Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Indicators of Inclusive Schools

As we gear up for the new school year, our department has created a step by step outline of how to use the Indicators of Inclusive Schools Tool on the Alberta Ed website.  This is a great conversation starter but a tad overwhelming when you first glance through the booklet.  My goal in writing this was to make this more user friendly. So this is what I wrote...

How inclusive is your school?  Feel pretty good about it?  Not sure?  Want to improve?  Alberta Education has created an excellent tool to help you move forward on the path to becoming a  “welcoming, high quality learning and working environment” (District Priority # 2, 2014-2018, http://epsb.ca/ourdistrict/vision/, 2014).

  • supports school leaders in initiating a focused
conversation about inclusive learning environments;
  • supports evidence informed decision making that embraces
and values diversity;
  • helps schools determine strengths, and identify and reflect
on actions that they can take to enhance inclusive learning
  • provides a multi-entry process that can guide priority
setting and inform improvement planning, including
the three year education plan; and
  • includes sample tools and a set of surveys that school
leaders can use to identify and plan for how to reduce
barriers to student success
(Indicators of Inclusive Schools, page 5, para 2, Alberta Education, 2014)

When you think of the word inclusion, what does it mean to you and your staff?
-working with the Inclusive Learning Team?
-students with severe special needs in your classes?
-more paper work?
-Individual Program Plans (IPPs)?
-Educational Assistants will be needed?
-Inspiring Education?
-Action on Inclusion?
-Am I capable?
-Will I know what to do?
-What will an included student get out of being in my class?

These may be all part of the understanding and/or fear of an inclusive setting.  How are we to achieve Edmonton Public’s expectation of an “inclusive education system with its values reflected in District programs, operations and practices” (HA.BP, para 1)?

The Board Policy HA.BP describes such a system for us to follow in their philosophical foundation statement.  Many schools have worked to create a welcoming, supportive environment that honors diversity. As it is policy, how can we strengthen, maintain and build upon these practices?

In the past years we have worked to implement this policy through a variety of avenues and documents in our district (you may or may not be able to access these (If not and you would like more information, please email me):

We have read it all and at times, still struggle to become the welcoming community of included learners that we all want to be.  Alberta Education has provided this tool, Indicators of an Inclusive School,  to support leaders in their communication with staff to become that truly inclusive community where every child is welcomed and has their needs met emotionally, physically, and academically.

This guide is organized in five dimensions:
  1. Establishing Inclusive Values and Principles
  2. Building Inclusive Learning Environments
  3. Providing Supports for Success
  4. Organizing Learning and Instruction
  5. Engaging with Parents and the Community

Tools provided include:
  1. Conversation Guides for each dimension (page 29 of document for link to printable tool/ pages 15, 16 for facilitation process)
    1. this tool helps you look at where your school currently stands by asking for specific examples and non-examples in each dimension.
  2. Getting at the Root of the Challenge (page 29 of document for link to printable tool / pages 17, 18, 19 for facilitation process)
    1. this tool gives opportunity to find out the deeper reasons behind a stall in the direction of inclusion; the “whys” behind not moving toward inclusion.
     3.   Action Planning ( page 29 of document for link to printable tool/ pages 20 -24 for
facilitation process).
a.  this tool offers the “nuts and bolts” of moving toward inclusion with indications of who is responsible  and a timeline for completion.  This is the IPP for the school so to speak.  Just as we create IPPs for students to move forward, the creation of the action plan becomes our school IPP. Let's call this the Inclusive Action Plan (IAP).
     4. Surveys (page 29 of document for link to printable tools/ Pages 25-26 for facilitation process)
a. this tool has complete surveys for parents, division II, III and IV students, school staff, and district authorities.  Suggestions are offered as to how to deliver surveys either via paper or online.  Ideas on how to disseminate data collected are given also.
b. using this tool offers your whole school community an opportunity to engage in the discussion.

Having this tool in hand, how can the Inclusive Learning Team assist you in building capacity in school staff to meet the needs of your diverse learners in your school? How can we assist you in creating your school IAP?
Possible suggestions to discuss with your IL Supervisor include:
-facilitated conversations
-professional learning
-collaborative problem solving
-resources to support common language
-review of the Inclusive Learning Publications
-targeted processes to meaningfully involve parents of students with special needs

“Inclusion is about belonging. Reasonable and appropriate accommodations can help us to integrate our students, but intentionality and planning is needed to ensure that every student belongs—all the time.”

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Indicators of Inclusive Schools

On Saturday I had the distinct pleasure and honor of presenting with two wonderful people: Renee Laporte (@beyondthecrayon) and Nathan Devlin.  This dynamic duo have worked together for many years as Nathan negotiated the education system with the support of Renee.  First of all, you need to know that we presented at #Redcamp14 which has become an annual gathering of educators from Alberta who meet to discuss current needs.  In the morning I joined a conversation about High School ReDesign. What exciting times are ahead for children in high school!  Next I joined a conversation about Equity in the schools and watched a video of Stephen Murgatroyd:
It gave us great points for discussion and we looked at the GERM framework vs the EQUITY framework.
Another opportunity to take part in an excellent discussion.

Finally in the afternoon the three of us presented the Indicators of an Inclusive School package.  We looked at the five dimensions of an inclusive school and Nathan shared the indicators in each dimension that he thought were the most important.  We talked about the importance of looking at our assumptions around inclusion.  It is so easy to say, "I believe in inclusion so long as the student can manage in my classroom."  But we forget that all behaviour has a function of communication.  Every behaviour has meaning and it is up to us to figure out what that meaning is.  It isn't up to the student to measure up.  We talked about how students with significant needs must repeatedly prove their right to a classroom while all other students can simply be there as their "right to education."

Students with "behaviours" have reasons for their behaviours.  Yes, they are difficult to work with but imagine their world, their needs, their turmoil...  Unless we try to step into their world and the world of their parents, we cannot begin to understand and meet their needs.

We talked about the need to engage parents and how that was different from interacting with parents.  We have to get past the activities we get parents to "do" such as book parent, fieldtrips, and such.  To truly engage parents, we need to have dialogues that get to the depths of their child's education and needs.  We need to really listen to parents' hopes and dreams for their children and include this in their IPPs.

Nathan made the biggest impact, I think.  His voice and his choice of important indicators of an inclusive schools.  He made it clear what would need to happen for a school to be truly inclusive.

Should you take a look at this tool, you will find surveys to give to all stakeholders to start the process. You will find a tool that will help your staff examine their own assumptions and barriers to true inclusion in the school.

After figuring out the barriers, a tool is provided to create an action plan or IPP for your school.  You can create goals for each dimension along with room for objectives and strategies to insure your school meets its goals toward inclusion.  It is a fine, yet rather unknown tool that has been updated recently by Alberta Ed.

This summer I look forward to figuring out a way to introduce this tool to all principals in our district through a series of tip sheets.  I hope this series will help folks in our district to examine their underlying assumptions about inclusion, face them and move forward for all of our students.