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Inclusion Column

Inclusion - Think you know what it means?

In my role as a principal, I have the privilege of going into many classrooms, meeting with lots of students and speaking with adults (teachers and parents) about learning. Some of my chats and visits have be focused on the topic of inclusion. For the last few years, ASFM has been growing in its understanding about this topic. So what does it mean to be inclusive? There are different perspectives on this ideology and practice. To be abundantly clear: Every class at ASFM should be practicing inclusivity. Let me explain.

The word ‘inclusion’ denotes involvement and empowerment, where the dignity of all people is recognized. Inclusivity promotes and sustains a sense of belonging; to feel accepted. It also values and practices respect for the beliefs, talents, and backgrounds of its members. When inclusion is defined in this way, shouldn’t all learning spaces honor this?

I sometimes hear statements like, “That’s the inclusion class” and “That class has the inclusion kids in it” or “The inclusion program is good for our school.” I hope today’s message brings another level of understanding about inclusion and how each of us can take steps to feeling as though we, ourselves, are inclusive of one another and the awareness that ASFM is trying to accomplish around inclusivity. Here are some things to consider and know:

First: There is no inclusion class. Empathy, kindness, tolerance and understanding are for everyone. All classes need to be inclusive. Period. Educators, ASFM parents and students must ensure that all individuals are welcome and seen as contributing, valued members of the school community. For example, the girl in the photo to the right wanted to find her Spanish Teacher to give her an early birthday gift. The i on her costume means INCREDIBLES yet this time it meant INCLUSIVE!

Second: The fact that we have students with needs that are more visible than others can easily imply that the inclusion class is down hall or in that grade level. Indeed, we do have students at our school who are exceptional for many reasons. An inclusive education happens when all students, regardless of any challenges they may have, are placed in age-appropriate or content related classes…. to receive high quality instruction, interventions, and supports that enable them to meet success in the core curriculum (Bui, Quirk, Almazan, & Valenti, 2010; Alquraini & Gut, 2012). After all, every child can learn. The fact is that some people just require more support and more time than others. Other students require general instruction to succeed. Isn’t this true of everyone at some point in our lives?

Third: The ASFM faculty is embarking on a journey of bringing inclusion-related professional practices to the forefront of what we do as educators - policy, pedagogy and practice. You may be aware that we have a cohort of teachers receiving specific training that can help meet the needs of exceptional learners or children with special needs. When a child with special needs is part of a class, teachers must have an awareness of the components of inclusive classrooms specific to these needs. These components provide the foundation necessary for creating a safe and welcoming school community where individual differences are valued and embraced. These components include leadership, a healthy classroom climate, family involvement, collaborative practices, specific instructional practices, and supplementary services. This week, we welcome back professor, author and researcher, Lee Ann Jung, from leadinclusion.org, to help guide teachers doing a deep dive into inclusion, diversity and high quality educational practices.

Mostly, this journey of inclusion is for everyone. It is meant to bring a sense, a feeling, a mindset of a basic building blocks of humanity - to help others to feel like they belong. The mindset of inclusion refers to the idea that being welcoming is a priority, and small changes can make a big difference. Want to learn how? Try these things: Smile and greet someone you haven’t yet met; tell someone that his or her presence is important; ask a question to open up dialogue; offer a helping hand; avoid judgment; and let someone know that you are there for them. Keep these in mind and we might all find the inclusivity makes each of us feel pretty good. If you have a comment about inclusion, tweet it to @ASFMELEM or @ASFM_official, or contact us on Instagram to let us know your experience with inclusion.

Joe Stanzione
Elementary Principal