This week was Inclusive Schools Week. It is an annual event sponsored by the Inclusive Schools Network (ISN) which is held each year during the first week in December. Since 2001, Inclusive Schools Week has celebrated how different districts and schools have made progress in
“providing a supportive and quality education to an increasingly diverse student population, including students who are marginalized due to disability, gender, socio-economic status, cultural heritage, language preference and other factors.”
It is also a time for educators, students and parents to plan next steps, to realize the work to be done, and ensure continuous improvement to successfully educate all children.
The national TASH conference also was held this past week, but unlike like many of my colleagues, I was unable to attend this year. I am putting it high on my “to-do” list of things to do in the upcoming year because that group, and in particular that conference, is one of the best places to be with advocates and professionals whom are doing this stuff well and making a difference in the lives of people with disabilities. It is always held the first week of December as well, and I highly recommend anyone attending the conference and getting involved with that organization. I have been a member of TASH for years, and have presented at as well as attended many of their national conferences. That group never ceases to inspire me.
What I did do this week is a presentation at Palo Alto’s Inclusive Schools Week kick-off event, a precursor for activities that followed every day this week within their schools. The ISN topic this year that they put forward was “Social Inclusion: Not Just a Seat in the Class”. I was asked to present about my paraprofessional curriculum, as well as how to develop social relationships of students within the higher grade levels, and then be a part of a question and answer panel. The panel consisted of the Director of Special Education, a special education teacher whom is currently providing services for her students in an inclusive elementary setting, as well as Diann Grimm. Diann consults on creating social-emotional learning and self-esteem using the Kimochi curriculum (Kimochi is Japanese for feelings – now you know Japanese!). It was wonderful to hear her speak about it, and describe the uses of it within inclusive schools for students with and without disabilities. Check out the website for details!
The meeting was very well attended by parents, the superintendent, school board members, teachers, principals, and paraprofessionals. Truly, everyone was welcome, and they came out for the evening with great interest. The Director of Special Education had the opportunity to present on the current inclusive practices going on within the district, as well as the future she is planning and actively working on for students within the district.
As far as my presentation was concerned, I am thrilled with the response, both that night as well as the past few days since. I spoke about details regarding my curriculum, but was able to speak even more about the reason that I find meaningful professional development so necessary within successful inclusive schools. The need for training of any sort is always one that is expressed (not just for paraprofessionals, but for the educators as well), oftentimes in a fashion that keeps educators from jumping in and doing what they are being asked to do, for example, “I can’t do that, I wasn’t trained to do it…”
I was able through my presentation to highlight my belief that professional development which is job-embedded and ongoing, focused on relationships and processing experiences together is not only essential, but also leads to conversations that aren’t imaginable without being present within schools. I implored the attendees to learn of the work of many people within the field, not just consider my curriculum to meet their needs. The essential point being that professional development of many kinds will lead to a brighter future in inclusive schools if done with relationship building in the forefront of their thinking.
Always what I find when I present is that I come away with new thinking, just by having the conversation with a group. What my presentation did for me this time was solidify in my mind what I find to be the truth these days for schools trying to change their inclusive practices. Educators and parents need to know they can do it, need to know they must jump in together and figure out what is required, together.
I realized as I was presenting that I have been doing this for 20 years now. I have been having these conversations, answering these questions, and offering suggestions for two full decades. I also realized that the adage of “the more things change, the more they stay the same” applies to schools going on this path.
With that in mind, here are my thoughts after my presentation on Monday, based on 20 years of experience in this field…
- Make a commitment to doing it, be strong, and defend it.
- Have ownership of all of the kids within a school, promise them you’ll be there thinking hard about their individual success all the way from pre-school to when they graduate, so that their lives beyond you will be exceptional.
- Know you have enough within you, and within your team to figure it all out.
- Find time to talk, reflect, and have dialogues together as professionals regularly…do this despite there never being enough time.
- Add new and different experiences and approaches to your thinking constantly, keep it fresh!
- Realize when to lead from the front, pulling people along with you; as well as knowing when to provide leadership from behind, supporting the work of others and letting go.
- Acknowledge that some of the best advocates and problem solvers are the students and their peers. Give them the chance to brainstorm tough questions with you, whether about an individual student that needs support, or a school-wide effort they can engage and be excited about being a part of together.
- Include kids. Period.
Since my presentation, I have been asked to come back, to have more conversations, and help with thinking and planning. For that, I am thrilled to be a part.
I would love to hear about how you spent Inclusive Schools Week! Please share your excitement, learning, and challenges with me here. I am trying to work on my next 20 years of knowing what works in schools! 😉