4 Fool-Proof Inclusive Education Strategies All Teachers Need ASAP

4 Fool-Proof Inclusive Education Strategies All Teachers Need ASAP
While eliminating or significantly reducing small-group classrooms is a great future goal, there are steps that need to be taken first. Image from Unsplash
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Tim Villegas March 23, 2020

It's one thing to talk about how inclusion is beneficial, but in order to demonstrate evidence of growth for students in both special and general education, you need to actually practice it.

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My journey to becoming an advocate for inclusive education began with teaching in a “special day class,” a segregated special education classroom. I taught a class that was designed specifically for students on the autism spectrum, so at first, I was skeptical about including my students with their nondisabled peers—but once I started, I didn’t want to stop. While I eventually came to know that inclusive education provided better post-school outcomes for students with any disability category, it can be difficult to advocate for inclusion when you’re the only staff member who knows this or wants to do something about it.

If you are a special education teacher who is in this challenging position, here are some tips that may help you to begin including your students in general education. It’s one thing to talk about how inclusion is beneficial, but in order to demonstrate evidence of growth for students in both special and general education, you need to actually practice it.

Focus on Student Strengths

Whenever you are considering moving a student from a segregated environment to a more inclusive setting, the student’s strengths should be the first thing on your radar.

For example, I once worked with a fourth-grade student, Greg, who had excellent multiplication skills. Many students this age do not yet have a mastery of multiplication, and so, as I started to think about what part of the day he should be included in a typical classroom, math was a natural choice.

On one of the first days that Greg and I went to math class in the general education fourth-grade classroom, the teacher called a few students to the board to answer multiplication equations. Greg (who had little functional communication and mostly spoke in scripts), went up the board and stated the equation, “7 x 7 equals 49!” There was an audible gasp as the students clapped for Greg, as if they’d just seen him perform a magic trick.

Greg’s inclusion in this classroom and for this activity was fantastic, but it also showed how little the students thought of his skills. I realized that my students needed to be more visible within the school community.


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Start Small

Even after years of including my students in general education, it always started with a small action. It would not have been successful if I rolled up to the principal and said, “I have a plan to get rid of self-contained classrooms for special education, tomorrow.”

So, while eliminating or significantly reducing small-group classrooms may be a future goal, I know that there are steps that need to be taken first.

For example, if your school doesn’t already include students in specials (music, art, PE, technology, STEM/STEAM), that could be an excellent place to start. When I taught in California, the regular classroom teachers were responsible for these subjects. At one point, the school contracted with a Physical Education instructor—so I caught the instructor after school one day and asked when the best time would be for my students to attend the class.

Another idea is to make sure your class is included and invited to all school-wide events. While this may seem like a little thing, it is crucial to be invited to an assembly in the auditorium, a school dance, or a school festival. Get with the organizer of the event and talk to them about your students’ needs. There may be a way to plan the event with your students in mind, so that it will be easier for them to access it.

Get Creative With Your Scheduling

But wait a minute! How am I supposed to include my students in general education classes when they’re all with me all day?

I have accomplished this feat in different ways over the years. Most self-contained special education classrooms have multiple grades represented. So, if I taught a class with kindergarten, first, and second graders, I would find out when a typical kindergarten classroom had their morning group, and schedule my same-grade students to be included at that time.

Usually, it would mean that I (the special education classroom) would have to give up my paraprofessional for that segment of the day. Of course, it doesn’t always have to be like that. This is where communicating your vision for inclusion to your school administration is essential. If your school is on board with supporting your efforts, there may be extra support to help your students. Also, kindergarten classrooms will often already have additional support, as many schools use extra paraprofessionals in those rooms.

Another idea for scheduling is that if your students get speech and language therapy, or occupational therapy, you can utilize these services in a general education classroom setting. For instance, if a student receives social skills instruction, it makes sense for a student to be taught social skills in an environment where there are children without disabilities that can be good models for communication.

Especially for students with intellectual disabilities, generalization (the ability to use skills that a student has learned in different environments) is difficult. Rather than the common practice of taking students out of the classroom to provide therapy in a separate room, therapists can provide services in a place where it would be the most natural for students with disabilities to practice their skills, alongside their nondisabled peers.

Assume Your Students Are Capable

Above all, believe that your students are capable of being in an environment with their nondisabled peers when given the right support and accommodations. My students were most successful, regardless of their disabilities, when I included them first and then figured out what they needed to be supported. You don’t have to wait until they are “ready.” There are no prerequisites for being included.

Just do it, any way you can.

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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