Inclusion is what the world needs, this I believe.
Inclusion is substantiated by research as a means to improve academic outcomes for all students, especially those with disabilities. While academic gains are imperative, there are other benefits of inclusion – not easily quantified, yet equally as important. I believe there are ethical and moral benefits to inclusion that are critical components in our global society.
Quality inclusive practices begin with general and special education teacher collaboration for the purpose of anticipating and incorporating student-learning differences into instruction. Through this simple act, teachers are modeling and honoring a respectful acceptance of differences. Then, these teachers arrange flexible peer supports for process and product development resulting in a community of diverse learners, supporting and learning from each other while working collectively toward a common goal. Soon, these students are sitting together in the cafeteria and developing friendships outside of school.
Inclusion is natural for kids; it’s the adults who have to work at it. We are taught at an early age to assist and support – from the time our younger siblings are born, to helping grandparents and eventually parents carry groceries, negotiate stairs or put on a sweater. We teach, “It’s the right thing to do.”
Today classrooms are bigger and more diverse than. Working together in exclusive homogeneous groups is no longer effective or efficient. Inclusion is about strengths, awareness, respecting differences, persistent kindness and compassion. We are preparing students for a world with conflicting beliefs and dangerous consequences. Academic prowess is only one of the necessary critical elements for survival. We must also coexist and retain our individual beliefs, yet work together to create peaceful solutions to conflict. It’s the right thing to do. Inclusion, I believe, is the necessary foundation.
TONI RIESTER-WOOD, PH.D.