream lesson plans, such as transcripts of videos for students who are hard of hearing, audio narration options on surveys for students with visual impairments, or image-based flashcards for those whose level of English may be low. These resources could even be shared among the entire class, if appropriate, so that no one is singled out.
- Cooperative learning
Introduce tasks and activities in a way that incites cooperative learning among all students. Group work where groups have a mix of needs means that all students can participate in the task and that students are improving their social skills with diverse groups. It also helps young learners to naturally learn practical ways to be more inclusive, but they should also be given guidance with this, too.
Additionally, there are strategies and models to implement that will depend on the students of whom to be inclusive. Here are some suggestions for different ways to include different student groups.
Students with unique family circumstances
No two home lives of students are the same, and some students are dealing with unique situations at home that put them into the ACE (adverse childhood experience) category. This could be that their caregiver suffers from substance addiction, is incarcerated, and/or is abusive toward the student or another family member. It could also be that they come from a low or zero-income family, or even that they live with foster parents or other non-traditional caregivers.
Read our blog to learn more about helping the ACEs in your classroom.
Students with disabilities
All certified school staff should know these three main inclusive teaching models.
1. Full inclusion
The full-inclusion teaching model believes that all students belong in a mainstream classroom, meaning learners with disabilities (visible or hidden) learn alongside their peers.
But what does a full-inclusion model entail?
When all students in a group are learning alongside each other, class sizes and diversity of needs will inevitably increase, which makes it harder for teachers to plan ability-appropriate lessons. So, any staff member responsible for curriculum planning or student development and success will need to
- Monitor the development and progression of all the students very closely and use assessment results to consider if the learning environment is really appropriate for students of all needs. A full-inclusion model is only successful if all student needs are being met.
- Consider carefully if the lessons, homework, and intervention plans are feasible and appropriate for all students in the class. For example, if a lesson plan contains physical activity, remember to plan alternatives for students with physical disabilities so that they can still participate. If this is not possible, or decreases the quality of the lesson plan in any way, an alternative, more inclusive lesson plan should instead be used. The easiest way to find the most appropriate lesson plan is to use a content library, for example our SEL content library, full of teacher-created, ready-to-use lessons and interventions.
2. Partial inclusion
If a full-inclusion model is not appropriate for a class, a partial inclusion plan could be implemented instead. A partial inclusion plan is similar to full inclusion in that it maintains that all students should learn in a mainstream classroom. However, the main difference here is that with partial inclusion models, students with disabilities or other special needs will also spend time away from the mainstream classroom.
So, while the bulk of their learning time will be spent with their peers, they’ll also spend time with specialized staff to receive targeted support. This model is especially effective for students who need targeted support for their progress that may disrupt the progress of other students. When implementing a partial inclusion plan, always remember to
- Keep the needs of all students, regardless of their needs, a priority. Be strategic when lesson planning and when deciding on when and for what reason students will either learn in the mainstream classroom or away from it.
- Be flexible, because targeted classroom support for students with special needs but at first not disrupt other students, but attitudes may change as the term progresses.
Mainstreaming is the third model in our list of common inclusive education strategies. Mainstreaming means that children with disabilities will start the academic year or their journey through the education system in a separate classroom from a mainstream one. Here, they will receive targeted support tailored just to their needs. Over time, if the student is developing well and progressing nicely, they can slowly be integrated into the mainstream classroom. When choosing a mainstreaming model for inclusivity, remember to
- Communicate the mainstreaming plan to the student’s caregivers and other specialized support staff. Make sure that everyone is on the same page and gets to have a say on if and when they feel the student is ready to integrate into the mainstream classroom. District leaders could do this via quick and easy-to-answer surveys.
- Integrate a student at a pace that’s appropriate for them. Don’t rush the integration process and push the student beyond what they’re currently ready for. At the same time, keep in mind that having the student join the mainstream classroom is something schools should want for their students, so don’t be afraid to take that step with the student if appropriate for them. This could even be for just one day or lesson a week.
UNICEF. Inclusive Education. Read it here.