Activating Inclusion

The following is an interesting reflection on inclusion from the perspective of an educator, written by William Hughes, educational consultant and superintendent of the Greendale Wisconsin School District.

Inclusion and participation of youth with disabilities in school, employment, social, community, and leadership activities is vital to their future success and achievement of their life goals.  Inclusive schools are higher achieving schools; places where young people develop the skills they need to live fulfilled adult lives.

The involvement of youth and young adults with disabilities is a vital component of schools with better student achievement. These schools include parents in decisions, administration of services, and establishment of policies. Inclusion of parents and youth at all levels is an important step to teaching and learning, to supporting the independence of youth, and to ensure that services are as effective in their neighborhood school.

Leaders of schools with higher achievement know the importance of inclusion for youth with disabilities.  Research validates the comprehensive, positive aspects of inclusion which include decreasing risky behaviors and psychological problems, and increasing the likelihood of:

  • Achieving successful transition to adulthood,
  • Developing deeper connections to their communities and peers,
  • Feeling more in control of their lives,
  • Achieving better academic outcomes,
  • Increasing self-esteem and personal identities, and
  • Improving life skills and decision-making by students

Why Inclusion?
Inclusive schools are places where children are educated together, with support and services following the child into the school they would attend if they didn’t have a disability. Research indicates children with disabilities learn from their typically developing peers and that all children benefit from support and services.

Inclusion of children with intellectual disabilities and their families in schools and community settings is rooted in the concept of equity. Two components of inclusion are enrollment in their neighborhood school and participation. Youth with disabilities do not require different activities or experiences for learning to occur. They need specific, individualized supports comprised of evidence-based instructional strategies (e.g. adaptations, individualized instructional strategies, modified curriculum and/or environment, and weaving interventions into routines) to benefit from learning in class. High-quality teaching and a good school climate for all children require coordinated efforts across the school, including child care, general education, special education, health care, mental health, and social services. Collaboration is the key to achieving high-quality inclusive services.

School leaders are responsible for improving student achievement; creating a positive climate of inclusion across classrooms and activities to impact learning and connection of students to the school. Parents and school leaders must advocate and activate inclusive schools to improve education for all children and youth, and foster the sense of belonging that every person desires. Accomplished leaders in higher performing schools focus on what is best for every child – activating inclusion, better student achievement, and developing students who understand their responsibility to others. Inclusive schools create a culture of civility that reaches beyond the walls of the classroom.

Inclusive schools are activated with three tactics:

  • First:  School Leaders need to recognize errors from past efforts that didn’t work and side step them so they don’t repeat them.
  • Second:  School leaders know a school community is influenced by the behavior of those around us – shared stories, common expectation and the need for cooperation.
  • Third:  School leaders use the better human nature – the profoundly moral – shaped by value judgments deeply held beliefs, and assertions that we know right and wrong.

Inclusion is right. They make youth better, develop a sense of responsibility and activate them to be a contributing member of society. We all want to feel, included. We know that we all need to feel like we are included – and when students are part of an inclusive community or school they learn more.