What is the recipe for inclusive schooling success?
A simple question with a complex answer.
In fact, the answer is often illusive. Many schools struggle to not only find and gather the extensive list of ingredients, but to then also effectively combine and mix them in a manner which results in something palatable and lasting.
The secret is not so much in the what, but more so in the how.
Like any good recipe, preparation is key. Yet, many of us dismiss or neglect its significance; instead rushing ahead, eager to enjoy the end product, only to find it is disappointing and not as we imagined.
Before delving into the likes of placement, effective pedagogy, capacity building and resourcing; take a step back. Tackling these constructs can be like lifting lead balloons if time and commitment is not adequately afforded to acknowledging and building strong culture, purpose, and belonging.
Culture is all about the will – the hearts and minds, the triumph of moral imperative.
The default culture in schools surrounding students with disability is often one of a fixed mindset. Time is spent sustaining the current because it is safe, comfortable, and provides the least resistance. Unconscious bias and presumption surrounding students with disability and their needs and wants blocks the realisation of inequity.
It should not be assumed that culture will just adapt and change because expectations and policies change. Deliberate and strategic investment is required in intercepting and interrupting fear, ignorance and opinion.
The value, worth and contribution of all students needs to be recognised; and the default way of thinking and doing needs to shift to one that acknowledges, respects and reflects this.
Where there is will, there is a way.
Purpose is what separates integration from inclusion.
Common responses such as placement and participation can often front as inclusive schooling, but in reality they are just a smoke and mirrors response.
At its heart, inclusive schooling is about maximising the outcomes of all students. It is about setting high expectations, valuing and celebrating diversity; and employing high quality, evidence-based teaching practices focused on success for every student.
Therefore, the prompt of purpose should be used to reflect and evaluate all decisions. If the benefit is not about maximising the outcomes of all students; than commitment to further knowledge, understanding and improvement is required.
If there is no purpose, there is no point.
All humans want to feel a strong sense of belonging.
Belonging is a psychological lever that has broad consequences. It is considered a need that has to be satisfied before any other need can be fulfilled. It is a primal, fundamental precursor to happiness and over-all wellbeing. Without it, one can feel disrespected, disconnected, and disengaged.
Belonging therefore has a direct correlation to learning.
Being invited, and being welcome are two very different things.
Every student, every day should feel a sense of connection to the classroom and the broader school environment. They should feel comfortable and accepted, and they should feel supported.
Focus on building bridges, and not on building barriers.
The complexity of inclusive schooling inevitably results in hiccup, it is rarely perfect and rarely easy. As a result, proclamations from the unacquainted suggest that it simply cannot and does not work.
However, I can almost always guarantee that such claims, in combination with their supporting failed anecdotes, are attributed to deficits in the preparation and consideration of either culture, purpose or belonging; and not to inclusive schooling itself.
When culture, purpose and belonging are recognised as fundamental components of inclusive schooling; perspectives shift and the recipe for success starts to unfold and take shape by design, and not simply by trial and error, or by luck.