In recent years, educators have been using data to inform courageous conversations about equity and inclusion to create school environments that work for staff, students, and families. And it’s a good thing, too!
Students with disabilities may have an IEP, but that doesn’t mean the school environment and practices are equitable and inclusive. In our blog 3 Inclusion Strategies That Support ALL Students, we shared information about supporting students with invisible disabilities. Because some students with invisible disabilities do not have an IEP, equity and inclusion become an instructional, social, emotional, and cultural issue in classrooms and schools.
While IEPs are helpful and necessary, there’s a lot more that educators need to do in order to create schools and classroom environments that address the needs of all students.
So, what exactly is meant when we use the words equity and inclusion?
A common misconception about equity is that it means giving the same support to everyone. This isn’t true; equity is about creating space for fair access, opportunity, and advancement. Equitable support may look very different from one student to the next. Inclusion is about sharing space with students with disabilities as often as possible.
Why is it Important to Focus on Equity and Inclusion?
Equity and inclusion are an important part of designing educational spaces that address the needs of all students; it does not matter whether a student has a visible or invisible disability, English Language Learner, or an at-risk learner. Let’s not forget about students classified as learning disabled because they are also dealing with complex social and emotional challenges.
An IEP is an excellent tool for helping students access grade-level standards-based instruction. However, their instructional goals are not always comprehensive and inclusive of all areas a student may have identified challenges with during the school day.
For example, students with social or emotional difficulties may experience challenges in an inclusive classroom environment if their teacher is not equipped to address these areas. This does not mean that these students cannot benefit from accommodations and modifications to access the general education curriculum.
We must ensure that the right supports are in place for them to be successful. One of the most important reasons schools embrace equity and inclusion is to ensure that students with visible and invisible disabilities achieve success.
Is Your Classroom Inclusive and Equitable?
You may be wondering, what does an equitable and inclusive classroom look like? There are a few core elements to consider when trying to determine the inclusivity of your classroom.
Inclusive Educational Space:
- Is your classroom designed in a way that allows all students to access it easily?
- Can your students with disabilities access every part of the classroom?
If you answered no to either of these answers, you need to redesign your classroom layout. Traditionally desks are usually in rows with one student behind the other. However, classrooms designed to include all students have desks arranged in pods to encourage small group work. When classrooms have desks arranged in pods, students with physical disabilities can move around much easier. This is what is meant by classroom spaces that are intentionally designed to be inclusive.
Curriculum and Assessment:
Standardized testing is the villain of equity and inclusion. As much as you can, design lesson plans that differentiate instruction and provide intervention support to include your students who need this additional support to be successful. Experienced teachers know that being flexible is part of the job. Flexibility allows teachers to modify lessons and assessments as needed.
Some students may benefit from assistive technology tools and resources; collaborate with your school’s student support team or special education liaison to learn about the types of technology that should be implemented to support the students in your classroom.
Teaching Strategies For Inclusion:
Inclusion is good for all students!
The strategies teachers use to make the regular education classroom appropriate for students with visible and invisible disabilities are helpful.
Differentiate Instruction: When teachers differentiate, this instructional strategy allows all students to access the curriculum and work at their current ability.
Make Learning Objectives Clear: Create age-appropriate learning objectives and provide access points for students with special needs. Modifications and accommodations for students with special needs and your regular education students ensure that the learning objectives so that all students can engage in the lesson.
Assessments: Use assessments to measure and monitor student progress. Be prepared to adjust and accommodate students who have not mastered the content that was taught. Provide students with corrective teaching lessons to address all skill gaps. Students who have mastered the content should be provided with enrichment activities to accelerate learning.
Explicit Teaching and Modeling: Model for students and gradually turn the responsibility over to the student. The “I do, We do, You do” approach is especially beneficial to kids with invisible, visible, and at-risk learners; because this approach provides them with the structured approach that will help them with mastering the concept and skills taught.
Have a Positive Attitude: As the teacher, your positive attitude about inclusion sets the tone for the rest of the class.
Language and Social Interaction:
Students with disabilities should be integrated into your classroom as much as possible. But simply placing the student in the room is not enough; they need to be truly included and provided with opportunities to work alongside their peers. Teachers should also consider sharing with students that they all have diverse needs, which means that each student is unique to you. In a situation where a student is using an assistive technology tool in class, like an IPAD, it’s common for some students to ask questions like, “why does Cary get to use an IPAD, and I don’t?” When addressing this, make sure to use people-first language and always avoid terms like “disabled students” or “suffers from a disability.” It’s okay to talk about students with disabilities in your classroom; in fact, it’s encouraged! Talking about disabilities helps destigmatize the term’ disability and address false stereotypes about students with disabilities.
How can Schools Prepare Teachers?
To prepare teachers to develop equitable and inclusive classroom spaces, everyone in your school must be on the same page. Faculty meeting agendas should provide opportunities to discuss and learn more about equity and inclusion. During these meetings, you should focus on the benefits, listen to what’s going well, and identify what is needed to create equitable and inclusive classrooms.
Classroom observations and reflective coaching conversations are essential components to building equitable, inclusive, and excellent schools. Teachers may set out with the best intentions to support all students, but nothing is predictable in school. Reflecting on our practices helps us understand what works well and what doesn’t work so well.
After each quarter, collaborative professional learning communities should meet in grade-level teams to reflect on student achievement, teaching, and learning to identify equitable and inclusive practices that positively impact your students. Teachers can share their reflections and offer advice or suggestions to their colleagues.
The Bottom Line:
- Inclusion teaches students to celebrate differences.
- Equity and inclusion address students’ unique social and emotional needs.
- Equitable education builds stronger communities.
All things considered, the case for equitable and inclusive education is strong. By addressing all students’ needs, we help build stronger communities and teach students to celebrate differences. If your school isn’t already addressing inclusion and equity, the time is now.