Hannah's Newsletter Message on inclusion & diversity- 23/06

ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL’S MESSAGE

Earlier this week there was talk from some potentially powerful people in our society regarding the exclusion of young people with Autism from mainstream schools. While it is tempting to just ignore such bad behaviour, I am choosing to see this as an opportunity for discussion and education within our smaller community around inclusive practices at BNWPS.

 

Let’s be clear here: discrimination or harassment of people with disabilities is a form of oppression and is against the law. That is not, however, the reason why BNWPS strives towards full inclusion of all students; we do it because we know that inclusive education benefits everyone. “Inclusion” does not simply mean the placement of students with disabilities in general education classes. This process must incorporate fundamental change in the way a school community supports and addresses the individual needs of each child. As such, effective models of inclusive education not only benefit students with disabilities, but also create an environment in which every student (including those who do not have disabilities) has the opportunity to flourish.

 

Although inclusion into a mainstream school may not be for all students with disabilities or their families, there are several advantages of inclusion. Here are some ways in which inclusive educational practices build our capacity to educate all learners effectively:

 

Differentiated instruction increases student engagement: One of the most important principles of inclusive education is that no two learners are alike. We place great importance on creating opportunities for students to learn, demonstrate understanding and receive additional supports in a variety of ways. This enhances the way in which we provide supports and accommodations for students with disabilities, but it also diversifies the educational experience of all students, including better challenging and engaging gifted and talented learners by building a more responsive learning environment.

 

Behavioural supports help maintain a positive learning environment for everyone: Another important factor in effective inclusive education is the implementation of consistent behavioural supports throughout the learning environment. This consistency is essential for the success of students with emotional or behavioural disabilities in the general education environment, but school-wide behavioural supports also help to establish high expectations throughout the school community as a whole. To take these benefits a step further, the training and professional development our teachers have undertaken to support students with their emotional regulation takes our discussions and processes of support for conflict resolution, social interaction and self-regulation for all children to a far deeper level.

 

Respect for diversity creates a welcoming environment for all: Inclusive education for students with disabilities can only be successful when those students feel that they are truly a part of the school community. This requires open and honest discussion about difference, and an institutional respect for people of all backgrounds and abilities. We believe such a climate benefits everyone by fostering an environment where students and their families are valued for who they are, compassion and empathy are consistently demonstrated as values held within the community and young people are provided with authentic opportunities to develop and practise their skills and observe the benefits.

 

Inclusive practices make effective use of a school’s resources: In the past, special education often involved the segregation of students with disabilities for the purpose of specialised instruction. Not only does that model of special education in a separate setting deprive students with disabilities of interaction with their peers and full access to the curriculum,
it can also involve duplicate systems and resources that are
costly for schools to maintain. Diversity drives innovation and inclusive education can make more efficient use of our school’s resources by improving the way we utilise our human and physical resources.

 

UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake sums up the impact of inclusion (or lack thereof) as such, “When you see the disability before the child, it is not only wrong for the child but it deprives society of all that child has to offer... Their loss is society’s loss; their gain is society’s gain.”

 

Autism is a spectrum of behaviours. No two children will experience Autism in the same way. Just as with everyone in
our society, people with Autism have strengths that are fabulous additions to our society and challenges can be overcome with the right support. Instead of focussing on what young people with Autism (or any young people, for that matter) struggle with, we should be focussing on their strengths, passions and how they can be both championed within their community and a positive citizen within society.

 

All of this is not to say that working with people with Autism can’t be challenging, but does this mean we give up? I am sure there isn’t a parent on the planet who would want their child’s teachers to give up once things got a little hard. Working with children with disabilities can be challenging, just as any human can be challenging – but also incredibly rewarding on a personal, communal and global level. When analysing the behaviours and traits of influential people from our history, one might propose that quite a number of them were potentially on the Autism Spectrum. These people have added huge value to our society because they had a network of people around them to identify and encourage their strengths instead of focussing on their challenges and excluding them from society. I can’t help but wonder how many politicians would propose that Leonardo Da Vinci attends a special school so that the other children can learn in peace.


 

HANNAH REID