8 Tips for Introducing a Student with Disabilities to a General Education Classroom

Thursday, September 28, 2017 1 comment
8 Tips for Introducing a Student with Disabilities to a General Education Classroom

Originally written for the Friendship Circle of Michigan. For more articles about children with disabilites go to www.friendshipcircle.org.

Inclusive classrooms are becoming far more common in our public schools. There are greater numbers of students with disabilities receiving their education in general education classrooms. The National Center for Education Statistics notes that the number of students with disabilities who spend most of their day in the general education classroom has gone from 33 percent in 1990 to 62 percent in 2014.

Transitioning students with disabilities from self-contained special education classrooms to inclusive general education classrooms is not an overnight process. It requires thoughtful planning. Teacher training, appropriate student supports, resources, personnel, and a meaningful individual educational program need to exist prior to the new class placement.

It’s also important to remember that if the child with disabilities has never experienced an inclusive education, then chances are, neither has his or her peers. Students in the general education class might be curious about the situation, may feel anxious about having a student with disabilities in their class, or have misconceptions about students with disabilities.

Here are some tips to help facilitate a smooth transition for students with disabilities to the inclusive education classroom. These tips are also helpful for preparing the general education students for their new classroom member:

1. Establish Basic Principals

Establish general concepts about students with and without disabilities through class discussions, books, movies or a guest speaker. Primarily, teach students that:
  • Everyone wants to belong and be included
  • Everyone is different
  • Everyone has areas of strengths and areas of weaknesses

2. Let Each Student Share

Give all students an opportunity to talk about themselves, their strengths and interests. Allow others to ask questions. (Make sure you talk about the types of questions that can be asked prior to the activity.)

3. Dispell Myths

Dis-spell any myths and misunderstandings about students with disabilities. Most importantly:
  • Some disabilities you can see and some you can’t
  • A physical disability does not determine a person’s intelligence
  • People with disabilities are people first

4. Address The Challenges

Address student-specific issues that are important for the class to know about in order to interact and learn alongside each other. For example, if a student has a peanut allergy, invite the class nurse in to talk about allergies and the importance of keeping peanut products out of the classroom. If the student with disabilities communicates with an iPad, have the student (parent and/or paraprofessional) give a demonstration.

5. Talk About The People We Know With A Disability

Point out that 1 in 5 Americans has a disability (according to the Center for Disease Control). We will all live, shop, drive and work beside a person with a disability at some point in our life.

6. Highlight Famous People

Identify famous people with disabilities and highlight their contributions to society not as a source of inspiration but as an important to human growth.

7. Give Disability Awareness Lessons

Provide an opportunity for students to become more understanding of people with disabilities by giving disability awareness lessons.

8. Make A Positive Classroom Community

Establish and maintain a positive classroom community throughout the entire school year. Encourage respect for one another, the use of appropriate language, and pro-active social skills.
Remember, that discretion should be used when discussing the needs of the student with disabilities with others. A conversation with the student prior to any of the above strategies can determine how comfortable the student is with sharing information about his or her disabilities. The sharing of information is not meant to put the student with disabilities “on show”, but help others understand what the student needs in order to participate and learn in the classroom.

You Don't Think You Are an Inclusion Teacher? Think Again.

Monday, September 11, 2017 No comments

If you think that the beginning of a school year is something that only students get anxious about - think again. 

Teachers also worry about what their class will be like, how they will get up and get to school on time, and what they will eat for lunch! 

One of the biggest worries a teacher has is having to try something new. Whether it is a new grade level, a new reading program, a new grading software, or even a new school wide initiative, teachers have a myriad of concerns. Will it benefit my students? Will there be enough time? Will I be able to teach it?

Teachers can also worry about teaching students who are perceived as "different" from the general education population. They aren't sure how to include the student in their classroom activities and routines. They wonder how they will teach the student according to his or her learning needs. They are stressed about potential disruptions to the classroom curriculum and other students. When asked to teach a student with disabilities in their classroom those teachers respond with, "But, I'm not an inclusion teacher!"

If you are one of those teachers or know of a teacher who claims that they are not an inclusion teacher then my response is, "***NEWSFLASH*** YOU ALREADY ARE!


Whether you realize it or not, you are already including and teaching students with:

- various levels of abilities. Not every child in your class reads at the exact same level. Nor do they compute math, write, or act at the same developmental level. Not every child can write a complex sentence or identify all the states on a map. The fact is, your class is not a homogenous mix and every student has varying strengths.

- various learning challenges. Some students can be strong readers yet find it difficult to solve complex word problems in math. Other students demonstrate a talent for drawing and creating but struggle to understand a science concept. It is common for students to find certain subject areas more challenging than others. As teachers, we find ways to support the learning needs of those students. We provide extra instruction or time to re-do an assignment. We use visual aides and tools that enhance understanding to help students overcome their challenges. Teachers look for different ways to reach and engage learners.

- diverse learning styles. Some children in your class prefer to read text in order to learn, others like to listen to music, or even tap their pencil. You are already catering to the different learning styles in your classroom by providing students with different opportunities for learning new material. You ask them to write, read, color, draw, and create.

- different modes of communication. Not every child in your class communicates in the same manner.  Some of your students speak more than one language. English might not be their first language and they are still learning the meaning english metaphors. Some students communicate with hand gestures or body movements. Others are more in tune with the tone in which language is used. As humans, we communicate in many different ways with one another.

- different levels of social and emotional development. Just as with academics, students in our classrooms demonstrate different levels of social and emotional maturity. In our classes, students can respond differently to the same situation. For example, a student may not be willing to share colored pencils with another student. Or, a student may not show respect and respond with laughter when another student answers a question incorrectly. For others, physical aggression is the only way they know how to react to a frustrating situation. Age is never an indicator of a student's ability to handle excitement, stress, anger, or disappointment.

- various physical needs. Again, we already have students with varying types of physical needs in our classrooms. We have students with allergies, students who need to wear eye glasses, students who  are on medication, and students who don't get enough sleep. Teachers make accommodations every day in the classroom to support a student's physical development and health. 

As you can see, your class is a mixed bag of abilities and needs that you already address with your teaching style, teaching tools, and teaching supports. You are capable of using all your knowledge and resources to successfully instruct all types of students. So, when you are beginning a new school year and are asked to teach a student with disabilities, don't worry! You don't think you are inclusion teacher? Guess what? You already are!