Ten Inclusion Mistakes Even Good Educators Make

Ten Inclusion Mistakes Even Good Educators Make

updated November 2020

Inclusion takes intentional planning and hard work. Especially now in the time of remote and hybrid learning experiences. Even the most seasoned educators are figuring out a new way of teaching and will make mistakes from time to time. It is not a time to be critical of ourselves or others. Rather, 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. Yet successful inclusion requires intentional planning. It 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. This is what it means to expect competence.

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.


Inclusion is NOT Social Action

Inclusion is NOT Social Action; Removing the Stumbling Block

updated Oct. 2020

While all of our programs, classrooms, and worship opportunities should be inclusive, inclusion itself is not a program. It’s not a one-time workshop or training session. Inclusion is an attitude, it is something that is just naturally woven into the fabric of what we do. At least it should be.

I was reminded of something significant that I have learned from one of my mentors in the world of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion. Rabbi Lynne Landsberg z"l (of blessed memory), taught that "Inclusion is NOT social action." And yet, all too often, congregations do not know where to "put" their conversations (if they are even having them!) about inclusion, so they fit them under the umbrella of social action. 

There is a distinct problem with this.  

By definition, social action stems from the concept of tikkun olam, repairing the world. There is no doubt that we all need to work together to bring real and lasting change to our world, particularly around the conversation of inclusion. But typically, in congregational life, social action is the term we use to describe "projects" that benefit others. We do not "do" inclusion "for" people with disabilities. Rather, it is incumbent upon us to figure out how everything we would have done anyway, can be inclusive. See the difference??

Need more?

Preparing food for your local shelter = social action.
Planting a garden as a sustainable food source = social action.

Inviting residents of a local group home to Shabbat dinner, NOT social action.


Hosting a bake sale to raise money for Special Olympics = social action.
Attending the Special Olympics to cheer for a member of your congregation, NOT social action.

Inclusion as social action perpetuates stereotypes; Removing the Stumbling Block

Thinking of inclusion as a function of your social action committee perpetuates stereotypes and devalues the significance of any effort you might otherwise bring forward.

Please, have the conversations. Invite individuals with disabilities to be a part of those conversations. And then maybe you can all plan a social action event together.


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I appreciate that the editors at Thinking Person's Guide to Autism cross-posted this article.

Reflection on Yom Kippur

Updated 2020

The purpose of fasting on Yom Kippur; Removing the Stumbling Block

Saying that the high holy day season is a busy time of year for Jewish professionals is like suggesting that a teacher has a “few things to do” in the week leading up to the opening of school; it’s truly a profound understatement. The holy days require many hours of thoughtful preparation in writing, teaching, cooking, cleaning, and so much more. We work to prepare our children & families, our teachers & students, our many congregants; not to mention that we must somehow find the time to prepare ourselves. And now, amidst a global pandemic? It is a whole different kind of preparation, one we have never before encountered.

Many of us now have "virtual" Rosh Hashanah experiences behind us, so we may feel like we know what to expect, but we really do not. Yom Kippur, the most solemn day of the Jewish year, brings opportunities for deep introspection. And for many it is typically a day spent in synagogue and/or fasting, not a day spent in one's living room watching services via Zoom. Do not get me wrong, I am deeply grateful for the technology that is making it possible to experience worship without gathering. I am just suggesting that we need to give ourselves the space to recognize that this is not how we want it to be, and let ourselves feel whatever emotion accompanies that. I think we need to give ourselves permission to experience Yom Kippur in whatever way we need to, given the strange challenges in the world around us. Whatever that looks like, it's ok. 

And an important thought from my wise friend and colleague, Rabbi Ken Carr:
"Fasting on Yom Kippur is a call to a higher level of ethical behavior. It is a signal to recognize the responsibility we bear to other people. It is a shofar blast awakening us to our ability to improve the lives of those who need our help. This true fast is not easy, certainly not as easy as simply not eating and drinking. If our fasting is easy, then the fast will not have served its real purpose. So let us not wish each other a tzom kal, an easy fast; instead, let us wish each other a tzom tov, a good fast, a productive fast, a meaningful fast that leads us to action on behalf of those less fortunate than ourselves."

I wish each of you a tzom tov, a good fast. May this Yom Kippur be a meaningful holiday for those who observe, in whatever way you are able to observe.



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Celebrating ADA and Creating an Inclusive Jewish Community - We Are Not There Yet


Inclusion is the right thing to do; Removing the Stumbling Block

As we mark the 30th anniversary of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) we can joyfully celebrate the many accomplishments to date as we think deeply about the work that still lies ahead. A moving resource is the ADA Legacy Project's "Because of the ADA I..." campaign, which offers a collection of inspirational quotes and stories made possible by this groundbreaking legislation. 

When I conduct professional workshops and training sessions for Jewish leaders seeking to become more inclusive, I typically begin by asking them to share their definition of inclusion. (There are fun & catchy ways to do this including using the prompt define inclusion in three words or less.) The reason for this set-induction is two-fold; first, it focuses participants on the task at hand and second, it helps participants to recognize, up front, that there is no universal definition of inclusion.


You may be wondering why that matters. No universal definition or standard of inclusion means that individual organizations and school districts must figure out for themselves what inclusion means and how it might best be accomplished in their setting. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in state and local government programs and services. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities. Both of these laws prohibit discrimination. Both laws describe appropriate accommodations. But neither actually defines or explains what it means to be inclusive. As a result, there is tremendous variation from state to state and district to district.

It gets even more complicated for us in the Jewish world. As privately run religious institutions we are not bound by the ADA or IDEA. There are no legal mandates requiring us to make accommodations for and/or offer inclusive opportunities for people with disabilities and their families. Advocates of an inclusive Jewish world know that the inclusion of Jews of all abilities is the right, moral, and just thing to do. We know that we must look past legal mandates and turn, instead, to our own Jewish teachings and sensibilities to guide us to do what is right. But without laws or specific mandates, many Jewish leaders find themselves without the proper support and guidance to make inclusion a reality.

Questions I am frequently asked include: How do we start? What do we do? How can we seek to bring more people into our community if we can’t accommodate their needs once they are there? Why is it that some people feel inclusion means everyone all together all the time while others prefer a balance of separate and inclusive opportunities? How do we choose what is right and what is really inclusive?

A powerful exercise to move the conversation forward can be to explore what inclusion is NOT. Jewish leaders can make strides toward a more inclusive culture when they avoid common pitfalls and assumptions:

Inclusion is NOT saying that you welcome everyone – plastering it on websites and brochures - and then having meetings, programs, or events where the same core group attends and sticks together while others are left outside that “inner circle”.

Inclusion is NOT an event or a program where you invite people with disabilities to share their experiences. (That can be a really meaningful experience for everyone, by the way – it’s just not inclusion in and of itself.)

Inclusion is NOT a favor you do for someone.

shaded image of footsteps with the words Inclusion is NOT social action
Inclusion is NOT a social action project or something your social action committee is “in charge of handling”. Inclusion, when it is part of the culture of a community, offers everyone an opportunity to participate in a wide variety of meaningful experiences.

Inclusion is NOT a place or a person – it’s not a classroom, a quiet room, the inclusion teacher, the inclusion specialist. Inclusion is who we are and what we do. It can’t be an after-thought or a last minute accommodation when someone with a disability “shows up”.

Inclusion is NOT accidentally sending the message to be thankful that you are “whole”. This is the “I’m so lucky I don’t have (fill-in-the-blank)” concept which conveys a message of pity rather than a celebration of the gifts each person has to offer.

The message is clear: Inclusion matters, legal mandates or not. It is incumbent upon each organization to develop an understanding of inclusion and work toward creating a vibrant community that includes and supports everyone. I'd love to help your community on its journey.


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