I've worked hard this year to do just that. Over 100 workshops, a book, six journal articles, research, university courses...it's been quite a ride!
Inclusive education means just that, inclusive: providing an education in which ALL students are welcomed and included. The truth is, we are all diverse. How I learn is different than how you do. My background knowledge, life experiences, personality and interests are different than yours. In any room, you have just as many different learners as there are people. All children are diverse: fat/thin, rich/poor, personalities, ethnicities, languages, family constructions, and learning styles all contribute to the makeup of a diverse classroom. Inclusive education has to be about ALL kids. There is no point in working to include one population, only to find we are then not meeting the needs of another.
The goal is providing high quality education to ALL students!
Our history as inclusive educators has followed the path of child development. In the early stages, we were egocentric, unaware of anyone who did not fit our needs and desires – we simply excluded them (i.e., we placed them in institutions, special schools, etc.). As we began to mature, we learned how to parallel play: we placed special classes in regular schools, so they could live alongside us, but not with us. Sometimes, we placed children in a regular classroom, but their program was a parallel program. They did math when we did math, but a different math, and usually with an educational assistant, not in interaction with their peers. It is time, now, to grow into maturity. To achieve “interactive inclusion” – a mature sense of inclusion and interaction - to develop a system in which we all grow and learn in interaction with each other, celebrating what our diversity brings, sharing our triumphs and challenges, and creating compassionate learning communities for all of our children/youth. It can be done.
Inclusive education is what will lead to an inclusive society. In our schools, every student, family member, community member, and staff member must be valued for who they are and what they contribute to the community. Children who grow up in such an environment, will know themselves as worthy, and recognize diverse others for the richness they bring to our world.
The Three Block Model of UDL started out as survival. Survival for a young teacher (me), in very diverse classrooms, trying to meet the needs of my students. It evolved with study, research, experience, and a great deal of collegial input from incredible master teachers all the way to brand new student teachers into a framework for inclusive education now being implemented by schools from K-12 in four different provinces from coast to coast. It is more than survival now. It is also more than theory or framework, model or strategy.
Inclusive education, and the Three Block Model is a vision, an imagination – a belief system.
Not in the exact pieces or steps or even blocks – they will continue to evolve and grow – but in the hearts of those in classrooms across this country working to make it come to life, to make inclusion come to life.
It is the imagination to flexibly implement it in such wide ranging settings as remote First Nations community schools, urban inner city high schools, and private preparatory academies.
It is a belief that it can be done.
I look forward to 2013 - to seeing that vision of a truly, interactively inclusive school system come to being.
For all the challenges and issues and debates, every teacher in Newton, Connecticut on December 14th, 2012, put themselves between their students and the bullets being fired from an automatic weapon. Every teacher I know would do the same. In the end, they are all our kids. That is the essence of inclusive education. Every child, and every teacher, counts. Everyone belongs.
May we never need such a brutal reminder again.