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The First Step Towards Inclusive Education

Alison discusses inclusive education and how we need to ensure we are being inclusive of everyone in our class

The First Step Towards Inclusive Education

A while back, as part of my NQT training in Ireland, I took a course on “Inclusive Education.” As a side note, this was a mandatory module as part of the long and arduous road towards attaining the QTS status, and so, you can imagine that more often than not, the participants were not too keen on having to attend. But by the end of the session, it was difficult to complain. We had learnt so much about the students we see every day, as well as ourselves and our own approaches to teaching.

What exactly is inclusive education, you might ask? Well, it’s exactly what it says on the proverbial tin – how can we, as teachers, be more inclusive towards those children that need that extra little bit of support in order to reach their potential? When we think of the students we need to be wary of including in our lessons, we often think of those who have some kind of social or intellectual hindrances, predominantly those students who have been labelled as having special educational needs. While of course this is absolutely true, it is also vital that we realise it is not only these students we need to focus on including in our classroom.

I remember that one of the exercises we partook in as part of this training workshop really allowed us to visualise what it is like for a child to feel marginalised and isolated in the classroom. It worked like this:

Some volunteers took a scrap of paper describing a child who they would then need to portray to the rest of the participants. The trainer asked us to stand at the back of the room and, with our child in mind, step forward if we could answer positively to a series of questions. For example, “do you have many friends in your classroom?” or “do you get much help with your homework at home?” If the answer to any of these was ‘yes’, we stepped forward. If the answer was ‘no’, we would remain where we were. Whilst some of the volunteers plodded onwards, many of us were left behind.

Some of those left behind were SEN children. Some of them had a difficult upbringing, or had very little in the way of support or intellectual nourishment at home. Some of them were abused, but less obviously so. Some of the children were incredibly gifted, and therefore were often unstimulated by the work they practiced at school. In fact, about three-quarters of the thirty-odd participants were left standing at the back of the metaphorical classroom.

So what is it I am trying to demonstrate here? I think the message I took away from this training was that in order to be inclusive educators, we need to be inclusive of everyone in the class. This is an incredibly difficult thing to achieve. I think the first step is in realising that among us, there are many differences – differences in how we learn, differences in how we approach problems, differences in our lives outside school, differences in our character traits and dispositions. All of these differences make us unique, and they should be celebrated rather than used as a means to segregate us from each other. I truly believe that school is a particularly advantageous platform upon which our uniqueness and our individuality can be cherished, and for that reason, it is our duty as educators to make sure this happens. It may be simple – ensuring that all students are treated fairly, for example. Or it may involve a little more work – creating a lesson on how each student is an individual, and how this is not only ‘OK’ to be different, but great! Because of this, there is no single prescriptive recipe on how to do this.  However you approach it, account for those differences in your students, revere them, and the rest will hopefully follow.

“All greatness of character is dependent on individuality. The man who has no other existence than that which he partakes in common with all around him, will never have any other than an existence of mediocrity.” – James F. Cooper

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Tags: AlisonB, Ireland, London

Category: Australian Teachers

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