Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Visual Representation of Inclusive Education

Inclusive Education, as defined and described by education experts, is a philosophy. It is not a program, nor does it happen in isolation. It can't happen in one classroom and not the other. The successful inclusion of special needs students requires the shared value system, resources and collaboration of the state/province, school district, home, school and classroom. 

Because the nature of inclusion requires so many components to it's implementation and success, it is often discussed by breaking it down into its topics and sub-topics. For example, we talk about co-teaching, differentiated learning, home-school communication, and IEPs. It is easy for people who are familiar with inclusion to know how all these pieces fit together to form an inclusive environment. However, for others, it still a mystery...a puzzle. How can a teacher with 30 students differentiate learning? Who is a co-teacher? Why does the entire school need to support inclusion?

At the suggestion of my radio show co-host, Terri Mauro, a chart depicting the components of inclusive education might be quite helpful for many of our listeners (and readers of this blogpost) in putting the pieces of the "inclusive puzzle" together. It also helps meet the need of our visual leaners :) Please keep in mind that this chart is an overview, a work in progress and you will likely need to enlarge it for reading!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Inclusion Doesn't Stop in the Classroom

Ideally, the inclusion of children with special needs should happen at all levels of school life both in the classroom and out. However, given the demands of the curriculum, the experience of the teacher and the philosophy of the school, meaningful inclusive opportunities may not exist in the classroom. If a child with special needs is faced with this situation, there are other areas of the school community where  inclusive opportunities can exist. Keep in mind however, that it may be up to the family to present these ideas to the school staff, as many schools are still learning ways in which inclusion can (and should) happen.  Here are some suggestions for opportunities for you child to be included in school life:

1. Lunchtime Clubs - chess, art, reading, and computer clubs are just some examples of the types of clubs schools offer during lunch or after school. 

2. School Plays and Productions - there are many roles and jobs for students to take in school productions either behind the scenes or on stage.

3. Choir/Band - some schools have their own music classes which offer activities outside of the music program, but districts sometimes offer them as well (which includes all the schools in area). Check with your child's school or district office for more information.

4. Sports Teams - school sports teams generally exist at lunchtime or after school. School districts may also offer district-wide sports teams.

5. School Helper  - students in older grades are often called upon to show leadership within the school. There may be a formal program in which students can participate in such as collecting attendance, making morning announcements, raising the flag, or helping with school assemblies. If a formal program is not in place, making suggestions doesn't hurt!

6. Science Fair - this may be already be a mandatory event for some classes, but if it isn't and your child has an interest in science, investigate ways in which he/she can participate.

7. Talent Show - again, there are many ways in which your child can participate whether he/she has a talent or working behind the stage.

8. Library Helper - librarians, pressured by cutbacks, usually appreciate any extra help or support in the library at lunchtime or at recess.

9. School Newspaper - the school newspaper or school newsletter offers a variety of jobs for students to do such as writing, editing, layout, illustrating, stapling and delivering.

10. Field Trips - in some instances, special education classes might not offer field trips to same locations as other classes. Ask your child's teacher or school administrator if your child can participate in a field trip in which you think would be a meaningful, educational experience. 

Asking the office staff, checking the school website and talking with other parents will also give you insight and information as to what is available for your child to participate in at school. Not only will these inclusive opportunities outside of the classroom benefit your child's social, emotional and intellectual development, it gives others the chance to learn and grow as well. Children and adults then begin to see one other as valuable and contributing members of the community.

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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Saying Good-bye to Inclusive Education?

Several months ago, Gayle Hernandez, a teacher from Burnaby, British Columbia wrote an outstanding article (which is posted on my blog) on working in a province that has successfully created an inclusive education system. You can read her post here. Less than 6 months later, she finds herself in a completely different situation.....

I am writing to share an update to my “Forming Inclusive Classrooms” article that Nicole posted on November 1, 2011.

At the moment in British Columbia teachers are working hard to negotiate a contract that will continue to support all the children placed in our classrooms, most particularly those with special (or’ extra’) needs, the numbers of which seem to be growing every year.  The contract language that protects our student learners is on the verge of being thrown out by our current government. 

The latest news is that instead of re-investing funds (in the millions) that were devastatingly stripped in 2002 along with important language around class size and composition that was carefully negotiated to ensure success for all learners, a ‘new pot’  (miniscule by comparison to what was stripped) is being put forward to fund more Education Assistants (paraprofessionals) who are  quote ‘currently undervalued’ (I say not true) and who will now be asked to run programs such as early intervention for Kindergarten students.  Our Education Assistants in general have one to two years of college education aimed at supporting children with special needs.  Our Education Assistants are amazing, of course, but not trained (with university degrees) in classroom pedagogy or learning assistance techniques as our learning assistance teachers and classroom teachers are. 

More upsetting than this is the fact that our government has announced that they plan to ‘legally’ remove the limit of a maximum 3 children with designated special or ‘extra’ needs in each classroom (with, if lucky, education assistant support) that in many recent cases barely has made meeting the needs of all learners manageable for teachers.  This decision means that administration will have to power to put as many designated students as they would like into a classroom.  As a caveat I will state that the word ‘designated’ is a nebulous one.  Only our most severe children get a label at present and there are many who need support but don’t get it because there is not funding in the system to support them.  Needed support is stretched already and our classrooms are already on the verge of unmanageable. 

Alongside this, in my mind there will be no guarantee that the children who need one on one support will get it – already I have students in my classroom who desperately need one on one support and don’t get it due to the cutbacks.  There is no promise that this will change or get better.  The potential for devastation and huge impact on the ability to meet the needs of all learners will be further compromised in a big way if this comes to fruition.  Teachers will not be able to provide a quality education for anyone.

On top of this, our government has laid out a “BC Education Plan” that presents a focus on learning through technology (which for my Kindergarten students is not very relevant as the research tells us they need to learn through in class play) and plans to take over the content of teacher professional development days that until now have been driven by teachers, schools and local districts and which allows for each school to direct school goals and teacher learning that will address the needs of each school and district which needs to be defined by the uniqueness of the students living there to be effective.  An important voice from those who know the makeup of learners and what they need is, in my opinion, about to be lost.

In the blog post I wrote for Nicole in September of 2011 I spoke very highly of a Ministry that supported me, as a teacher, in my classroom with an infrastructure, support teachers/education assistants and curriculum that valued the work I do for mainstream children as well as inclusion for those with ‘extra’ or special needs.  It appears that this support will no longer be available and I fear for the future of the amazing work we have been able to do in our classrooms.  As I stated in my September blog post, inclusion cannot be successful without an infrastructure that supports it.  We are losing this supportive infrastructure here in British Columbia quickly.

If our government moves forward with its plans I expect to see a marked decline in the education we, as educators, will be able to provide.  This makes me so sad.  For years the British Columbian education system has been ranked among the most successful in the world.

I pray every day for an outcome that will put the funds needed to continue our exemplary work in classrooms back into our system.  I also pray that our teacher autonomy does not get thrown out in the process, as this is what gives us the passion and wherewithal to persevere and continue to put countless hours into a profession that to date, has brought me much pride.

Pride is important.  It drives me to get up each morning ready to give my best (above and beyond work) to the amazing families and children I serve.  

Gayle Hernandez began her teaching career 18 years ago. She has spent 16 of the past years she has taught Kindergarten in inclusive schools. She has presented multiple workshops on the topic of Kindergarten in the Burnaby school district, has facilitated Burnaby’s Kindergarten Network for 10 years, and completed a Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education at the University of British Columbia in 2007. Gayle is passionate about inclusion and building classroom and school communities.