Registered Provisional Psychologist – The idea of inclusion is not a new one and has certainly been discussed in Rocky View Schools, as well as in the larger education system for some time. We all have our ideas about what inclusion means and have the ability to espouse a philosophical and/or theoretical definition of inclusive teaching practice. That is fantastic; however, the discussion and implementation of inclusive practice becomes much more difficult when looking at the operational aspects. According to McLeskey and Waldron (2012) far more teachers support the concept of inclusion than are willing to teach in inclusive classrooms. Much of the time, this is the result of the teacher’s beliefs about disability and his or her professional efficacy. As such, I wish to open up a discussion about how our own beliefs impact the success of meeting the needs of diverse learners. Successful inclusion first begins with self-reflection regarding our personal beliefs about diverse students, such as those with various disabilities, and our perceived role in taking responsibility to reduce the barriers to their learning.
Just as students with diverse needs can be considered to fall along a continuum of learner differences, teachers’ and school administrators’ beliefs about their role in supporting such students can also be considered to fall along a continuum between pathognomonic and interventionist constructs. A pathognomonic construct focuses on identifying or diagnosing students’ problems and weaknesses. Disability is perceived as an internal attribute and condition of the student. Teachers whose beliefs lie in this direction focus on ‘what is’ and perceive themselves as having little impact on the success and outcome of those with certain learning challenges. A pathognomonic outlook supports the practice of placing students with special needs in separate programs and schools, such as those with learning challenges, mental health symptoms, medical needs, etc. However, on the other end of the continuum, the interventionist construct focuses on how environmental and social factors impair a student’s learning. Disability is viewed, at least in part, as being created by external barriers to learning. Teachers with this perspective see themselves as responsible for intervening and advocating for students with disabilities to illicit change in the environment to aide in supporting the student’s learning needs.
Teaching practices and inclusion are largely influenced by teacher efficacy. A teacher’s professional efficacy is impacted by their understanding of certain disabilities and experience supporting such challenges. Toward that end it is important that professionals reflect upon their level of understanding of certain disabilities, as well their level of knowledge or expertise in supporting students with certain challenges. This begs the questions: where do you fall on the continuum? Does your place on the continuum change depending on the student’s disability or learning challenges? Where are you on the continuum for including a student with a learning disability in math, reading, writing, etc? Is it different for a student with behavioural deficits such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder, or Attention-Deficit/Hyper Activity Disorder? What about a student with anxiety, depression, experienced trauma, family system difficulties? Which way would you move if a student with medical challenges or Autism Spectrum Disorder was in your class? If your place on the continuum does change, how much of that change can be attributed to your understanding of certain disabilities and/or your experience with supporting students with those specific needs? Would you raise your hand to be the one to support students with diverse needs in your class/school?
Research has shown that teacher and school administer beliefs about disability and their own professional efficacy greatly impact the success of inclusion for diverse learners. Such beliefs are the impetus for supporting inclusion and underlie any theoretical or philosophical definition of inclusion. After reflection upon your own beliefs about diverse learning challenges, and your role in supporting such students, what would you need to move further toward the interventionist side of the continuum for supporting all learners?