Competence and Confidence Partners in Policymaking: Family Leadership for Inclusive Education in Non-Traditional Settings (C2P2 FL)

Patrick Schwarz: The Benefits of Inclusive Education

Patrick Schwarz, Ph.D. is a dynamic and engaging professor, author, motivational speaker and leader in Inclusive Education and Human Services. He is the CEO of Creative Culture Consulting LLC and Professor Emeritus at National Louis University, Chicago. Patrick's concise video vignette on the benefits of inclusive education is informative for administrators, educators and families alike. Recorded in January 2017.

Read the transcript below, or download the Word document.


I believe the most significant obstacle to inclusive education in schools is the way that we originally set up business in 1975, when we have the first real special education law, called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. What people thought was the right thing to do at the time is have separate buses, have separate entrances to the school, have separate classrooms, have a separate lunch table, have separate staff development, and separate related services.

And it was well-meaning at the time, and there were separate special education budgets. However, we found that it doesn't work.

There are a variety of different strategies to help students in elementary school be able to be successfully included within that school. One of the things that we've seen in the past is that students may have not gone to the same school as their general education peers. And so going to that neighborhood school which everybody in your neighborhood community attends would be a really great way to start to include students in their own neighborhood community.

The next area, in terms of promoting an inclusive school, would be having a general education homeroom. Because sometimes students are in separate or special education environments during their school day is bringing them together with their peers in a homeroom, means you're a member and not a visitor to your particular school.

The next strategy or tip for successfully including students who have a disability into an inclusive education environment would be planning and also solving problems and coming together as a team, where all team members are treated as equals. Those include students, family members, teachers, para-educators, leaders, and related services.

One of the innovative, diverse learning strategies that is very helpful is to bring students supports forward. And in the past, we may have not always had the most up to date effective students supports. Today, those are in the areas of universal design, and that means we're making learning accessible for everybody.

They are also in the form of differentiation. And that's making learning work for everybody, and also individual student accommodations for students who might need a little more support.

Another tool that is very helpful when we're talking about inclusive education is called IEP at a glance. IEPs can be fairly lengthy documents, and the IEP at a glance helps us really zero in on what's succinct or what's the most important information to be able to prioritize what's important in that classroom at that particular time.

The next important tip for inclusive education is making sure that we see behavior as a form of communication. And if the student needs a positive behavior support, if we look at what the student is communicating through their behavior, we're halfway to solving it.

In middle school, in order to support inclusive education, it's very important to continue supports in the area of differentiation, universal design, and accommodations. So that we're ensuring we're making learning work for everybody, that it's accessible, and for students who need a little more individually, that we're putting those supports forward.

In middle school, it's really helpful to be able to support students in an inclusive education model through preventing learned helplessness. And what learned helplessness means that somebody is doing something for a student that number one they could already do for themselves, number two be taught to do for themselves, or number three be adapted so they could do it for themselves.

To me that's the worst disability of all, because it could double an existing disability. So in order to make sure we're promoting independence, we need to avoid anything that involves learned helplessness.

For middle school, one of the things that starts to come up more often is there are after school clubs and activities for students. And that's really important because a number of kids that receive special education services have goals on their individual plan to be able to communicate with others.

If there is not an after school club, an activity that the student is interested in, maybe it's helpful to actually create one or develop one. So for example, in one school based on a kid's interest in video and computer games, they started the gaming club.

Ever so more important in high school when kids continue to be included is we need to really continue to focus on differentiation, universal design, and student accommodations to make learning work for all. And that's going to be a big feature because the curriculum gets more complex, and we can zero in on how that relates to the learner and the way they best learn. And this is also helpful for all students in a classroom.

Also in high school, one of the things that happens is you see more types of teams. So you might see grade level teams, you might see departmental teams, things such as that. And it's really important to have a special education representation on all teams so that they can co-plan, work on curriculum together, and make sure all educators are on the same page with one another in terms of supporting students.

In high school, another thing that I'm seeing more often is co-teaching, and what co-teaching would mean in one form, it could be a general educator teaching together with a special educator in a general classroom. And they would be supporting a group of diverse students.

Some might have IEPs, some might not have IEPs. Some might receive related services, some might need bilingual supports and things such as that. And one of the things with co-teaching that is a feature is two teachers are making contributions that have different specialty areas, making the learning for everyone stronger.

So we always want to be looking towards the future. And if you're thinking about students, perhaps going on to higher education, the work world, and other important community types of environments, which to me is really adult inclusion, I think we also really need to prepare students for that in school. So something called student collaboration is really important.

There are very effective strategies that can be put forward where students learn from one another, and it helps them in the future when they are working in higher education with professors or other university students. And in the work realm with coworkers and customers and other people such as that.

The most important thing an administrator can do to support the inclusion of all kids is first of all, make sure that there are philosophy statements, mission statements, beliefs statements, vision statements that really support kids working together and learning together and bringing students together. And it comes down again to something that I feel is very important at all grade levels, and that is universal design for access, differentiation to make sure learning works for everybody, and individual student accommodations. If teachers get great about addressing and supporting kids with those areas, it will be the most successful way of including students in the general education classroom.

Universal design is my favorite support for an inclusive classroom. And really, again, and it's to make access happen for the curriculum. And there's three different areas for universal design.

The first one is called representation. So that's how we're representing curriculum to make it work for students.

So for example, always having audio and visual supports available for students is critical. As well as thinking about ways that we can support students such as graphic organizers, study guides, and things such as that which bring success.

Another way in that particular area is something called leveled books. So for example, you can take the book, To Kill a Mockingbird, and get it at several different reading levels, and it looks like everybody's carrying the same book, but it meets everybody's literacy level needs.

Another area for universal design is engagement. And that means how do we make the curriculum and lessons interesting so students want to learn. And things such as giving students choice for how they do their work.

So they could work alone, they could work in a pair, they could work in a small group, they could go to the library if they wish. And giving that choice to students may help them be more engaged and may increase learning and achievement in the school.

The third area of universal design is called the expression. And what expression means is giving students alternatives for the way that they might be assessed.

Some students might benefit or be able to demonstrate that they've learned something even more through a project, making a film, creating a portfolio, doing an oral type of test sometimes, or doing something visual, which depicts what they are able to represent with their knowledge and what they have learned.

It's very important to think about ways that we can bring students together. And there are creative ways of making sure that we're including all students, and at the same time, it is a process. It's a think big, but start small process. It's a step by step process and every week I'm meeting individuals that are taking that segregation away and creating possibilities and inclusive supports bringing all kids together.

Inclusive education is a process, but has worked most in schools that I have been involved with is thinking big but starting small. And taking a step by step process.

And every single week I meet individuals who are following that, that are creating possibility from disability and creating successful outcomes for students. And all of a sudden, when you're taking that step by step process, you're going further in the journey and things are coming together which you truly are becoming an inclusive school system.

I believe successful school inclusion leads to successful adult inclusion in the community. And really the goal that we have for all kids is for them to be able to live, work, play, and become educated in the communities of their choice.

And I believe that if we can get this taking place in a school, which is a microcosm of our community, is we will lead to better quality of lives for all students.

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Contact Cathy Roccia-Meier

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