The easy answer is to look at the nuts and bolts. The practical strategies for the classroom, the work to improve access to learning experiences, resources and activities as well as adjustments and modifications to assessment. These are all important activities taking place everyday as teachers work to make their curriculum and pedagogy accessible to the diverse range of students sitting in each class.
The annual Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability (NCCD), in particular, has done much to enable schools and the government to understand how our students can be best supported at school. This year our teachers will participate in the collection of data on how they enable their identified students to access learning experiences in an equitable manner.
The harder answer is to look at the less tangible practices which are evolving each day. Inclusive education is an ‘attitude’. Dr Helen Turnbull, a recognised author on diversity and inclusion, points out in her TED Talk below that we are all born with the same need to belong. We share the human experience but at the same time each one of us is uniquely different. Although we often have an affinity to people who are most like us, it is in our acceptance of difference that we have the greatest opportunity to learn and grow as individuals.
Teachers by nature are caring people who strive to do their best for each of their students. Unfortunately, despite the misconception otherwise, no teacher alone can have all of the expertise required to meet the unique and individual needs of every child in every class. For some students all that is required to dig deeper is the opportunity to build a closer relationship with the student and their family. For others it requires the whole village of family, external experts, further research and a systematic program of trial and observation. While this can take time and be equally frustrating for both families and teachers when the answers prove elusive, it is the eureka moments we experience every day which makes the journey so fulfilling for everyone involved. One person who has done much in recent times to break down barriers for people living with difference is Dylan Alcott. Although his video below may be a little bit M rated for some, his message is worth watching all the way through.
Inclusion is about feeling the sense belonging in all areas of life. When we don’t put ourselves in a position to know and understand a diverse range of people, we can unintentionally exclude those who may be the most vulnerable. If our young men don’t personally know a range of people who also happen to live with a visible or invisible difference, they also run the risk of carrying unconscious biases into their adult lives. In the words of Dr Helen Turnbull ‘The unchallenged brain is not worth trusting’.
Inclusion, therefore, is the answer for everyone.
Assistant Dean of Learning | Inclusive Practices