Last week I held a community meeting to discuss inclusive practices in neighborhood schools. I announced it on various schools’ websites, sent out emails, posted on Facebook, Twitter, and my blog, and generally tried to get the word out.
It resulted in a small, yet very important, group attending for the conversation. In attendance were parents, both of kids with and without identified disabilities; attorneys whose work focuses on special education law and parents rights; the director of special education for the Minnesota Department of Education; teachers; and community members.
We started the evening by watching most of the Including Samuel documentary, by Dan Habib. This movie is a natural way to start a conversation about inclusive practices, and creates an intuitive on-ramp for engaging around the topic in a meaningful way. I was very happy with the use of this movie to start our thinking and learning with one another. Attendees connected with it in very tacit ways, and then were able to have a conversation about how to take next steps towards this very meaningful goal for kids in our schools.
After the movie, we sat together and talked about many things. We discussed what the meaning of inclusion is; what the law says about it; where we are as a state in development and execution of these types of school structures for kids with and without disabilities; what our neighborhood schools are currently doing; as well as how to take next steps in creating more inclusive schools and classrooms that benefit all students. Additionally, we talked at great length about who needs to be a part of continuing conversations to take action within this important work.
My plan is to host another community meeting within the next month, to continue our conversation, get more key people to attend and be a part of the dialogue, and hopefully to create positive changes in schools as a result. I will be posting the outcomes of the upcoming meetings and describing the process here. Additionally, I have been approached by the editor for John McKnight and Peter Block, authors of The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods that I previously wrote about in January. They have asked me to be a guest blogger on their website, and write about what I learn from this process and what results come from it. Please be looking for that in the coming month or so!
I stated in my post about the The Abundant Community that I wanted to be a community connector, like they described in their book. They describe a community connector as a person that has the capacity and the desire to create associations and connections between people in our neighborhoods and communities, with the intention of enhancing the spirit and culture of connecting around a given purpose. I’d like to take this opportunity to share my thoughts and reflections about last week’s meeting, in light of that definition.
My background has given me many opportunities to create inclusive programs, classrooms, schools and communities. Additionally, my graduate work has allowed me to learn and practice ways of setting up schools as organizations and systems that meet the needs of diverse learners. Last week’s meeting was a way for me to bring people together, increase awareness and establish relationships between people around a given purpose. I feel that bridges need to be built between schools and communities in this way – through these meetings – and I, in essence, am like a contractor for those relationships to be built, one at a time.
This meeting was just the start of good things to come. The people there were all interested in the topic for their own reasons, gave up their time to be present, and contributed to the conversation in their own unique and valuable ways. Challenging questions were asked, divergent views were expressed, and thoughts were shared as to why our schools operate the way that they do. I believe that through conversations such as these, we can start picking away at the structures of the system that don’t serve our kids well. I also believe that through conversations such as these, we can acknowledge those parts of the system that are working well, so that we can stretch and amplify the good that is happening for all kids. The challenges in schools and communities are complex, but can be overcome when we take it down to a level where human interaction takes place. I think that my role in these meetings is to ignite action and allow for various people from the community to imagine, create and build based upon their gifts and capacities for the betterment of all kids in schools.
I think we started something great last week. Despite the fact that there were a relatively small number of people in attendance, we learned a lot and pushed each other’s thinking. I believe that once stretched, we don’t go back to the same place in our thinking. I am very excited for the meetings to come, to continue our dialogue and create the place for ideas to be offered, challenged and supported. I am hopeful that we will continue to have various stakeholders present, all with different points of influence within our schools and communities.
I hope you will join in the conversation – whether through commenting on my posts, or by attending meetings in the future. As my tagline suggests…Welcome (is truly) Spoken Here.