Ten Inclusion Mistakes Even Good Educators Make

Ten Inclusion Mistakes Even Good Educators Make

Inclusion takes intentional planning and hard work. Even the most seasoned educators will make mistakes from time to time. The key is to recognize that mistakes will happen. Our goal is to accept responsibility and grow in the process.

Here are what I believe to be the ten most common inclusion mistakes:

1.      Not devoting enough time for planning
Most teachers will agree; there are just not enough hours in the day to do it all. But successful inclusion requires intentional planning. It just can not be accomplished by short-cut. Each of us is guilty of rushing from time to time, but to be committed to inclusion means to devote the necessary time to appropriate planning.

2.      Going it alone
Jumping off from number one above, inclusion is at its best when teachers plan intentionally AND collaborate. There is no shame in asking for help; ever. Despite this, many teachers feel that asking for support or assistance is a sign of weakness or lack of competence. Many teachers also believe that they have do it themselves if they want it done right. Letting go of some of the control and working in collaboration with others is not only acceptable, it is critical for successful inclusion.

3.      Forgetting that successful education isn't one-size-fits-all
When we find strategies that work, it’s easy to assume that those same strategies will continue to work. However, the truth is that many students, particularly those with disabilities, require different strategies across different learning situations.  Educators must have a “bag of tricks”, but consistently pulling the same trick out of your bag will prove unsuccessful.

4.      Assuming that accommodating is the same as inclusion
Making accommodations is necessary to ensure that the needs of all students are met. However, simply adapting or adjusting lessons is not inclusion. Inclusion is about belonging. It is about every student being fully integrated into the life of the classroom. Making accommodations is an integral part of the process, but it is not sufficient in and of itself.

5.      Believing that group work is the same as differentiating instruction
Differentiating instruction is a methodology which enables students to progress at their own pace via activities that are developmentally appropriate. It exposes all students to a vast array of learning opportunities and experiences. Simply assigning students to work in groups is not an effective form of differentiation.

6.      Thinking that fairness in the classroom is best accomplished by equality.
Fair is not equal. Fairness is when everyone gets what he or she needs to be successful. Students should not be compared to one another or to an arbitrary level of expectation. All students should be working toward progress from their own current level of functioning.

7.      Not having an inclusive school community despite highly successful special education programs
This one is hard for teachers to control on their own, but ignoring it altogether will not move a community forward. Advocates for inclusion must raise their voices at every opportunity and support those who have yet to fully embrace the value of inclusion. Special education teachers have a unique vantage point in a school community and can help colleagues and school leaders learn to advance their inclusive practices. It may not be part of your “classroom work”, but it is absolutely a part of the job.

8.      Underestimating a student
We have all done it; been wonderfully surprised when a student accomplishes something we never expected. We do not mean to underestimate our students, but sometimes we haven’t yet seen what he/she is capable of achieving. It is essential for us to always push our students to their highest potential, even if that potential has yet to be fully discovered.

9.      Not practicing what you preach
Do you teach special education, but justify parking in a handicapped spot because “you are just running in for a minute”? Do you advocate for school inclusion, but then allow your own child to exclude another child in her class with disabilities from her birthday party? We need to work toward a place where we are as inclusive in our personal lives as we are in our professional ones. It’s important to be consistent models for our peers and our children, not just in formal situations, but in day-to-day life choices and experiences.

10.  Reinventing the wheel
Educators too often recreate materials and/or lessons that have already been successfully developed and utilized. Collaborating, sharing resources and taking the time to find a proven differentiated lesson will pay off later as you free up more time to devote to student’s individual needs and issues.

None of these mistakes make you a bad teacher! Rather, recognizing our natural human tendencies and our own limitations will enable us to grow both personally and professionally.

The day we stop learning is the day we should stop teaching!

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Another version of this article originally appeared on Think Inclusive.

Teaching Disability Acceptance and Diversity - A Survival Kit

In TeachYour Children to Be Accepting of Disabilities, I wrote about the way our children learn from the adults around them. When we are truly inclusive in our daily lives, the children around us acquire this same skill comfortably and easily. In that same article, I shared ways that adults might reframe their own behavior to model inclusivity for children. Yet modeling does not replace the need to directly teach these skills.

In a post called “The"New and Improved" Digital Citizenship Survival Kit”, Craig Badura, PK-12 Technology Integration Specialist for Aurora Public Schools in Aurora, Nebraska, describes a terrific activity for teaching appropriate online behavior. 


And, of course, after bookmarking it and thinking about how I might weave in Jewish text to create a program for our post b’nei mitzvah students, my brain went to how this might be used to intentionally teach children to be accepting of disabilities and diversity. (As an aside, for those still using simulations to teach disability awareness, I urge you to rethink your position: RethinkingDisability Simulations)


Teaching Disability Acceptance and Diversity Survival Kit:

Used for lessons on bullying, online behavior and more, a tube of toothpaste presents an outstanding visual image.  Have students squeeze a small amount of toothpaste out of their tube (or demonstrate for the class with one tube). Then instruct them to put it back into the tube (have students take turns trying with yours if you only have the one example). Kids will quickly realize that this is virtually impossible; and that’s the point. Our words or behaviors toward another person, once out there, are virtually impossible to take back.

Packet of Seeds
A seed packet is used to stress that what students are doing now will have an impact on their lives in the future. We want our students to think about the "seeds" that they are sowing as they interact with others in the world around them.  Will their behavior grow into a bigger problem? Or will they take the opportunity to grow a plant that will be a strong, positive representation of who they are?

Every time you interact with someone; imagine a mirror attached to the other person. Are you behaving and speaking in a way that is consistent with the value of b’tzelem elohim (being created in God’s image?) If you looked in the mirror and saw a friend, a parent or another significant person in the reflection, would they approve of what you are doing or saying?

Sheet of Paper
This is possibly the most powerful item in the kit. Take a new sheet of paper and hand it to a student, instructing him/her to crumple it up into a ball. Have her throw it on the ground and stomp on it, then ask her to pick it up and unravel it in front of the class. Finally, direct her to apologize to the piece of paper for destroying it. Be prepared for some strange looks and laughter from the rest of the class. After the student apologizes to the piece of paper explain to the students that the piece of paper represents a person who has been embarrassed, harassed or even just consistently ignored because he/she has a disability. We can apologize all we want, but the emotional scars DON'T go away.

I’d love to hear from you! What would you add to the survival kit?

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Inclusion is Always Possible

Working with teens is a highlight of my work as a Jewish educator. This year our Confirmation class served as a powerful example of our community’s commitment to inclusion. Of the sixteen students, three are on the autism spectrum, one has severe dyslexia, one has auditory processing issues and one is blind. Over the course of the year they grew in their ability to understand and respect one another, and became a genuine source of pride for me, our rabbi who teaches Confirmation and our community at large.

Here are the words that I shared with them during their Confirmation service:

Each spring, as we near Confirmation, I begin to think deeply about the year’s experience to determine the essence of who our young people are as a class. Reflecting on the moments, both big and small, is a joy I look forward to each year.

I am so proud to be here with you as you reaffirm your commitment to living Jewish lives. In honor of this significant milestone, each of you will receive a certificate and a special gift from our Sisterhood. Please look for them after the service. And remember that tonight is not an end but rather another high point in your journey.

A few days ago, we stood at the foot of Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. Moses, one of our people’s greatest prophets, successfully led us to the moment of receiving Torah for the first time; and as we hold close its teachings, Torah’s meaning and value in our lives is revealed again and again.

But let’s back up; because well before revelation at Sinai there was another pivotal moment. It may be less known, but it is no less significant. I’m referring to the moment when God chose Moses to lead our people to freedom. You may not be aware, but Moses’ first response to God was, “No way!”

You see, Moses was terrified that his speech impediment would cause him to fail as a leader. He lacked confidence, and argued that he was the wrong man for the job. God wouldn’t hear of it, and pushed Moses forward, promising him the support of his brother, Aaron, who could speak on his behalf when Moses was unable. Yes, it’s true. God gave Moses an aide.

And this was, without question, an intentional and deliberate act of inclusion.

The rest, as they say, is history. Moses went on to lead, realizing along the way that he had always possessed the strength and skills that God saw in him. I believe that the comfort of knowing Aaron was there for support was enough to enable Moses to rise to the challenge and shine on his own.

It has been a joy and an honor to be an Aaron for this class – but like Moses – you have truly led on your own. You have discovered your unique gifts along the way, and you have boldly acknowledged your own challenges and limitations. What makes this class truly stand out is the way that you have come to gracefully support one another rather than let those challenges stand in your way.

You are what I strive to be every day – inclusive.

I speak often of Confirmation Academy as a process that culminates in the tenth grade year. I wait patiently for our teens to grow and mature, knowing it will happen; expecting it. And yet, even still, there have been subtle and stunning moments along your way that have simply taken my breath away.

Like the moment of watching as students intentionally pull together tables so that the whole class can sit together for dinner and no one is left without a seat.

Like the moment of watching as a student, with dyslexia so severe that she shakes when reading aloud, leans over to point out words to the student next to her when he has lost his place.

And like the moment of watching as a student gently places his hand on the back of a classmate with autism to be sure he finds his way and that they don’t get separated.

This journey hasn’t always been easy. There have been bumps along the way. But you are here now. And I’d say that it has definitely been worth it.

In Pirkei Avot Ben Azzai taught, “Do not disdain any person. Do not underrate the importance of anything for there is no person who does not have his hour, and there is no thing without its place in the sun.” You are the epitome of what Temple Beth-El stands for as an inclusive community. You are an example to the rest of the Jewish world of what is truly possible.

On this, the eve of your Confirmation, mazel tov to you, to your families and Shabbat Shalom.

Teaching Diversity AND Inclusion – The Egg Activity

There’s a terrific image floating around Pinterest for teaching diversity:

Teaching Diversity with Eggs; Removing the Stumbling Block

Speaks for itself, right?

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