Providing opportunities for each student to belong to his or her school community is an essential aspect of effective schools. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs lists belonging and acceptance as basic needs for all of us. For a long time, children with disabilities were educated in separate classrooms or even separate schools, but special education does not mean separate education. Inclusion welcomes all students as full members of the general education classroom. The role of parents and the community in promoting inclusive attitudes and practices is of paramount importance. As our children begin another school year, I’d like to share what I call the “3R’s of Effective Inclusion” for parents.
“R-E-S-P-E-C-T…Find out what it means to me!”
There is no substitute for respect when it comes to children developing a positive understanding of themselves and others. Respect and understanding grow when children of differing abilities and cultures have the opportunity to play and learn together. Like Aretha Franklin sings in her famous song, “Respect—find out what it means to me!” well, in education it means a lot!
- It means that every child and family is valued and deserves the same opportunities and experiences.
- It means that inclusive education is a child’s right, not a privilege.
- It means that all children learn in different ways.
- It means that children are accepted by their peers and have friends.
- It means that children learn from each other and everyone benefits.
- It means that decisions are made on the basis of a child’s needs and not on the basis of labels and places.
Inclusive Education means all of these things! So, as parents, we promote respectful inclusion when we:
- Encourage our child to participate in activities with other children of the same age with different abilities.
- Teach our child how to make and keep friends with and without disabilities and welcome their friends into our home.
- Speak respectfully about others and value individual abilities and differences.
- Provide opportunities for all children to contribute in our community, and celebrate effort!
Respect Relationships- “Mom, I mean Ms. Jones…”
If you walk the halls of your child’s school and overhear a student mistakenly calling his teacher “Mom”, notice parents helping in the school, and see a welcome sign on the front door, then you know that you have probably stepped into a “parent-friendly” school.
“Parent-friendly schools” recognize each child’s individuality and welcome and respect all families. In turn, we also must create “school-friendly homes” that respect teachers and reinforce the importance of school, homework, and activities that build student skills.
In short, respect opens the door to relationships, and relationships build the necessary trust so critical to effective communication.
Effective communication is:
- two-way—always includes feedback
- meaningful—uses people-first language with positive assumptions, and
- regular- happens all the time for good and bad occurances!
Begin the new school year by getting to know your child’s teachers. Share your goals and expectations for your child and support of inclusive education. Learn about the scope and sequence of the curriculum and all homework requirements. Joyce Epstein, Director of the Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships at John Hopkins University uses the theory of overlapping spheres of influence to show the major context in which a child learns and grows—the school, the family, and the community. The inarguable fact is that students are the center, and their needs drive the decisions that we make.
These spheres may be drawn together or pushed apart depending on the choices parents, schools, and communities make to respect each other and build relationships.
In the famous children’s book, The Little Engine that Could, we are reminded of our responsibility to help our children echo the cry of the little engine, “I think, I can! I think, I can!” At Stetson and Associates, Inc. we address disparities in achievement through the lens of an effort-based philosophy for all students—the belief that with high expectations, hard work, and encouragement all students can learn. As parents, it is our responsibility to share that belief with our children and to learn about effective inclusion.
What are the quality standards of inclusive schools? Make sure you take a look at the self-assessment tool on the ISN website under the Resources tab to assess yourself. But we don’t stop with just knowing the standards. We also have a responsibility to close the gap between what we know about the benefits of inclusive education and what we are doing to make that vision happen.
So what can we do as parents? We can be—
Teachers of our children:
- Interacting positively
- Building healthy relationships
- Serving as role models
- Providing guidance
Partners in the educational process:
- Exchanging information
- Sharing decision-making
- Helping at school
- Collaborating in our child’s learning
“…the most accurate predictor of a student’s achievement in school is not income or social status, but the extent to which that student’s family is able to:
Create a home environment that encourages learning Express high expectations
Become involved in their child’s education.”
Henderson and Berla, 2002
“I think I can! I think I can!” Do we share that belief? We must, and it is our responsibility! Because that belief generates the energy we need to climb over the hill of obstacles to success this school year and in the years to come.
Happy Start to a New School Year!
WRITTEN BY- Cathy Giardina, Associate at Stetson & Associates
Benson, Peter, (2008) Sparks: How Parents Can Help Ignite the Hidden Strengths of Teenagers. Search Institute Press: Minneapolis, MN.
Council for Exceptional Children, exceptionalchildren.org
Early Childhood Research Institute on Inclusion, www.fpg.unc.edu
Epstein, Joyce, (1997) School, Family, and Community Partnerships: Your Handbook for Action. Corwin Press: Thousand Oaks, CA.
Family and Advocates Partnership for Education, www.fape.org
Henderson, N. and Mapp, K (2002) “A new wave of evidence, the impact of school, family, and community connections on student achievement.” Southwest Educational Development Laboratory Annual Synthesis. Available: www.sedl.org.
Moody, Kareem, (2006) Raise Them Up: The Real Deal on Reaching Unreachable Kids, Search Institute Press: Minneapolis, MN.
Parents Helping Parents, www.php.com
Search Institute, www.parentfurther.com
Stetson and Associates, Inc., www.stetsonassociates.com