Written by Shelley Moore, Foreword by Leyton Schnellert
In my last post I reviewed the first section of this amazing book where Shelley defines Inclusion, explains how it is different than exclusion, segregation and integration, and debunks 4 common myths about inclusion. If you haven’t read that post, you can check it out here.
If you feel like you just need to buy this book now, please click on the image below.
The Breakdown Part 2: Stories About Inclusion
This section of the book is made up of 8 stories that helps you understand the various ways inclusion can look depending on the situation, context, perspective etc…The great think about each of these sections is that the stories make it interesting to read, and becomes a mnemonic device when trying to remember what you learned.
Story 1: Under the Table
This story explains the importance of presuming competence. It reminds us that just because some students can’t communicate with us in conventional ways, doesn’t mean they don’t understand what is going on, and it certainly doesn’t mean they aren’t learning!
Shelley does an amazing job illustrating her point. So instead of butchering the story, I recommend listening to her TedxTalk. This will also give you an idea of what it is like to see her speak (which I highly recommend) but if you want to get straight to the story, go to 3:49 in the video.
Story 2: A Gay Danish?!
This story explains the importance of putting people first. Meaning that instead of defining a person by their race, culture, diagnosis, etc…we need to remember that in order to truly support our learners, we need to see them as individuals with different needs, wants and interests.
Shelley talks about society’s need to group people into categories, and acknowledges that sometimes that can be useful, but that we need to be careful with the labels we use to describe our students. We are all guilty of it, myself included, but after reading this book, I am working hard to catch myself when labelling a student, and I use Shelley’s guidelines on page 40 of her book.
Ultimately if you MUST use a label, remember these 4 things:
- Use the person first followed by the descriptor (i.e. Shelley who is gay, a kid who needs support)
- Some people prefer identity first language (i.e. people in the Deaf community) but if that is the case, they will let you know. It is will never offend people if you start with the person first.
- Using general terms like kids, people, folks, students, will never be as offensive as identifying a group by a label.
- Just use their name. This is the best way to ensure that you are using people first language.
Shelley’s final statement in this section is this:
At the end of the day, if you can remember only one thing, remember this: The only label we should use before a person’s name is our.
Story 3: A Composition
In this section, Shelley talks about the make up of the classroom. As teachers we have all heard complaints (or complained ourselves) about how the range of needs in our classes are unmanageable. I have heard many teachers complain about how it is impossible to reach all of the students in our classes because we simply don’t have the resources. While I am inclined to agree that it would be great to have smaller class sizes, or a more homogeneous group of students this is not the reality and may never be.
Shelley makes the point that instead of complaining about the diverse needs of our students, we need to shift how we think about teaching, and how we present information to students.
…it is not just students with special needs who don’t fit the mould. More and more, students struggle to find success in a paradigm that focuses on deficits rather than on ability.
We need to work on creating classrooms that cater to the strengths of the group. Shelley uses a choir analogy to demonstrate that this is not impossible. In a choir, the music is selected to highlight the composition of the choir, the music performed will vary from year to year, and all pieces are selected based on how many sopranos, altos, tenors and basses make up the choir. The choir director will also take into account the strengths of the choir. If the soprano section is still developing, the music selected will have a limited number of high notes. If there are only two basses, then the music selected will have less low sections. There is never any mention of changing a chorister’s voice, or not allowing someone in the choir because there are already too many of that specific vocal range.
As teachers we need to start thinking about how we can create learning opportunities for all students because of their diverse abilities not in spite of them. We can’t change the students who show up in our classes, but we can change our way of approaching the situation. We need to focus on what we can change, rather than the characteristics of our students.
Shelley concludes the chapter with the following list on how to advocate for inclusion:
- Inclusion needs time for collaboration to honour the diverse expertise among teachers and support staff, because we cannot support inclusion alone or in isolation.
- Inclusion needs funding to support meaningful curricular goals and plans that acknowledge alternate ways of knowing and understanding the world.
- Inclusion needs space for teachers to grow and change their professional practice to respond to the evolving structures of their classes.
- Inclusion needs relevant and diverse materials and resources to respond to the needs of the diverse students.
None of these points mentions changing the students and while we may still be lacking in a lot of these areas, advocating for these changes would be harder to argue against. After all, as an institution, our goal is to do what is best for kids. All of these points would benefit every student that walks through the door, regardless of their abilities.
Check out Shelley’s blog for ideas on how you can create lessons that highlight students’ abilities! On her site you can find tons of planning templates, but there is also a link to a webinar where she talks about this. She starts talking at the 32 minute mark.
Story 4: The Split
In this section, Shelley explains how critical is inclusion is for the success of all students using a bowling analogy. I love this analogy because it explains how the strategies one would use to knock down all the pins (the ultimate goal in bowling) are the same as reaching all of the students in our class (the ultimate goal of teaching).
Basically, what Shelley is saying is that as teachers, we are taught to teach to the middle, with the hopes that the students who struggle with learning will rise to the challenge, and that the students who are more advanced will push themselves further. We all know that this is not how things work. What we need to start doing is designing our lessons for the students who are the hardest to reach.
Shelley’s blog has a lot of resources that can help you design lessons and units that have an entry point that is accessible to all, and extensions already built in for the students who make it there. The thing I love most about this is that if all students start at the entry point, then all students begin with success, thus giving them the confidence to push themselves further. In fact some students may end up surprising you and themselves with how far they can go!
Story 5: The “Other” Kids
This section is a an extension of teaching to the outside pins. Shelley tells the story of Ali a student with several impairments, but instead of talking about how many things needs to be done to make the classroom work, Shelley describes a lesson taught by his amazing teacher that was extremely engaging and educational, and geared towards helping Ali learn. The important lesson in this section is that while Ali had a lot of needs, he also contributed to the classroom culture and the “other” students in his class learned so much from Ali.
I love this section because it reflects my own experience as a teacher. At my former school we have a student who has multiple disabilities and because of that, has taught her classmates the power of empathy, patience, kindness, and many other skills that you just can’t get from a text book. Her classmates have found ways to communicate with her, they know when she is happy, angry, sad, or just being silly. Since her arrival at our school, I have never wondered whether she is a drain on resources, or if the “other” kids would be better off if she were in a different class, because the fact is, they would not be.
Story 6: The Bears
This section is about Robbie. Shelley tells his story on her blog, so I won’t go into too much detail, because it is her story to tell. The point of this story is that we need to collaborate with other teachers in order to meet the needs of our students. In order to correctly assess a student’s learning, we need to know where they are starting from and how we can interpret the outcomes and lessons to truly measure their growth.
When I read this section, it made me think of Shelley’s Inclusion Planning Matrix. This also ties to the first section of the book (see my first post) where she talks about how students require explicit teaching about how to behave in different settings. We used this template with a variety of students this year and it was a great way to remind all staff working with our special friends what we were expecting of each child. These goals would vary from subject to subject and unit to unit, but were not too time consuming, and were so valuable in terms of measuring progress, and ensuring consistency between teachers, classes, and even with supply staff.
Story 7: My Bully
Ok people! This section is really important. Not just for teaching, but for life. Here, Shelley tells the story of her bully, how she was moved to a different school after failing in the “regular” program, how her new teacher saved, and how her bully was not actually her bully at all…You can watch her talk about it here. It’s a longer video, but worth the watch…and really Shelley is so engaging that it won’t really seem long at all.
The point here is that we need to look for THE story…rather than make judgements based on one or two snapshots. I don’t know how many times I have had students come to me with a problem, only to find out that there is more to the story. Sometimes it’s that the other student was pushed over the edge, in other cases I have discovered that the student was facing some sort of tragedy at home. Depending on the situation, it doesn’t always mean that they get off without consequence, but it will effect how I interact with the child(ren) in question. At the very least, getting multiple perspectives before coming to a conclusion demonstrates to students that you care enough to listen to all sides, to dig a little deeper. It also models to students how to approach a situation where there are multiple perspectives. If you only get one side of a story, you don’t have the whole story.
This section applies to all areas of life. How many times have you seen (or been involved in) an online debate about some hot topic, where people are simply arguing by flinging insults at people who disagree with their point of view? How often do we pass judgement on someone after one brief interaction? WE DO IT ALL THE TIME! If you don’t, I applaud you.
We need to stop, ask questions, listen, and accept that we may not always have the same opinions or perspectives, but that just means we can learn from each other and we should embrace that!
Story 8: The Sweeper Van
This is another favourite of mine! Shelley uses a very humorous (and also touching) story about her participation in a bike race. You can see the full account here. The video starts with a description of her inclusive layer cake of love which is well worth the watch but if you want to skip to the sweeper analogy, it starts around the 9 minute mark.
The point of this story is that we need to teach kids to use supports when they need them. Instead of deciding for students whether or not they need supports, we need to provide the supports to all students, and teach them to self-assess. We need to motivate kids to persevere when things are hard.
As teachers, it’s not our job to decide if kids cross the finish line, it’s our job to determine when they cross the finish line and what supports they need to get there.
Some people might argue “that’s cheating!” but I don’t see it that way. Providing supports is not the same as giving students the answers, it is simply finding a stepping stool that fits their learning needs to help them see things more clearly.
If you want to be better at inclusion, or convince others to buy in. This book is a must read. In addition to being full of interesting stories and analogies, this book is short. Which means that most people can find time to read it and will get something out of it and if every educator reads it and takes even one thing away, our students will benefit from it.
You can buy the book here.
Thanks for reading! Please let me know what you think in the comments section below!