The journey to becoming an Inclusive School may be long and challenging at times, but ultimately this journey can strengthen a school community and benefit ALL children. "Inclusion" does not simply mean the placement of students with disabilities in general education classes. This process must incorporate fundamental change in the way a school community supports and addresses the individual needs of each child. As such, effective models of inclusive education not only benefit students with disabilities, but also create an environment in which every student, including those who do not have disabilities, has the opportunity to flourish. The 2008 Inclusive Schools Week is focused on this theme: "Together We Learn Better: Inclusive Schools Benefit All Children". Here are some ways in which inclusive educational practices build a school's capacity to educate all learners effectively:
Differentiated instruction increases student engagement. One of the most important principles of inclusive education is that no two learners are alike, and so inclusive schools place great importance on creating opportunities for students to learn and be assessed in a variety of ways. Teachers in inclusive schools therefore must consider a wide range of learning modalities (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc.) in designing instruction. Certainly this enhances the way in which educators provide supports and accommodations for students with disabilities, but it also diversifies the educational experience of all students.
Academic supports help each student access the full curriculum. In this age of accountability and high-stakes testing, it is important for educators to ensure that every student is addressing the appropriate standards and objectives across the curriculum. As such, inclusive schools provide academic supports (flexible pacing and grouping, reading and literacy specialists, tutoring, etc.) that create a supportive environment for all learners. It is immediately clear how these supports help students with disabilities and English Language Learners, but inclusive schools can also better challenge and engage gifted and talented learners by building a more responsive learning environment.
Behavioral supports help maintain a positive learning environment for everyone. Another important factor in effective inclusive education is the implementation of consistent behavioral supports throughout the learning environment. This consistency is essential for the success of students with emotional or behavioral disabilities in the general education environment, but school-wide behavioral supports also help to establish high expectations throughout the school community as a whole.
Respect for diversity creates a welcoming environment for all. Inclusive education for students with disabilities can only be successful when those students feel that they are truly a part of the school community. This requires open and honest discussion about difference, and an institutional respect for people of all backgrounds and abilities. In inclusive schools, the establishment of such a climate benefits everyone by fostering an environment where students and their families are valued for who they are.
Inclusive practices make effective use of a school's resources. In the past, special education often involved the segregation of students with disabilities for the purpose of specialized instruction. Not only does that model of special education in a separate setting deprive students with disabilities of interaction with their peers and full access to the curriculum, it can also involve duplicate systems and resources that are costly for schools to maintain. Inclusive education can make more efficient use of a school's resources by maximizing the availability of staff and materials for all students.=
To read more about benefits of inclusive education for all students, check out Improving Education: The Promise of Inclusive Education. This paper is an excellent resource for educators looking to improve and expand inclusive educational practices in their schools. It was developed by the National Institute for Urban School Improvement, a project funded by the United States Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), and it includes examples of inclusive educational environments, assessment and observation tools, and guidelines for supporting inclusive practices.