Very often we think we are steeped in the complexities of implementing the IDEA . Hit the pause button, then rewind to when P.L. 94-142 was enacted in 1975. That’s where I found myself in early December when I participated in one of the initial activities to bring inclusive education to people with disabilities in Kuwait in December. With the advent of a new law, 8-2010 for The Rights of People with Disabilities, and a partnership with the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) and Training-Gate International(TG-I) of Kuwait, I had the opportunity to participate in the development of the initial stages of this exciting journey. It was definitely a déjà vu experience.
Opportunities to share….
The initial awareness phase of the project involved the leaders of TG-I sponsoring an Open Forum and an International Day for Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) attended by several hundred Kuwaitis all interested in the goals of the project. CEC leadership represented by Dr. Deborah Ziegler, Dr. Alice Farling and myself, as CEC Division Presidents, University professor, Dr. Clay Keller, and Christy Lynch, representing the Virginia Commonwealth University partnership , all spoke on various topics related to best practices for implementing Inclusive Schools. Together we had an opportunity to share our experiences related to the features, components and best practices that are so vital to establishing successful inclusive schools- such as the benefits for all students, supported employment and professional development .
As a speaker at the Open Forum, I had an opportunity to discuss the importance of high quality professional development as the foundation for the development and implementation of effective inclusive schools. To be effective, leadership through collaboration among educators is essential in developing and implementing a successful plan for school or system change . My emphasis was on communicating that all of the individuals involved working together, including special and general education teachers, specialists, support staff and parents, in a school community must commit to their beliefs that students with disabilities will be a part of the total school community for this to be achieved. In order to do this, there must be a commitment to continuous learning and creating the communication and collaboration networks for these ideals and beliefs to become a reality. Best leadership practices, such as distributive leadership, coaching and mentoring, capacity building, and the use of professional learning communities as approaches to leading inclusive schools effectively were also discussed. The Open Forum format invited audience participants, including parents and individuals with disabilities, to ask thought provoking questions of the panel and for us to respond from our knowledge base and experience. All in all it was an interesting, informative and lively exchange.
So much to do—so little time…
Our cohort participated in the IDPD, a grand, all-day celebration of speakers, exhibitors , and student performances , which served as a cultural immersion experience for us. The following days were spent on school visits, a visit to one of their major employment training companies, visits to the Ministry of Education and to Kuwait University to discuss the goals of the TG-I and CEC partnership to assist in implementing inclusive education in Kuwait. Partnering with several key entities in Kuwait has also been a strength of the implementation plan. Investment by all stakeholders is essential for success!
Plans for development and implementation, including an extensive professional development component for staff, were well received. School principals were very interested in the prospects of including students with disabilities in their schools and were inquisitive about the approach, training and resources that would be provided, as one would imagine. We were encouraged by some of the comments from administrators we spoke to and saw some examples of how we might suggest building on some practices they were already engaged in, such as using a resource room model for specialized instruction.
More alike than different…
As we have come to realize, the concerns and inquiries we encounter to this day, as we continue to strive for greater participation in inclusive environments in our schools and communities, are much the same in Kuwait. Going back several years to when we started making great strides, much of the journey will be along the same roads and some will come along at a faster pace than others as the process becomes established, despite cultural differences.
It will take great leaders working together to make this promise a reality for Kuwaitis. I am pleased to have some small part in influencing this as we move forward . It will truly be an awesome event as the plans develop and this goal to improve the quality of life and services for people with disabilities in Kuwait becomes a reality sooner than later..
Mary V. Kealy, EdD