Where Does Your SCHOOL Fall on the Continuum?

RVS Guest Blog: Family School Liaison John Laing –  On Nov. 12, 2012, I posted a blog with a similar title. That blog was intended to open up a discussion about one of the most important underlying factors to the successful implementation of inclusion. Toward that end, I discussed the importance of self-reflection regarding our own beliefs about disability, as well as our role in taking responsibility for meeting the needs of diverse learners. As I previously discussed, defining inclusion is quite simple, but what are the underlying factors that impact the implementation of such an easy definition (well Wikipedia makes it seem easy anyway!)? Such underlying factors are important to consider and reflect upon prior (or concurrently) to simply implementing concrete classroom-based interventions.

Another important and related underlying factor is the nature of the school culture. A school’s norm has a major impact on inclusion and can mold a teacher’s practice, as well as their belief about disability and their role in intervention. A school’s norm can be considered a measure of the overall attitudes and beliefs of school staff toward inclusion, disability, and the resources available to support it. It provides the framework in which individual staff members enact their own beliefs and practices about inclusion. There is plenty of literature supporting the notion that the staff members of a school, including administrators, have a vital impact on what individual teachers believe and practice. When the majority of school staff holds the same belief, such beliefs create the school’s norm/culture. This norm/culture influences the decisions of individual teachers and sets the standard for the entire education delivery process for managing those students with diverse needs (Jordan, 2007). If the school norm is different from an individual teacher’s perspective on teaching their perspective could be shifted toward one that is more in line with the school norm.

According to Jordan (2007), in schools with an inclusionary norm, the principal’s belief that students should be included has a dramatic effect on how teachers teach. In these types of schools, the staff see its roles and responsibilities as working with students with diverse needs, including those with disabilities. Furthermore, staff members hold similar expectations about how they work together, support one another, and use each other’s expertise to include all students. Interestingly, Jordan and Stanovich (2001) found that teachers who worked in such schools provided more and higher quality instruction and had better student engagement for all learners when compared to teachers from schools lacking inclusion as their school norm. They also found that the school norm has a statistically significant impact on teaching practice, teacher’s beliefs, and student outcomes.

School culture becomes particularly important when considering that the single biggest factor that influences teacher’s beliefs about inclusion is not the research literature or professional development seminars on the topic, but their direct experience with inclusion (McLeskey & Waldron, 2000).  Those who have been involved in poorly implemented programs without the necessary support tend to develop negative attitudes about inclusion that are often difficult to change.

Lastly, the literature points to the fact that our own attitude dictates what activities we involve children in, the practices and strategies we use, as well as the day-to-day decisions we make about students. The development of positive attitudes is paramount to the accomplishment of inclusive education. As we have seen, negative attitudes toward inclusion and disability have been correlated with low expectations for achievement for diverse learners, negative impact on student outcome, and poorer student engagement (Jordan, 2007).

If we can consider schools’ norms to fall along a continuum from categorical, withdraw, or pullout to non-categorical/inclusive (focus on learning needs not grouping based on disability), where would your school fall? What is your schools culture, norm, or vision?

Has your belief about disability and/or inclusion changed since the beginning of your career or since coming to your current school? How has your belief been shaped by your school’s culture? How have you shaped your school’s culture and/or your colleague’s beliefs and teaching practices? Who in your school can you count on to hold a positive attitude? Do you have a role in shaping the school norm?

Jordan, A. (2007). Introduction to inclusive education. Mississauga, ON, Canada: John Wiley & Sons Canada.
Jordan, A., & Stanovich, P. (2006). The beliefs and practices of Canadian teachers about including students with special education needs in their regular elementary classrooms. Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
McLeskey, J., & Waldron, N. L. (2000). Inclusive schools in action: Making differences ordinary. Baltimore, MD: ASCD.

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