I spoke with a grade one teacher at Sangster. She has a background in special education and loves her job. I was curious how she views an inclusive classroom, and what steps she takes to ensure her students behave in this manner. She was very clear that it takes explicit teaching and constant modelling to steer her class down the road of inclusion. She said she was lucky that she and her co-workers had training in a social thinking program that one of her coworkers taught, so she learned to use the language to encourage social thinking throughout her day. In fact, all the teachers use this language so it is simply a habit formed within this school. It was also very fortunate to have the children attend a social thinking class every second week alternating with music, so most of the students understand the language too. She said that she sets up her classroom in a way that everyone is accommodated. She uses a lot of visual schedules and everyone in the class knows what is expected of them. She uses visuals for all new assignments and all new expectations. I understand that to have an inclusive school everyone needs to be on board, the parents, students and staff. The school itself is a hands off school with zero tolerance for bullying. This is important as the students know how to conduct themselves and if they stray away from what is expected the behavior is promptly dealt with, and everyone moves on. They are all in understanding that mistakes happen and what is learned from that mistake is what is important. I can see it in action in Sangster on Wednesdays, that the students have respect for others and for themselves.
Interview #2 (Shelley Moore)
I was curious how to help educate parents and teachers to be more inclusive themselves. The problem is that parents and teachers don’t see themselves as diverse and different. As teachers we need to help others understand that it is our differences that make us diverse. It is as simple as our interests, or the way we dress or talk. All of these things make us different in turn showcasing our diversities. Helping others understand that we are all diverse is the key. She suggested I give an example like, a child has autism in your class, they are “special”, but you don’t have autism so doesn’t that also make you “special”? The thing is that everyone is “special” because everyone is different form one another. I understand now that because I already have this thinking, this is half the battle. I can set up an inclusive classroom because it is me that determines the tone of the class. I can set my classroom up so all children have access to the curriculum, and all children have access to every support, to ensure all students have the building blocks to feel success. She said I need to have common learning goals to drive learning and build community. As the teacher I need to be in tune with each students and understand their needs, and that behavior is driven by need. She said that inclusion will look differently depending on the teachers, the school and the students.
I interviewed one 21-year-old student on the autism spectrum, and one grade 4 student who struggles in our school system, and one grade 4 student who goes to Sangster, and also is struggling. I was curious about how they view the education system and what they believe needs to change. The older student went to GNS and was with the same group of kids from Kindergarten to grade 12. He was labelled in grade 3 and had to live with all of his regrettable behaviors from elementary through to middle and secondary. He felt like he was the kid with Autism and teachers always labelled him as different. He struggled with his ability to break free from his diagnosis as it was labelled as a problem not as a positive attribute. He did not feel like his class or school was an inclusive one. He always felt weird and different and did not learn to love, and accept himself within his school. He wishes that going through school he would have had more acceptance and less segregated attention.
When I asked the 9-year-old from Doncaster elementary the same questions his answers were not that different. He said that he struggles with sitting still, and has a hard time staying on task. He often gets sent out of class and to the principal’s office for his shortcomings. He hates being different because its those differences that get him in trouble. His classroom is also not very inclusive, he is not offered supports because he has no diagnosis, even though he would benefit greatly from them. This all seems so backwards to me. If a child needs some supports to succeed and those supports are available, then why can’t they have access to them.
Both boys described school as a place they hate and where they don’t feel as though they fit in. I think with the right teachers both of these guys could thrive in a classroom environment with the inclusive model.
The 9-year-old boy from Sangster had a very different outlook. In his current classroom he has a wiggly seat to accommodate for his high energy. He is behind in reading and writing. He is smaller than the rest of the kids and the beautiful thing is that he doesn’t even know he is different because he says, “everyone is different”. He is not treated differently than anyone else, if he needs some kind of support it is offered to him as it is offered to everyone in the school. I think this is how a school should run and am so happy to see this is action. This boy loves school and loves going to school.