Written by Shelley Moore, Foreword by Leyton Schnellert
This book is a must read for all teachers, educational assistants, administrators…well basically anyone who works with and for children. I love Shelley Moore for so many reasons, she is Canadian (and from my hometown!), she is by far the most engaging speaker I have had the pleasure of seeing (5 times and counting…), but most of all, she explains inclusion, and how to do it, in a way that makes everyone want to be a better teacher. I was very excited to buy her book when it came out. It is a quick and easy read, with tons of humour and analogies that help you remember the important information.
If you want to learn more about her, check out her blog.
If at any time, you decide you must have this book, you can buy it by clicking on the cover image!
The Breakdown- Introduction and 4 Myths Debunked
I rarely read the introduction to books because I find them long and boring and often just want to get to the meat. Shelley must feel the same way because her intro is short and simply explains how she came to define inclusion, and how inclusion differs from the way a lot of schools were structured in the past and, in some cases, still function today (many schools still have a long way to go). The visuals she uses are simple, but so effective in hammering home the idea behind what inclusion is, and what it isn’t.
photos courtesy of blogsomemoore.com
The first section of the book goes on to “debunk” the following myths and assumptions that tend to come up when people talk about inclusion:
Myth #1: Inclusion is just about students with special needs
Inclusion, when done correctly should be supporting everyone! Not just the “normal” kids and not just the “special” kids. In this section, Shelley spends a lot of time talking about the difference between tolerance and acceptance. Inclusion is not about tolerating kids who are different it is about celebrating the differences of others and finding ways to learn from each other! I loved reading this section because I have always hated the word “tolerance”. It is so negative and supports the idea of inequity, implying that the person being “tolerated” is somehow less valuable than the person doing the “tolerating”. If you try to be inclusive with an attitude of tolerance, it is almost guaranteed (in my opinion) you will fall short, because there is always an underlying assumption that some people are better than others.
Myth #2: Integration is the same as Inclusion
This is something I have been guilty of in the past. Until I attended my first Shelley Moore session, I assumed that integration and inclusion were the same. While integration is a good first step towards inclusion, it can’t stop there. In this section Shelley helps us understand what inclusion is by first outlining what it isn’t. She provides examples of segregation, integration and exclusion that make it very easy to assess what we might be doing (with the best of intentions) that are actually pushing us away from being fully inclusive in our schools and classrooms.
Simply put, Shelley calls segregation, integration and exclusion “forced containers” where students are basically told where they should and shouldn’t be and who they should and shouldn’t associate with. She goes on to describe inclusion as “the only one of the four that is a voluntary community”. In other words, it is allowing space for people to come together and providing them with some choice about whether or not they want to be there.
So what is the goal? What is our vision for education? …It is important to recognize [the] extension beyond the physical location. If integration is the space, inclusion is the bringing together of students in that space to learn from, and build upon, their strengths and the strengths of others.
Myth #3: Inclusion happens in a specific place and at a specific time
This myth stems from the belief that integration is the same as inclusion, but as the quote above points out, integration is about space and inclusion is about community. Here Shelley talks about how important it is to ensure students understand the purpose of each space that is used in the school. Often we assume that this is common knowledge, this is especially true as students progress through the grades. Instead of assuming that students automatically know what is expected of them in each setting, it is important to review and teach the necessary skills and expectations for each context.
Shelley elaborates on this idea by talking about three purposes that all students negotiate and that are constantly shifting depending on the space and context they are in. They are the personal purpose, the intellectual purpose and the social purpose and are always present no matter where students find themselves.
Personal purposes are goals related to the specific child that help them be successful in a given setting. This can include specific behaviours and goals will vary from child to child (and space to space) depending on the specific skills that student may or may not have. For example, a student who is extremely disorganized, may have the goal of arriving to class with the necessary materials, while another student who struggles with tardiness may set the goal of arriving on time.
Social purposes involves setting goals around how they interact with others in various settings. Are they able to communicate effectively with others? Are they painfully shy? Hypersensitive? Not sensitive enough? Again, this will differ from student to student depending on their level of emotional and social intelligence.
Intellectual purposes are goals that allow students to play a role in the learning environment. This is where the academic expectations come in, and again will vary between students and contexts.
The most important thing to remember about these three processes is that they are intertwined. Each purpose has an effect on the others, and students are constantly working on balancing them.
Myth #4: Inclusion must take place 100 percent of the time and in 100 percent of the places
The debunking of this myth is where I was able to take a huge sigh of relief (that’s right, let it out…ahhhh). Shelley acknowledges that it is not possible. In fact, trying to “do” inclusion all of the time would likely bring us back to integration, because there would always be times when you would have to force the diverse members of the school community to stay together. Shelley makes this case by pointing out that people have a natural tendency to flock to people who are similar to them (similar interests, abilities, hobbies, etc…) if you walk into any school, you will see students grouped together. There are the athletes, the artists, the musicians, the book worms… In the case of students with special needs, there are times when they need to be taken out of class to receive special services, and other times where they may not want to participate due to certain sensitivities, or inability to cope with the situation.
The most important lesson from this section is that students should not begin receiving supports because they are failing. Students need access to supports before they fail, and these supports should be available to everyone, not just the kids who have special coding. This idea of universal design is not new, but as teachers, we need to be more intentional about creating more access to supports for all students. Shelley goes into more detail about how to do this later in the book, and if you go to her blog under handouts or look at her resources section, you can find templates and ideas of how to do this with your specific curriculum. Another important thing to consider is that universal design helps eliminate the stigma around supports.
Another important lesson to bring back to the classroom is that we need to start seeing our classes as a family. All students need to feel as if they belong and are being supported and celebrated by all members.
What does it mean to be a family? We know where other family members are, we start together, we end together, and we support each other’s strengths along the way”
Ultimately, the myth of 100% inclusion 100% of the time is false. What we need to remember is that we need to offer choice, make supports available to all students before they fail, and create a learning environment where all strengths are celebrated and everyone is learning from each other.
I am going to leave you here for now…if you are interested in reading this book you can buy it here.
In the mean time, think about the following: In what ways are you ensuring that all students have access to supports? How can you improve? As teachers it is our duty (and pleasure!) to ensure high levels of learning for all students. In order for that to happen, we need to make school a safe and caring space, where students feel empowered and supported in their learning.
If you have already read the book and have insights I missed please comment below! I would love to hear from you!
My next post will cover the second section of this book, so stay tuned!