The Value of Inclusive Education for All Students
Inclusive Education and successful inclusive schools are not just good for some students, it’s practice that’s good for all students. Time and time again we have seen that the same principles that make inclusive education work for students with disabilities, provide other students in the very same classroom with benefit. Being exposed to diverse ways of thinking and diverse learning styles prepares students for life after school. At the very core of school life is the focus on preparing students for life after school. There is no separate class of life after school, therefore, separate classrooms should only be used when absolutely necessary and for an interim period with specific purposes and goals. When a student is in a more restrictive environment the active goal of the school based team should be to provide the student with interventions and skills that allow him or her to return as promptly as possible to their peers and to greater exposure and access to the curriculum.
Universal design in education gives students with disabilities access in a natural and inclusive manner, but also is evidence based in reaching and teaching all students- let’s face it, we all learn differently and hold areas of weakness. Children learn compassion, empathy and go from simply accepting disability to embracing the inclusion of all members of their school. Inclusive Education puts in perspective that there is not a set standard of what intelligence is, that intelligence comes in many different forms and if we can appreciate what someone has to bring to the table and integrate that strength into the classroom, we are all better for it. This way of thinking helps promote healthy self esteem and self concept for all students. The idea is that one must not meet a certain standard or first be like others to be included. This puts things in perspective for other minority groups and makes it easier for students at large to embrace a world of differences from religious, to ethnic to politically diverse views.
Students with disabilities that learn in regular education classrooms often have IEP’s in place that call for collaborative efforts between the general education teacher and the special education teacher, this has been shown to have a benefit for ALL classroom learners, as the SPED teacher will often facilitate differentiated instruction in classroom centers and contributes learning materials and thinking strategies that benefit regular education struggling learners to the gifted learner. Modeling of social skills and coping strategies for emotional regulation that are proactively modeled in the inclusive classroom, are great for typical students to witness and be a part of. If we are honest, we all need mindfulness, positive self talk and better coping strategies for when life gets hard. One to one aides assigned to an IEP student, are often a great help to the class as a whole in facilitating organized small and whole group activities. The regular consultation that special education and regular education teachers partake in to make inclusive classrooms successful, improves learning outcomes for everyone. Numerous studies have shown the benefit of peer modeling/peer tutoring in the regular education classroom and that it’s serves as a beneficial practice for both the student mentor and the mentee. When we teach something to someone, we internalize and expand upon that skill ourselves.
The most intangible and meaningful aspect of inclusive education is the invaluable life lesson it teaches: that we are all counted for, included, and the message that schools have the chance to send all students and teachers- that there are no “others” in our school.
It’s critical to understand that inclusive education is NOT simply about students with and without disabilities sharing the same physical space. Inclusive education must be viewed by school communities as more than just a legal mandate*, but a venture of the heart.
When I attended a school holiday music performance for my daughter, Arielle, I witnessed an “inclusive” but divided stage and truthfully it made me uncomfortable. The self contained class that pushes into music and other special area classes was stationed on one side of the stage with their aide and the rest of the students, including my daughter, were together. I didn’t understand exactly why this practice was in place, other than it was likely always the way that things had be done- an age old practice that carried over. The subliminal message to other students in my daughter’s class was, “they are here, but they really aren’t a part of our class”. I know that adults that carry out these antiquated practices are not doing so to intentionally brainwash children to believe that they are separate and superior to their disabled peers, but yet and still this is the outcome. What I would rather have seen would have been that the six children that pushed into Arielle’s music class were placed next to role model students and that the aide stood back and provided support when needed or modeled for the children that were familiar with her face to the side of the music teacher who was directing from below the podium.
While successful inclusive education takes more upfront effort, planning and creativity from all supporting adults, it is certainly worth the effort for all students.
*The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ensure students with disabilities are education in their least restrictive environment. Go to the US Department of Educations website to read about your child’s entitlement to a Free Appropriate Education.