How Teachers and Parents Can Do the Work of Inclusion Together
Going back to school there is lots of talk of inclusion, and I am glad because if there wasn’t, I’d be out of a job. Inclusive practice is becoming more and more commonplace in our schools, and it is such a beautiful gift to witness all children learning together. I think most special educators would agree that the goal of inclusion is for it to no longer exist. One day we won’t need to be actively advocating for all children to be represented and included; it will just happen. There is lots of legwork involved on the road ahead, but I consider it such a joy to be one of the educators who gets to champion for the worth of all students in the classroom and beyond.
Inclusion is belonging. It is being fully seen, being fully known and still receiving a seat at the table. Nearly everyone longs to be included. Some of us force belonging. Others of us look at it with cynicism. Some of us belong easily, while others sit on the outskirts of circles, waiting for someone to welcome us in.
To make belonging a reality for those to whom it doesn’t come as naturally, we all must be willing to invite, include and celebrate the life in front of us — recognizing “belonging” as a primal desire an individual may not be able to name. And perhaps, more than anyone else, this work of creating places of belonging and inclusion will fall heavily on parents and teachers. These are the people on the front lines fighting for children and readying them for the world in which they live — a world that thrives on having a place and a people to belong. Inclusion is for all of us, and it requires all of us to make it a word we no longer need.
Here is a call to my fellow teachers: every student is capable. Every student is intelligent. Every student is doing his or her best with what they have. It’s your job to give them more to work with, to give them opportunities to show they are able and to irrefutably believe they matter. Recognize that you may not know everything a child has experienced. You may not know all of where they came from and what they go home to. You may not know just how hard a child’s parents have fought for him or her, or just how much they neglected to do so.
All you can do is your job — to love, to teach, to raise up the next generation. You are entrusted with someone else’s greatest joy each day. You owe your students your passion and expertise; you owe them your flexibility; you owe them the secure knowledge that they are safe to learn and grow in your classroom. And when your familiar molds are challenged and your boxes no longer fit, you owe it to your students to bend, to adapt, and to make room for everyone throughout your year of learning.
Here is a call to my fellow parents: I know how hard you advocate. One big reason I went into this field is because I watched how hard my parents (and myself) fought for my brother to receive what he needed to be successful at school. I wanted to make it easier for you to do the same, comforted with the knowledge that your child’s teacher understands what it’s like to be in your shoes and is fighting for your child right alongside you. I’ve always said we are on the same team; we all want what’s best for your child.
You are the expert on your son/daughter, and your child’s teachers and specialists are the experts in their field. In order for your child to experience complete success, all team members must advocate for him/her. You’re not doing this alone. Though you may feel like you are, please remember most teachers chose their career in order to love your child, to teach your child. They are doing their job advocating in ways you may not even know you need to. You may know to ask that your child never be pulled out for any reason (because inclusion, right?), but you may not know your child needs a sensory break every hour to help them succeed. Teachers advocate for that. You may know to ask that your child receive a paraprofessional to follow him/her throughout the school day, but you may not know your child has made great strides in the educational setting, is capable of independence and performs better without an adult next to them all day. Teachers advocate for that.
Being a champion for your child is recognizing his/her potential and fighting for others to see it too. And when they do, because many of them will, invite them onto your team. Do not continue to isolate yourself in the name of being an advocate. That is a lonely and unnecessary place to be. Yield to their expertise, as they yield to yours.
Together, parents and teachers, we can make this one heck of a school year for our cherished common denominator — children. Here’s to all of us making the world a more welcoming place for our kids to grow up in!
Getty photo by Monkey Business Images.