Three Tips to Thrive Socially Inside an Inclusive Classroom

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 3 comments

Often when discussing special education and inclusion the focus remains on educating, justifiably so too. However, the social aspect to an inclusive classroom also stands out as an important aspect. You may recall me talking with The Inclusive Class Podcast hosts Nicole Eredics and Terri Mauro on this very topic back in September. Here’s a link to refresh your memory, Growing Up with Inclusive Education.

Now back to today. Nicole offered me the privilege to provide a guest post for The Inclusive Class blog, which I eagerly accepted. I plan to use the opportunity to share three tips designed to help students with disabilities thrive socially inside inclusive classrooms. Enjoy!

Tip #1- Embrace Others’ Outgoingness

My mild case of spastic cerebral palsy led me to develop a shy personality growing up. As my teenage memoir Off Balanced documents, initiating social interaction pretty much terrified me. I felt ashamed about my disability and just wanted to blend in and be like everyone else. Interestingly enough a few classmates disregarded my shy demeanor, exhibiting friendly behavior towards me. I mention these individuals in Chapter 6 of my book.

Take for example my graphics art classmate Aaron. He regularly showed an interest in my interests, asking about an upcoming video game I always looked at online and supporting my ambition to pursue a writing career.  Yet I failed to return the favor, leaving me to flashback and wonder “What if?” What if I reciprocated his friendliness? Would we have developed a lasting friendship?  Unfortunately I will never know because I didn’t embrace Aaron’s outgoingness. Please learn from my mistake so you avoid any future “What if?”

Tip #2- Get Involved

If you recollect my appearance on The Inclusive Class Podcast, I suggested exploring extra-curricular activities as a way to assist forming friendships. Joining a student group or organization connects you to peers who maintain similar likes. People will get to know you rather than your disability. For instance, joining my high school’s student newspaper transformed me from “the kid who walks with a limp” to “the newspaper guy.”

Of course Nicole and Terri brought up an excellent point during my appearance on their show. What if the school tries to prevent you from joining your desired club or organization? Hopefully by putting yourself out there you will secure some helpful advocates. I know fellow author John W. Quinn mentions in his book Someone Like Me: An Unlikely Story of Challenge and Triumph Over Cerebral Palsy his school’s wrestling coach came very close to cutting John from the squad. Guess what though? The team’s best wrestler found out and threatened to walk off the team if the coach cut John. Respect and admiration from others can certainly go a long way.

Tip #3- Open Up

Returning to my own personal experiences, I note in Off Balanced my shyness lay rooted in my goal to hide my cerebral palsy. I remember one particular time in elementary school the school’s physical therapist came to the classroom to get me. My classmate next to me asked me, “Is that your grandmother?” I answered with a quiet but grumpy “No” before shuffling away awkwardly. At such a young age I didn’t realize the best approach involved opening up, saying “No, that’s my physical therapist.”

Opening up and answering questions head on removes others’ curiosity, allowing them to stop dwelling on your disability and start appreciating your personality. I know I can say with 100% confidence I wouldn’t have achieved all I did in college and since without first accepting my cerebral palsy and answering questions those around me presented. To conclude, let me just state by opening up you should achieve your own success. Don’t let your disability hold you down!

Zachary Fenell is an author and freelance writer dedicated to raising disability awareness through the written word. His book Off Balanced is available on the Kindle and Nook

Additionally you can read his work online at The Mobility Resource. For more information on Zachary, visit    

10 Easy Changes Teachers Can Make to Facilitate Inclusion

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 5 comments

"Over, under, around or through find a way, or make a way" is a quote by Paula Kluth that recently reminded me of how I found ways to include all my students in a classroom activity, regardless of their ability level. I want to share one of the most successful ways that I used as a classroom teacher to facilitate inclusion. 

In order to have students aquire the same learning experiences, teachers have to be prepared for the differences in their student's abilities and learning styles. This technique is known as "differentiation". Differentiation can be created by making changes. Changes can take place in many ways in the classroom, depending on the student's needs, teacher's level of knowledge and support of school personnel. Big or little, however, change can make a difference in how students with special needs are included in the classroom.

Here are 10 easy changes teachers can make to facilitate inclusion:

Time - change the time of day the activity is planned for, the duration of activity, the time of week or even the month.

Space - change the physical seating arrangement in the class, change the environment (turn off the lights, shut the door or open the windows), change the workspace or even the room (go to the library or sit outside).

Method  change how the lesson is delivered. Use charts, music, books, props, video or posters. Stand at the front of the class, the back of the class. Have the students remain sitting at their desks, on their desks or sit at a carpeted area.
Materials  have students produce their work using crayons, markers, paint, modeling clay, computer software, cameras, popsicle sticks, or cheerios.

Product change the assignment from writing to drawing, art, music, or drama. Have students create a poster, diorama or power point presentation.

Quantity change the number of questions, length of assignment, amount of homework, or ask for odd-numbered answers only.

Groupings  change how the students are grouped for the lesson. Will they work in pairs, small groups or be independent?  Will the student work with a teacher, a paraprofessional or other support personnel?

Grade  change the grade-level expectations of the activity. Go down a grade or up a grade depending on the students ability.

Teacher yes, change the teacher! Ask the Special Ed teacher to deliver the lesson, a co-teacher, the principal, a parent, or another student.

Resources  change the resources you use for class activities.  Look for new textbooks, web sites, on-line teaching communities and experts. One small, new idea can lead to something big!

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