Sunday, 14 October 2012

Inclusion is an Attitude

Today I read Chris Smeaton's blog post, Inclusion is About an Attitude.  He talked about the fact that we have made some gains in the past thirty years but as he said, we still have much to accomplish before we can say that we are truly an inclusive community. When I began teaching high school in 1985, streaming students was the most common practice and congregated programs or non-attendance at schools were the only options.

He continued to say that over time his learning has changed. Knowing that our attitudes have to change in order for inclusion to be successful, he stated that when our attitudes shift to our children instead of those children, we will recognize:
  • The beauty of diversity                                                                     
  • The belief in uniqueness
  • That every child brings strengths
  • That every child deserves our best…all the time    
We definitely have to experience a paradigm shift regarding who these little people belong to! We cannot keep saying "those kids" and "my kids".  They are all our kids. You know, it seems so easy for teachers to talk about our exceptional students as aliens on our planet. I guess they don't understand if they have never walked in the shoes of the parents, but we have to be able to step into their shoes; teachers have to be able to take the parents' perspective.  Show some empathy and compassion. . .

Try taking the perspective of the parent in this poem:

Welcome to Holland

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this…

When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum, the Michelangelo David, the gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."

"Holland?!" you say. "What do you mean, Holland?" I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy.

But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven't taken you to some horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.

So you must go out and buy a new guidebook. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It's just a different place. It's slower paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around, and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills, Holland has tulips, Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy, and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life you will say, "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."

The pain of that will never, ever, go away, because the loss of that dream is a very significant loss.

But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things about Holland.

Written by Emily Perl Kingsley 

If that doesn't make you change your perspective, I am not sure what will . . .
I know my job as principal is to lead change, to champion the changes needed in a school, but this time my heart is heavy and I am having a hard time overcoming.  I spent the weekend at the ATA Special Education conference surrounded by folks who work day after day with exceptional children and make a difference.  They are keen to help students demonstrate their strengths, to overcome their challenges.  We have such a big job to change the attitude of those who still think our students do not belong unless they measure up to their "normal" standard (that is so funny because what is normal??). Can I do it?  Can I lead an effective change?  I pray for the strength to keep at this task, to finish the journey. . .
I close this post with Chris Smeaton's closing,
A change in our attitudes will cause a change in our practices. Our attitudes will drive a continuum of support for every child as opposed to a default position of segregation. Our attitudes will develop school environments that will change societal views. Our attitudes will bring more than tolerance. They will bring understanding and acceptance.  And eventually, we will get to a place described by this quote.
“ When someone is truly included, no one will question their presence- only their absence.”- Renee Laporte
                                  photo from

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