Inclusion is a very important word in both special education and general education in the school setting. What exactly does inclusion mean anyways? According to the website, Special Education Guide, “Regarding individuals with disabilities and special education, inclusion secures opportunities for students with disabilities to learn alongside their non-disabled peers in general education classrooms.”
What are the advantages of inclusion?
Some would argue that being in the regular classroom is too frustrating for kids with special needs because they can’t keep up. In my opinion, the advantages of inclusion far outweigh any drawbacks.
Inclusion is key to having our students with special needs be exposed to their grade level curriculum and peers, and hopefully in turn, to learn from them as “role models.” In addition, inclusion promotes social and emotional development, because after all, school isn’t just for academics needs. Finally, inclusion promotes an increased tolerance for students in general education, rather than keeping students with disabilities isolated.
The more that students with special needs are included, the more their peers start to see them for who they are.
Inclusion can’t just happen at any time of the school day but whenever our general education and special education teachers can work together to promote inclusion opportunities for students with disabilities in the classroom, amazing things can happen!
Today we are mandated to educate students in the least restrictive environment, which means that, hopefully, kids are spending as much of their days as possible in the regular ed classroom.
Let’s look at 10 Tips for Promoting Inclusion for Students in Special Education:
#1 Recess with Peers
Students with and without disabilities should always have opportunities to attend recess together. Like I stated above, students in special education will learn social expectations from their peers in general education, not to mention free and unstructured play gives more opportunities for building friendships.
#2 Specials with Peers
Some schools offer adapted PE, art and music classes, which is fine. But there are many students , especially in the younger grades that benefit from specials with their peers. Their peers can help show them what expected behavior should look like in those more unstructured classes. I like to use visuals to help keep my students on track during specials.
#3 Give Students Opportunities to Interact with each Other
Giving students with and without disabilities opportunities to interact with each other helps to build friendships as well as a sense of community. This could even be as simple as in the hallway or lunchroom if those are the only opportunities.
#4 Join Class Meetings
If your student’s general education teacher holds a community meeting (most do a morning meeting), this is an especially great opportunity for students with special needs to join their class and be included. Most community meetings do not focus on academics but more growth-mindset and community-building activities.
#5 Differentiated Instruction
You may be lucky enough to work with an amazing general education teacher that is happy to include a student from special education in a small group for reading or math, even if they are far behind grade level. Sometimes intervention group time can be a great time of day for inclusion as well, even if the students are performing well-below where the group is at, being exposed to grade level curriculum and getting repetitive instruction on a certain skill can be very beneficial for them.
#6 Have a Positive Attitude
You are the teacher and you set the tone for expectations in your classroom. If you have a positive attitude about including students with disabilities in your class, then your students will follow suit and the experience overall will be a positive one.
#7 Read Aloud Time
There is no easier time of day to include students in special education than read aloud time, no matter the grade level. Let students sit back, relax and listen to the story with their peers.
If you teach an older grade and you ask students to answer questions or journal after reading aloud, those questions can easily be adapted to meet the needs of all learners.
You can even take it a step farther and make sure you are reading books that promote inclusion during read aloud time or throughout the school year. Taylor, an Occupational Therapist, lays out some great ideas for books about inclusion here.
#8 Teach to Different Learning Styles
This is again for the general education teacher. Vary the learning styles that you target. Use different approaches and try to cater to many different learning styles so that all students can learn. For example, one lesson you might incorporate movement and music while another you encourage students to write and draw.
#9 Give Disability Awareness Lessons
As a general education teacher, it is especially important to educate your class on different types of disabilities so that students can become more understanding of their peers with disabilities. You can learn more about books I recommend for doing this, here.
#10 Guiding Paraprofessionals
Paraprofessionals are adults that help students with special needs, either in a small group or 1:1 setting. Some students with disabilities require a paraprofessional 100% of the time, while others do not. As a paraprofessional, it is your job to help promote inclusion as well. Have your student sit by their peers and encourage back and forth conversation by helping to guide it. There are many things that you can do as a paraprofessional to help include your student with special needs! Please do not isolate them- make them walk in line with their class, have them help clean-up the art supplies like their peers. These are ALL learning opportunities for our students and are very important for their social emotional development!
The strategies that teachers use to make the regular education classroom and other school settings appropriate for students with special needs are helpful for all students. What are some other ways that you promote inclusion at your school?