The Wejr Board

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Do We REALLY Believe in Inclusion?

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by D. Sharon Pruitt

As an education system and society, we have made huge strides in the inclusion of students with visible disabilities in our classrooms, groups, sports, and friendships.  I wonder, though, if we have made as much progress in including ALL students… especially those who appear on the outside to be similar yet are different (or perceived to be) on the inside.  I am not talking about the act of everyone having a seat in a classroom; I am talking about having a mindset of real inclusion.

“We all have one basic desire and goal: to belong and to feel significant” — Alfred Adler

This is an area in which I have far more questions than answers but here are some observations that make me wonder if we REALLY believe in inclusion.

  • I have seen parents/caregivers of children with behaviour challenges (due to a wide variety of reasons) judged, scolded, and ostracized for being a bad parent when the behaviours are often far beyond their control.
  • I have seen and heard of children going through their entire elementary school years and never receiving an invite to a birthday party.
  • I continue to hear the terms “gay” and “retard” used in derogatory ways from adults and students.
  • I continue to hear and see students and adults from the LGBTQ community not being accepted and included… and unable to be themselves in certain environments.
  • I see students not being able to attend schools of choice because their families do not have the capital (ex. money or transportation) to access.
  • I have heard adults say, “why can’t they just work harder?” when discussing how people from poverty could/should gain more resources.
  • I know of people that will not hire certain applicants based on their culture and/or race.
  • I have heard the statement “I don’t want my child in a class with THAT boy/girl”.
  • I have seen many students not get the needed funding for support in schools because they do not have the correct diagnosis… or worse yet… correct paperwork.
  • I have heard people state that Aboriginal people need to move past the impact of residential schools and colonialism… and just “get over it”.

These observations sadden me as they demonstrate a lack of understanding and empathy. They make me question what we actually believe when it comes to the goal of inclusion; however, there are also many examples that give me hope.

  • I have seen a parent reach out their hand to help another parent struggling with a child meltdown at the supermarket.
  • I have seen students tell others that “it’s not cool to use that word” when hearing the “g-word”.
  • I have seen huge numbers of students embracing students that are different and actually working together to create change.
  • I have heard and seen parents and teachers modeling empathy and inclusion to other adults and children.
  • I have seen parents ask the family of a child, who struggles with behaviour challenges and lacks real friendships, if they would like to meet up for a play date for their kids.
  • I have seen and heard of many teachers providing the opportunities for students to bring their strengths into the classroom and demonstrate their learning in ways that create more confidence and success.
  • I have seen many districts create policies to end homophobia, heterosexism,  and other acts of prejudice in schools.
  • I have seen educators and community members actually listening and supporting First Nation communities to develop ideas and plans to help all students.
  • I have seen parents of students with disabilities reaching out to others to help them get over the many challenging times.
  • I have seen schools become the safest and most caring places in some of our students’ lives.

The latter examples inspire me. They show courage and leadership. In order to include and accept all people, we must first seek to understand and listen to the stories of our students and neighbours.  We need to educate about the importance of inclusion and acceptance of ALL students (and adults) not only in our schools but also beyond our walls into the communities and business world.

First we need to ask the question, do we REALLY believe in inclusion?  Then we need to reach out a hand rather than point a finger. We need to continually act and create environments that model empathy, care, and equity… and work toward a society of real inclusion.

 I was given the book “Don’t we already DO inclusion?”, by Paula Kluth, by some parents at my former school so I looking forward to diving into that to learn more practices to help me in this area.

Still learning, reflecting… and coming up with more questions that answers.  

Please share any ideas of how you or your school/community are encouraging inclusion so others can benefit.

@chriswejr

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9 Responses to Do We REALLY Believe in Inclusion?

  1. Karen says:

    I appreciate this post so much, Chris. We have a behaviorally challenged kid. A couple of the things on your first list … oh did we experience the judging, the criticism, etc. As hurtful as it was, we instead chose to embrace the champions that came into our lives – the teacher who finally understood our child, the people who took the time to speak with us to understand our journey.

    And then I found this whole other community of champions on twitter who have restored my faith that, in general, we are moving forward, we are shifting the way we think about others who look the same but are actually different.

    Point is, we cannot dismiss the negative, in fact, we need to be very aware of the negative, but we use that to inspire us and motivate us to give voice to ways that can work better. To believe that one experience or a series of experiences in a particular point in time does not have to shape who we become in the future. To look for our champions and embrace them, to encourage them to continue doing what they are doing.

    Thank you for being a champion, Chris.

  2. Michael Kee says:

    A thoughtful post, Chris. Often, when I speak or write about these issues, I draw from my own experiences, the experiences of my students, and now my own children.

    I sometimes get so caught up and focused on the frustrations and hurt that I don’t always notice the positive efforts going on around us.

    While change often feels slow, change has occurred over time, and as we continue to highlight the issues and continue to make efforts we will continue to see improvement.

    How we initially define inclusion for ourselves, and then asking your question, “do we REALLY believe in inclusion” is so important.

    Thanks for these reminders.

  3. Sierra says:

    Unfortunately I think that there are still many people who believe in “saying what is socially acceptable” as opposed to “believing in inclusion.” Thankfully what constitutes a socially acceptable view when it comes to being inclusive has changed over the years. However, as your examples above suggest there is still a divide between talking the talk and walking the walk. In many cases I think it simply comes down to the fact that people still fear the unknown and that change takes work. Change also takes time and sometimes it’s just that matter of the idea hitting it’s tipping point. As people observe what others are doing to make inclusion work it will slowly chip away at the fear and the unknown and beliefs will slowly shift.

  4. Neil says:

    I’d add to the first list the more insidious “Those children”, and have seen examples of cohorts from a particular group being put in the same class together, and not to their benefit, but to placate the “concerns” of particular adults.

    Our schools must embrace the notion of collective responsibility if we are to truly realize the vision of true inclusion. As you point out, there are many examples out there of good being done. However, I am concerned lately that a reemerging discourse of segregated education is gaining traction.

    Keep up the good work!

  5. Sheila Stewart says:

    Thank you for writing and sharing about what inclusion can be and accomplish, Chris. Taking the time to understand others can lead well to acceptance and inclusion and thus hearing all voices in education and schools. Thanks for the examples that give hope!

  6. Elisa Waingort says:

    Thank you for this post. I agree with you that we often talk like we’re being inclusive and then turn away when an injustice is being committed or downright ignore exclusive and hateful actions or words. All of the positive examples are encouraging and we need to keep those in mind as we work in our schools with our students and their families.

  7. Malcolm Chrystal says:

    Hi Chris,

    I have had to mull over this one a bit before I commented. Not everyone wants or needs to be a target of ‘inclusion’.
    As a caregiver of kids with unique needs, and who works with kids with unique needs….as well as being a teacher I can summise what I feel the whole goal of ‘inclusion’ is: SAFETY.
    Emotional safety and physical saftey for everybody. It is not that inclusion should be the be all and end all of what we do, because in reality not ALL people want to be involved…but if they choose to be involved it has to be safe for them (and others). Inclusion is a two way street. There is the general population who need to be receptive, and the outliers who need to give (by wanting to be there).

    I think that sometimes inclusion is the desire of others. Sometimes people are just as happy NOT being included. Just as long as they are safe.

    Malcolm

  8. Carol Kerfoot says:

    Malcolm Chrystal :

    Hi Chris,
    I have had to mull over this one a bit before I commented. Not everyone wants or needs to be a target of ‘inclusion’.
    As a caregiver of kids with unique needs, and who works with kids with unique needs….as well as being a teacher I can summise what I feel the whole goal of ‘inclusion’ is: SAFETY.
    Emotional safety and physical saftey for everybody. It is not that inclusion should be the be all and end all of what we do, because in reality not ALL people want to be involved…but if they choose to be involved it has to be safe for them (and others). Inclusion is a two way street. There is the general population who need to be receptive, and the outliers who need to give (by wanting to be there).
    I think that sometimes inclusion is the desire of others. Sometimes people are just as happy NOT being included. Just as long as they are safe.
    Malcolm

    Malcolm I really appreciate your view on this.
    As a parent of three school age children and a support teacher who works mainly with children with unique needs most commonly labelled as behaviourly challenged or those struggling with self regulation, this post touches very close to my heart.
    What I want for my children is for them to be both emotionally and physically safe and I can see that the children I work directly with have this same need that is so often not being met. At times not being met in their homes, communities and amoungst their peers.
    I feel so often that people close the doors to others because they are scared themselves. Scared of what they do not understand. This can feel like both an enotional and a physical threat because it is the unknown. Both adults and children will put up defenses when they feel in danger.
    Education and understanding go hand in hand. The more we know the easier it is to open the doors and accept.

    • Chris Wejr says:

      Beautifully stated, Carol. You bring up an important point about fear of the unknown. When Michael Bortolotto recently visited our school, he stated that the first step to inclusion… is understanding.

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