A guest post by Frankie Wallace
Inclusive classrooms are becoming far more common in today’s public schools, meaning there are a greater number of students with disabilities who receive their education in general education classrooms.
In fact, The National Center for Education Statistics notes that the number of students with disabilities who spend most of their day in the general education classroom has jumped from 33 percent in 1990 to 62 percent in 2014.
Transitioning these students into an inclusive general education classroom can be challenging, however, and it’s far from being an overnight process. Transitioning students with disabilities requires thoughtful planning, as well as additional teacher training, resources, and personnel.
It’s also important to remember that you not only have to provide support for the child with disabilities, but also for their peers. After all, if that child has never experienced an inclusive classroom, it’s likely that their peers are unfamiliar with that environment as well. Students may be curious about the situation, or harbor misconceptions about students with disabilities.
There are things that teachers, administrators, and parents can do to help facilitate smooth transitions for students with disabilities to help cultivate an inclusive environment in the classroom.
Establish Principles That Apply To All Students
When helping students with disabilities transition to a general education classroom, it’s important to establish general concepts about students with and without special needs. This can be done through discussions, books, films, or having special guests come into your classroom. In general, you’ll want your students to understand that regardless of ability:
- All students want to belong and be included.
- Everyone is different.
- Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Some students learn in different ways. These differences do not determine their value as human beings.
Let Each Student Share Things About Themselves and Dispel Any Myths
It may be worthwhile to give each student the opportunity to talk about themselves, including things that they’re good at or things that they’re passionate about. Allow others to ask questions about each other, within reasonable standards.
This also gives teachers the opportunity to dispel any myths and misunderstandings that may arise. Here, it’s important that you highlight that some disabilities are more visible, while others are not; physical disabilities do not determine a person’s level of intelligence; and that people with disabilities are people first.
Adapt Disability Awareness into Your Lessons
According to Pew Research, there are over 40 million individuals living with disabilities in the United States, meaning that 12.6 of the population has some kind of disability. It’s very likely that someone they know experiences difficulty with hearing, vision, cognition, walking, mental health, or a physical disability.
Whether it’s a person who uses cochlear implants to hear, a person who uses a wheelchair to get around, or a person who has a harder time processing speech, it’s important for students to know that we will all live with, shop with, work with, and be socially connected to a person with a disability at some point in our lives.
There are specific lesson plans already available that can help to aid students in their understanding of disabilities, allowing them to be more empathetic of students and peers who have different abilities than they do moving forward.
Maintain a Positive Classroom Community
It’s important to promote and maintain a positive classroom community throughout the year. Encourage respect between peers, use of appropriate language, and positive social skills. It’s also important in general classrooms to be aware of bullying in all its forms, in person or online, and to put a stop to it in an empathetic way that doesn’t make the problem worse. Remember that civil rights laws protect students with disabilities against harassment, and schools that fail to respond appropriately to harassment can be subject to investigation by the Office for Civil Rights.
It may be important to regularly gather feedback from your students that specifically asks about their experience in the classroom.
Address Your Own Unconscious Bias
Recent studies have shown that while people can be consciously committed to egalitarianism and aim to behave without bias or prejudice, many still maintain an unconscious bias. Even though many believe that they see and treat people equally, these hidden biases can influence our perceptions and actions.
If people are aware of these hidden biases, they can better monitor and work to ameliorate these unconscious attitudes before they’re expressed through behavior.
As inclusive general classrooms become more normalized, it’s important that parents, students, and teachers work to make students with disabilities feel at ease and included in these new environments.