For any of you who have followed this blog over the years you know I have an up and down battle with inclusion, that usually ends with the closing thought "there are no easy answers. Each kid needs something different, inclusion can't be something we just do, it needs to be thoughtfully put into place".
After a year teaching in a program for students with intellectual disabilities I've seen even more shades of gray within the inclusion movement. I've seen children thrive because they are now in a small environment getting the exact instruction they need, while I've seen other children lose out on an opportunity to be exposed to more academics. And if we aren't exposed to something- aren't taught something- we will never learn it. So not including children can put an automatic cap on their ability to learn.
Then again, if we include children for the sake of inclusion we overlook other skills they need to be able to be successful with higher level academics. This in turn lets us have low expectations for them because we think "Great, Johnny can sit on the carpet with his general education peers and look at the teacher. We don't think he'll actually learn it because they are talking about reading strategies and Johnny still doesn't know his ABCs, but at least he's with the group."
Inclusion shouldn't just be for the sake of social interactions with general education peers. If we are able to be deliberate in our opportunities for inclusion we can build academic and social skills in a gen ed environment. We may need to pre-teach some academic skills, we may need to spend time strengthening essential knowledge so that our children can be successful when they are pushed in. We may need to look at how we can take a higher level general education lesson and put in deliberate questions, an off-shoot activity, and adapted materials that will make it work.
What I saw this past year was that children we didn't think would ever be able to be included during the school day- in music, PE, or art- rose to the challenge because we gave them the challenge. We set the expectation that they would be a part of the school community, we gave them the support they needed, we pre-taught skills and analyzed what wasn't working- and our kids shone.
Because of their inclusion in the gen ed specials our students learned how to behavior around their peers, how to handle loud noises in larger environments, and how to deal with distractions in a way that allowed us to push them into their general education classrooms for actual, meaningful academic blocks. Successfully. And often my students did better academically in their gen ed environments than they did in my room working on the same academics.
We have a limited amount of time during the day when we can reach our students- and we have so much to cram into those hours. Every moment is accounted for, whether it is teaching life skills, learning to learn behaviors, or academics. We don't have time for inclusion for inclusions sake, but we also don't have time to not include because it doesn't fit into our schedules, or is too much of a threat to our current working models.
It's something every school fights- the right balance between including all students and meeting each students' needs. The balance can't lie within the school policy, but instead within the students themselves (what do the students in front of me need?) with educators making meaningful and informed decisions about their students' growth.