Side view of a Caucasian schoolgirl with blonde hair in plaits sitting in a wheelchair and sitting at a desk writing, with a diverse group of schoolchildren sitting at desks beside her working in an elementary school classroom

The 6 Questions to Ask for an Inclusive Classroom

Are we fostering healthy self-esteem in children and adolescents today?

Today, I am writing a post about how an inclusive academic environment helps build self-esteem. Now a couple of notes before we begin. This post is meant to be an overview of the topic of academic inclusion. I literally could spend hours talking about inclusion, but I am just going to highlight some of the critical questions that I feel are important when creating an inclusive classroom.

Although this post is aimed at education professionals, it can be applied to anyone who has children, grandchildren, or cares for children.

What is our responsibility?

Now, let’s dive in. If we work with kids, all of us have a responsibility. Our responsibility is to help guide them through their academic and social development. This duty is extremely important, especially if we are working with kids with disabilities. We have the power to make a significant impact on what they think about themselves and what they can accomplish.

I want us to ask ourselves, “Are we doing our best to cultivate an inclusive environment, or are we just skating by?”

In recent years, universities have begun studying the impact of an inclusive environment on children’s success. All of the results have found that there are many benefits to an inclusive based model. However, despite all of the statistics, there is one alarming fact. The fact is, in the US, we have 56% of our kids with disabilities in segregated classrooms. They are not getting any interaction with mainstream peers or mainstream teachers.

In my opinion, this is a mistake as we may be holding them back from reaching their full potential.

Let’s take a minute and look at what is involved with an inclusive classroom model.

We need to figure out a way to motivate kids with disabilities, as well as mainstream kids. How do we do this?

What expectations should we hold?

In a study by Muller, Katz, and Dance, they state that motivation is closely linked to a student’s perceptions of a teacher’s expectations. This discovery means that if the teacher held them to a higher expectation, they were more motivated to achieve. If we have an inclusive model, it will help us hold all kids to a higher standard.

From my experience, I have learned in order to have an effective inclusion model, we need to have collaboration between kids, Special ED teachers, mainstream teachers, and parents. It is like the old saying, “it takes a village to raise a child.” In this case, that is precisely what it takes; a group of caring adults and peers. We need people working together and discussing how to make kids successful. Through people working together, we can create a plan for them to succeed.

For the past couple of years, I have been consulting with a 4th/5th-grade teacher in the Portland Public School District. I believe that she and her colleagues have done an excellent job of including kids and helping them succeed. Last year, she had four kids who were life skills students, three of which were heavy minute students in her classroom. She gave them an assignment to create a report about a state in the form of a book. It had to include drawings and information about what the state is known for, such as animals, landmarks, and history. To help the students with disabilities, she and her team printed off a template. (See images below.) She also let them copy a sentence from the resources they read. Those were the only accommodations. After completing this assignment, they presented their State report in front of the class, their Special ED teacher, and the mainstream teacher. This presentation included spelling the name of their state, which is no easy task in some cases. It just shows what kids can do when you hold them to higher standards.

Can mainstream students benefit as well?

Another reason for an inclusion model is that it builds self-esteem and academic performance of mainstream kids. In a recent Vanderbilt study, mainstream kids that were in an inclusive classroom environment scored 15 grade points higher than their peers who were not in a class with kids who had disabilities. This study shows that mainstream kids also benefit from an inclusive classroom, as it increases their academic performance. This increase is due to the fact that they have a desire to understand the content so that they can help their friends with disabilities grasp the concept.

What’s the role of assistive technology?

Adaptive Technology, what is its role in the classroom? I just want to go on record; I love adaptive/assistive technology! It has helped me throughout school and into my career. In fact, I still use a version of Co:Writer when I type, just to make it easier. I just want to pose a question for us to think about as it relates to technology. Are we using technology as a tool, or are we using it as the primary source of teaching?

There is a fine line between giving a kid an iPad to help them grasp a concept in class and giving a kid an iPad and hoping the iPad will teach them. In my opinion, technology is a great tool, but it can never replace that one-on-one interaction with the teacher and other students. There is a lot of benefits when it comes to technology. However, I will save that for a later post.

Are we doing our best?

In conclusion, I just want to pose the question, “Are we doing the best we can to cultivate an environment where kids are included and provided the opportunity to learn alongside their mainstream peers?”

In the coming weeks, we will be looking at how this impacts social development and the impact of extracurricular activities on self-esteem.

If you are interested in this topic or if you are an inclusive teacher, leave a comment or shoot me an email and tell me what you are doing this year to create an inclusive environment. Click Here to send me a message.

I am excited that you have chosen to come on this journey with me of Encouraging an Attitude of Perseverance and Inclusion.

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