Special education inclusion involves your entire elementary classroom. Everyone must belong to the "pack" with no one left on the margins.
This is easier to achieve than most teachers think, but it does take consistency in a few areas. These approaches will help you create an inclusive and accepting community of learners.
The way kids leave and enter your room to go to specialists may seem a minor thing, but it's not...it's huge. Think of a meeting or training session you have attended as an adult and recall how awkward it is for someone to leave or arrive in the middle.
This person is almost automatically branded as an outsider because their pattern is not in sync with the rest of the crowd.
Now imagine how a young child feels when all eyes follow her to the door, or when there is no obvious group to belong to when she returns to find the class working in small groups. It's a horrible feeling that anyone who has been ostracized can understand.
And it can significantly affect her willingness to learn.
Set the appropriate tone the first time kids leave for a specialist (such as speech therapy or Special Ed):
"Katie, go ahead and work with Mrs. Winter now. We'll be working on social studies when you get back."
There is no slipping out and sneaking back hoping not to be noticed for being different. It's out in the open that this child is getting specific help and the class will support her because their teacher supports her.
When she returns:
"Katie, Angela is ready to partner with you and she has your worksheet."
Because of the teacher's approach, Katie knows that she has no need to fear anyone staring at her when she returns, nor does she have to fear feeling left out of whatever activity has started while she was gone. This removes the stress from separating herself from her peer group to go get help.
Every child is on the team...and knows it
STOP everything and address any put-downs, no matter how minor. Do not allow even a single, mildly disparaging comment to pass, EVER. Each one must be dealt with immediately or it will corrode the special eduction inclusion in your classroom community.
Note: Special Ed kids can be just as bad as non-Special-Ed kids; if they "get" some concept, they may feel smart and can lord it over another Special Ed kid to make themselves feel better. An IEP does not transform a child into an angel...kids are kids.
Remember...some Special Ed kids also have behavior goals, meaning they may be prone to anti-social behavior.
If a disparaging comment is made, follow these steps. After reminding the entire class that "every person learns differently," use an apology as a tool. Say to the offending student:
"Mashia will be ready to accept an apology when you are ready to give one."
An apology is more focused on reinforcing the appropriate behavior by the perpetrator than to atone to the victim. Even a grudging "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have talked to you like that" makes an impact.
An apology can take awhile; keep coming back until the student is ready. If he refuses, then advise him that he needs to do it by lunch or by some event he looks forward to...he will infer that he will miss out (stay in for recess, miss art class) if he doesn't provide one.
Randomly generate partners of the day or week so all students end up working with all others. Take a look at this page for ideas.
Our classroom mantra:
"We will work with anyone."
Opportunities for special education inclusion happen all day long. Use teachable moments...
Savvy teachers can set up these teachable moments by using classroom goal-setting...set team goals then teach children how to help others meet the goal:
Leave nothing in doubt - make the importance of your teachable moments very clear by including details. For example, if someone helps another student with schoolwork, thank them for "explaining it a different way than I do." Other children will then become eager to help and share their knowledge with others if they know exactly what you are looking for.
Special education inclusion does not just happen. It takes intentional work by you, the classroom leader.
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