Westwind school division, as I write this post, lists 4494 students across all schools and all grades. The success of our division rests upon the success of 4494 individual stories that come together to form a collective measure – not an average mind you but a measure of growth, achievement, completion and not quite yet but still working on it and that all works toward being our very best individually and collectively.
In one of the great classic movies of all time “A Princess Bride” a minor villain repeatedly uses the word “inconceivable” at one point a supporting “hero” makes a comment questioning his understanding:
Recently it’s been suggested that many of us struggle with our understanding of a word we use a fair bit “Inclusive” or “Inclusion” and we too may find that “it does not mean what we think it means”.
Inclusion is not “Inconceivable”
Alberta Education has recently developed a series of new videos which seek to clarify what inclusion is and what it is not. It is about all students belonging and learning. It is very much not “having an inclusive education class” rather it is about moving everyone’s thinking to ensure all students who come in all different shapes, sizes, races, cultures, genders, and gender identities, abilities and interests feel valued, supported, included and sustained in their efforts to become the very best version of themselves. Inclusion is absolutely not a one size fits all program, what will work for this student will not necessarily work for another – it is personalized and grounded in a belief or value system anchored on individual worth. All adults in an inclusive system accept responsibility to find the keys to successful learning for each student.
Consider the words of Temple Grandin “People are always looking for the single magic bullet that will totally change everything. There is no single magic bullet. I was very lucky to receive a very good early intervention with very good teachers starting at age 2 1/2 years. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a good teacher. A good teacher is worth he or her weight in gold.” (Grandin, 1996 as quoted in “You’re going to live this kid” by Paula Kluth)
Hiam Ginott summarized the mindset of a teacher in an inclusive environment and he did it in 1972. I would suggest that a similar attitude for a successful inclusive environment is required from all adults and ultimately all students if an entire system is to foster an inclusive culture that permeates the entire community. Ginott wrote:
“I have come to the conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or de-humanized. (as quoted in “You’re Going to Love this Kid” by Paula Kluth.
A critical partner in the entire inclusive education environment are the education assistants. Consider how this new Alberta Education video presents the role of the education assistant in an inclusive education environment.
The Dot…could have gone either way
Fundamental to this entire conversation is coming to see the strengths rather than focus upon the weaknesses or disparities in each student. Consider the power of the message in the animated story, The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds How are we modeling to students and each other that we believe in the potential of the one – make that each and every one. What if the teacher had responded with “fine” and walked away in response to Vashti? Sometimes as parents and teachers we respond to the button pushing with all the reason we can muster, other days can be a struggle. Hang in there, look for the good and push/support to draw out the best in each other.
The Myth of Average
In a less inclusive world the focus falls upon things like averages and being above or below with associated limits often following. Assessments and measures often focused primarily upon shortfalls have lead to streaming and often working at either addressing the shortfall or simply establishing lower expectations and at least the perception of limited paths.
If I’m being honest with myself my profile – as an athlete, as a parent, as a student, as a husband, as a coach, as a teacher, as an administrator, for anything really, is far from “average”. I wonder if any of us could realistically define average in any of those categories and as was illustrated in the talk if you could find an average no one would actually exist who could truly fit that average. So set average aside and let’s see what we can do to help people be their very best – work to include the edges, celebrate the differences.
The Jagged Profile of a learner – what’s yours look like – what about the student(s) you work with?
Aren’t we all grateful that people saw past our shortcomings and took a chance on us?
Support growth, focus on strengths, and change the mindset, ours and those we work with.
Students provide the voice as they discuss their experiences as students who may be gifted in one area but not necessarily in all subjects or even all forms of work within the same subject – jagged profiles personified? In an inclusive environment we need to do all we can to foster the gifts each student brings to our classroom, and recognize that precious few are gifted in all areas. Find a way to give every student a victory as often as possible.
A focus on strengths and the importance of all students is foundational in an inclusive school community. Consider this except from Paula Kluth’s “You’re going to love this kid!” (p.65..if you have a copy) the contrast of a deficit diagnosis model and an inclusive strengths based conversation. Inclusion conversations aren’t all dreams in the sky, shortfalls are often extremely evident – can’t miss them really but using those as a rationale for setting limits on the student, that might be where we need to work. Remember even IQ test scores (particularly on young one’s) are significantly impacted by the ability to communicate – a heck of a lot more might be going on in the mind of a student than what they are able to communicate. Where’s our focus and what’s it doing to help our students (all of them) succeed?
Be the Difference
In all our lives there are teachers, teacher assistants, coaches, other adults and peers who make a difference one way or the other in our lives – the concept of neutral seems unlikely to me, if I think I don’t make a difference I can be sure it’s not a positive one but the lost opportunity to improve the situation is a lost opportunity. So many factors come into play but at the foundation is a personal belief in the potential of every student and a determination to see the good. Consider these two examples: first from Finding Forrester the high school teacher has a hard time accepting or seeing the potential of a student contrasted with the unwavering drive to push, pull, support and draw out the best from a student in a short scene from Dead Poet’s Society.
In Finding Forrester the teacher ends up accusing the student of cheating, the student displays moral fortitude and ability far beyond what the teacher can see and is ultimately cleared of all wrong doing and proven to be an excellent student.
From Dead Poet’s we see a teacher who sees so much more in the student than the student sees in himself. Relationships of trust are strengthened and a way to succeed with active feedback pulls the best from the student…a success that is reinforced in appropriate measures of congratulations.
About exceptions and “miracles” to meet the needs of the jagged profile. Today needs to be everyone’s day.
Who made the difference for you? Who made the difference for someone you care about? Who made the difference for someone you’ve read about? Differences good and bad are made in the lives of everyone you know every day. Is there a limit on miracles? I’m pretty sure it starts with a bit of patience AND maybe a bit of a shift in our definition of miracle and the belief that everyone has something to learn everyday can’t hurt.
Ever walk into a shop or store and see some form of the sign above. In an inclusive education system we work toward ensuring that every day is the day for every student and staff member for that matter. We certainly don’t want our students or staff thinking they might get lucky and catch the support and attention of those they are working with one day in 200.
Let’s consider a couple of examples:
Ido Kedar has written a book – lots of people write books, but more people don’t and not too many people who write a book were previously diagnosed as severely autistic. From his website we read:I am an autistic guy with a message. I spent the first half of my life completely trapped in silence. The second – on becoming a free soul. I had to fight to get an education. Now I am a regular education student. I communicate by typing on an iPad or a letter board. My book, “Ido in Autismland” is now available on Amazon. It is an autism diary, telling the story of my symptoms, education, and journey into communication. I hope to help other autistic people find a way out of their silence too. Ido’s blog can be found here http://idoinautismland.com/
How do you define hopeless? Check out Nick Vujicic’s definition overcoming physical disability and some pretty exclusive mindsets growing up
Cerebral Palsy takes many forms – a spectrum of impacts on individuals here’s Maysoon Zayid who shares her story, as she says “I got 99 problems…palsy is just one”
Jacob (Jake) Barnett’s story as shared by his mother in The Spark. Jake’s presentation at Tedx – a little energetic to be sure, a different spot on the autism spectrum.
Look Me in the Eye – the story of John Elder Robison
John struggled in school significantly with what at the time was an unknown or undefined condition which would come to be known as Aspergers today its a component of being on the autistic spectrum. He led an amazing life as a high school dropout who couldn’t fit in and shares some thoughts on an organic education in this presentation.
Dr. Baniel maintains a youtube channel sharing the story of several clients and students who have overcome a wide range of challenges.
The Team – Every member makes a difference it’s not easy, but it’s clearly easier when we are all committed to ensuring we are inclusive in our support of each other and all students. Be the difference and make a positive difference in the lives of all those we work with.