Popping The Top Off This “Inclusion” Can Of Worms

Have you ever read an article that you can’t get out of your head? This is what happened to me earlier this week when someone shared with me this article about the “illusion of inclusion.” This blog post is not going to provide a solution to the problem mentioned in the article, nor is it going to provide a one-sided viewpoint, but it is going to highlight a few different perspectives that have come to light since I read Blanch’s article

When I first read Time To Stop Hiding Behind The Illusion Of Inclusion In ClassroomsI felt angry. I think my own experiences of being identified with a learning disability have made me very vocal about the importance of programming for all students. I believe strongly that “every child can learn,” and when we provide the opportunities and environment for this learning to happen, we see student growth. Over my 15 years teaching for the school board, I’ve supported three students in attending special classes. These decisions were never easy. I wanted to believe that a regular class placement would meet their needs, but smaller numbers, more intensive support, and more individualized programs made special classes — in these cases — the better option. But is a special class the right option for all students with special needs? Would we see more growth in students if the number of needs did not exceed the amount of adult support?

I am very conflicted on the answer to this last question. Over my time teaching in the Board, I’ve been in situations where I’ve wondered about this.

  • I’ve questioned if the learning environment is best for everyone.
  • I’ve wondered if more E.A. (Educational Assistant) support would make a difference or if too many adults in the room is only counterproductive.
  • I’ve questioned how to meet academic benchmarks when the learning needs go beyond academic areas.

I’ve brought problems home with me, and I’ve felt the strain on my own mental health and well-being. And one day, in one of these situations, I made a decision that was incredibly hard for me (as someone who believes strongly in the value of curriculum expectations and wants to meet and/or exceed Board benchmarks): I walked into an administrator’s office and said, “My students may not meet the reading goals because developing self-regulation and problem solving skills, need to come first.” This principal understood. He supported me in my decision, and I think, slowly saw the growth in the students over the course of the year. 

I wonder if part of the problem is that we tend to define “learning” with only academic parameters, but what about the learning skills? At the Bring I.T. Together Conference the other day, I had a great conversation in the afternoon with three different educators: two from our Board and one from another Board. We spoke about the line that many of us have probably uttered before and many of us believe: “we teach children first.” I used to think that I supported this belief, but I’m now wondering if I really looked at the child first or just looked at the child under a curriculum-focused umbrella. I’m not saying that curriculum doesn’t matter. It absolutely does. But what if the children are not ready for the expectations of that grade? What if their other learning needs mean that we need to focus on something before academics? I wonder if we all need to give ourselves permission to do so, and in a mark-driven, data-driven system, is it a struggle to do just that?

As I wonder about this, I also think about the blog post that I read by Joanne Babalis this morning. In it, she talks about the hundred languages of children. This is something that I’ve heard a lot about as a Kindergarten teacher — especially one inspired by the Reggio approach — but rarely as a teacher of other grades. I can’t help but wonder if the hundred languages might help us out in these more complex classroom situations. Is part of the problem that we’re too limited in how students share their thinking? I wonder if more options might allow all students to show just how much they know, for if the view of the child in the finalized Kindergarten Program document is of “children as competent and capable of complex thinking,” would this (or should this) not hold true for all other grades?

Blanch shares some very interesting thinking in her article, and over the years, when student needs seem to have exceeded available supports, I’ve wondered about some classroom makeups. I also know though that these most challenging teaching situations have made me better able to deal with some smaller challenges that I face today.

  • They forced me to learn more about self-regulation: both for myself and for students.
  • They led me to see the value in modelling behaviour and making learning skills a priority. 
  • They helped me figure out what “differentiated instruction” really means: not just as a term, but as a way of life in the classroom.
  • They helped me realize the value in teaching empathy, and how much empathy students can show for each other.
  • They helped me realize that there are other ways to explain thinking beyond writing, and that we need to explore these other ways and allow children to do the same.
  • They helped me realize that we are not — and never need to be — working in isolation, and that by teaming with people online and in our buildings, we can better meet the needs of all students.
  • They gave me a new perspective that helped me redefine some future challenges as a little less challenging than I initially thought. 

Are these reasons enough to reconsider our current approach to inclusion (which I think aligns with much shared in this article)? I’m not sure … but this article definitely has me continuing to wonder about our current model, how we measure student growth and success, and how we can better support all students. What do you think? I think it’s time to pop the top off this inclusion can of worms.


2 thoughts on “Popping The Top Off This “Inclusion” Can Of Worms

  1. Such a critical post Aviva. We had a twitter exchange recently about FDK and how some practices (forest learning) really challenged some of the students we support at our organization. Also the idea around differentiating instruction is critical here (truly student focused, addressing learning and affective needs). I agree we have to think hard about the curriculum, goals, instruction and assessment. Also we need to think about support staff/EA’s and engaging them more with the student and in the relationship, while considering their management style as well. As “control agents” in the classroom, quiet, stillness and compliance is expected, sometimes creating tension in the adults and the students. Promoting the success of ALL learners is fundamental- but too often our students with learning and mental health issues are being left behind. Inclusion is equitable participation…full inclusion will look different for every student in every classroom. Maybe we are moving towards “universal design” rather than special education. Creating spaces for all to learn. Thank you for writing on this topic and opening the discussion.

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Laura! I couldn’t agree with you more. We have a forest connected to our school, and the learning that takes place there is incredible. This is such an important space for some of our most challenging of students, and here, with the space and the outdoors, everyone truly does seem to be successful. I was speaking to someone recently about a “universal design for learning,” and I think this is where we may be heading. You really get us to think about some important issues here. I hope others chime in with what they think and what they’ve tried.


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