Celebrating Our Mistakes

Is this inclusive? Removing the Stumbling Block

One of the things I most often discuss when training teachers to be more inclusive is the importance of reframing. We discuss reframing attitudes and reframing language, notions that tend to be easy to understand, even if difficult to apply.

It's when we get to reframing lesson plans that it can get tricky. Even when teachers have the right intentions, they can find it challenging to consistently design lessons with an eye toward inclusion.

There is a lot that good teachers take for granted, especially in successful classrooms. I am guilty of this, too. When we have activities and strategies that have been successful, why would we think about changing them? Because to be truly inclusive is to look at every lesson, every activity, every strategy and ask ourselves, "is this inclusive?"

Accommodation isn't inclusion illustrates this concept. It might be "fine" to adapt an activity or add a component to it to make it more successful for specific students, but it is truly inclusive when we reframe the entire activity in a way that makes this addition a seamless part of the whole.

Celebrating Our Mistakes 
With thanks to Michelle Steinhart of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, NY for this excellent idea!

As teachers set up their classrooms - organizing, labeling and decorating - many are also thinking about systems of behavior management. Most are reading student files and will reach out to begin getting to know their students before the school year even begins. Teachers may learn that a particular student is a "perfectionist", one who struggles to let work go when she thinks she has possibly made a mistake or who will have a meltdown when she does something "wrong". A typical system of behavior management (I am NOT a fan!) would likely have this student earning tickets or stars each time she is able to hand in an assignment with only one revision.

Reframe the system:

Celebrating Our Mistakes; Removing the Stumbling Block

Begin with a classroom discussion of making mistakes and failing as a part of the learning process. Create a system where each student gets to put a marble in the jar when he or she has made a mistake. Just as in other, more traditional systems, the class will earn a reward when the jar is full.

What's different? 
  • First, students are taught that mistakes are a part of the process of learning and growing. 
  • Next, the student who struggles to let work go or has a meltdown when he has made a mistake is no longer singled out. Rather, he is celebrated and comes to learn that he has something valuable to contribute to the classroom community. 
  • Finally, this is a system that celebrates diversity rather than penalizing students for not conforming to an arbitrary set of ideals.

How will you reframe your teaching to make your classroom more inclusive?

Making Inclusion Seamless

To feel confident enough in inclusion; Removing the Stumbling Block

A few years ago I was approached by the parent of a teen from my congregation who wanted her son to get involved in our local region of NFTY (The North American Federation of Temple Youth). We encourage all of our teens to participate in the various events each year, so it should not have really been a question of “could he” but rather just a statement of fact. But her son has autism, and so she was wondering if and how it might work.

As an inclusive congregation we realize that there are other congregations and organizations that are not yet as inclusive as we are, but we typically hope to raise their bar by demonstrating what we do successfully and offering the support necessary to make it happen. We are never certain what the response will be, but we are always optimistic and hopeful.

In this case, I wasn’t really worried. My call was to Pamela Schuller, the Regional Director of Youth Engagement for NFTY-GER, and I knew she would figure out how to make it possible for this young man to join the region. And she did. From hiring one-on-one support to managing medication to adapting programs as necessary, Pam confidently and seamlessly did what was necessary to be sure this teen could be included. So much so that after four years in NFTY-GER, this teen traveled with me and others from our congregation to Atlanta, Georgia this past February for the NFTY National Convention. And Pam made sure that was seamless, too.

This isn’t just one story; it was the same for a student of our congregation with emotional and anxiety issues and one with learning disabilities and so many others. Pam’s philosophy of “Yes, And” is one I share, and it is deeply rooted in the notion that each one of these kids makes our community stronger. It’s never about what has to change for them. It’s always about how their presence will enrich the experience for everyone (knowing that support is always necessary). Pam is an amazing partner and I’ve begun to take it a little bit for granted that all of our kids will be included. And that’s a good thing. To feel confident enough to assume that inclusion will happen is truly a blessing.

About a week ago the following video went viral:

I Am Here, Hear Me Bark: Comedy, Disability and the Inclusive Synagogue

Pam gets it. She truly gets it. The parent of the teen in this story said it perfectly: “Knew she was great and incredible for [my son]. Had no idea how awesome she is period!”

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