Friday, 12 December 2014

Sad Week and One Happier Note

This has been a tough week for our consulting staff as two young people we have been working with passed away suddenly.  We understand the fragile nature of our young students but we have been delighted in their recent progress and their wonderful personalities.  However, our hearts are breaking for their loss and for their families, as we can't even fully imagine their pain and loss.  We are reminded to hold our loved ones close for we do not know the future.  These young men will leave an imprint on our hearts as we continue to work with their classmates.  Should you feel so inclined to donate on their behalf, please donate to the Cerebral Palsy Association of Alberta.

On a happy note, we received an email regarding a high school student in one of our ISP (Individual support classrooms).  Her mother reported that this gal had two favorite toys at home that she played with exclusively.  While the family read to her regularly, she did not really show any interest.  Last week, her mom reported that on her own, this gal picked up and book and read it without prompting or suggestion by mom.  Her mom was ecstatic! And so were we when we heard the news.  This is after only 3 months of a literacy program.  Imagine the possibilities for students who have regular literacy learning every day of their entire school career.  It boggles my mind what the difference could be!

Chapter 3: the Cognitive Domain

This was a meaty chapter for us to digest.  Shanker lists several key components of the cognitive domain including (p. 45):

  • focusing and switching focus as needed
  • thinking about the perspectives of other's
  • planning and executing several steps of action in a row
  • understanding cause and effect
  • thinking logically
  • setting learning goals for oneself
  • monitoring and assessing personal performance
  • realizing that failure is the opportunity to learn
  • managing time
  • developing self-awareness (around personal strengths and weaknesses)
  • using learning resources such as tech as needed
Phew, it makes me tired just reading this list.  Imagine the effort a youngster needs to put in during a classroom day?  How does this list relate to a child's ability in the area of executive function?  These are often the expectations of the classroom and we can all think of students who find it difficult to excel in all of these areas.  Shanker proposes students should be thinking about their thinking (metacognition).  This reminded me of a past school I worked in where our focus was on teaching students about metacognition.  Anytime we did big projects or key assignments, students (and teachers) completed a reflection to think about our learning and how this learning affected us.  It was the way of the school and most students left the school able to carry out many of the items on the list.  

Some of the key points that impacted staff in the book study include the following:
1. video games offer a natural opiate for students and to keep that "opiate" level up, the amount of stimulation may need to increase  over time.  What impact does this have on the classroom?  We may have to be as exciting as a video game! On the other hand, we may want to limit the amount of gaming in the classroom - not to eliminate it completely but give out careful doses.
2.On p. 59 of the book , it was noted that physical activity such as obstacle courses and big games are needed to develop motor coordination  and therefore improve attention in the classroom.  We can't sit all day! 
3. Many staff noted the importance of play listed on p. 49.  Play is "authentic and meaningful to children" and necessary for development.  We recognize there still needs to be more play in classrooms and not only in kindergarten.  Play in division I is key to development of social interactions and problem solving.  It was recognized that we can't just tell kids to go play and think we have done what we need.  Adults need to be available to guide students through difficult problem solving  and demonstrating how to play.  Our EAs need to be right in the middle of play to be the role models for the students.
4. Structured board games got a high five in this book especially for older students.  These offer opportunities for turn-taking, conversation and social skill development.  It would seem board games are making a comeback in Edmonton and you can find unique cafes that offer this activity here and here.  What a great family outing!  I know of families who have Board Game night at their homes.  It doesn't always have to be technology, technology, technology.  My favorite board game is the Farming Game where you buy and sell crops and livestock.  Our family had a blast playing this game! 
5.  Loved the simile brought up - attention is like a gas tank - you can run out! 
6. A interesting part of the discussion was about Auditory Processing when your ears and your brain just don't work together.  Thus the student wants to pay attention but there is just too much going on the in the classroom and everything just gets jumbled together. The difficulty in discriminating sounds causes many issues in reading, taking instructions, social discussion, and sensory overload.  Students need to be encouraged to learn when they need a break and to take that break to decrease the anxiety. 
7. Students who have difficulty sustaining attention , who give up at the earliest frustration, who fantasize extensively, and who are vulnerable to distracting impulsive thoughts do NOT NEED TO BE PUNISHED.  This does NOT work. It just makes their difficulties with attention worse. (p. 46-47)
8.Trauma and stress have great impact on attention.  How can we expect a child in fight or flight mode to "pay attention?"  Just as a hungry child cannot work and think, nor can a traumatized child do so.  Teachers need to read and learn about trauma in order to support these little ones.  Ross Greene's Lost at School talks about alternatives to punishment for these little people.  
9.  Relationships, relationships, relationships!  Teachers need to build relationships with students so they can intimately know what their students need and then work to meet that need.  Reference was made to the work of Jennifer Katz in social emotional learning and understanding and how similar Shanker and Katz were in terms of how to build this area so children can learn.
10. p. 64 gave the reader many suggestions of how to motivate students.  A key point was moving from large group activities to small group activities so all students could be involved.  

Finally, we all agreed that by doing one small thing, nothing would change for students but a large paradigm shift is needed to avoid labeling so many children as attention deficit.  We need to get to the root of the issue before slapping on a label.  We recognize this takes time but could make all the difference in the world for your students!  Recently we have seen a number of students using Class Dojo as a tool to get kids to "pay attention."  This method involved public humiliation and taking points away if a student is off task or any number of infractions decided on by the teacher.  Can you imagine the stress level of students and how this would have the exact opposite impact resulting in diminished attention!  Check out this great article about Class Dojo here to find out more about the negative impact.  I mean, sure you will get short term compliance but I am certain you will have to up the ante over and over again as the impact wears off.  

Our students deserve the best possible education and space to chill out if they need it.  Why not create a soft area where students can take a break in your classroom when they are overwhelmed and make that the norm rather than getting to the point of complete annoyance (hey, we are human) and reacting negatively? Last, but certainly not least, KNOW YOUR STUDENTS.  Know what they need to be successful.  It might mean you have to change up your practices but it will be worth it in the long run.  Both you and your students will be happier and self-regulated!

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Chapter 2: The Emotional Domain

It has been an incredibly busy month in our district.  I am not sure I have experienced such a busy startup.  As we look at the emotional domain of regulation, I am reminded of many adults who have either expressed their "stress" or lack of regulation or I have witnessed it in an outpouring  of emotional disregulation in tears and anger!  Shanker asks at the beginning of the chapter why teachers should even be concerned about a student's emotional regulation. Isn't this the responsibility of parents? After all, teacher teach to the cognitive!

in reading this chapter, we realized how closely tied a student's level of arousal and their ability to learn. The key learnings we gleaned from this chapter include the following:

It is very important to explicitly teach students about their emotions; how they feel, how they act and how they sound when they have a certain emotion.

Working on learning the emotions should not be a separate item or part of curriculum (p.33).  A teacher should enhance lessons with emotional learning or integrate the teaching of emotions in the delivered lessons throughout the curriculum.

Teachers should incorporate a range of activities that allow the integration of emotional learning through the day and focus should shift from product to process (p. 30)

The key components of emotional learning include: self-awareness, self-modulation, empathy for others around us, and relationship management (p. 32).

It is important to note students (and teachers) need to understand up-regulation and down-regulation (p. 27).

When asked, students often only identified negative emotions (p. 27).  Is that because we more often call them on negatives and forget the positives?

It is key to note that there may be cultural implications regarding students' identifications of emotions (p. 27).  One idea offered is to send students home to gather information from parents regarding important emotions or those emotions "not allowed to be shown." (p. 34)

The awareness wheel on page 39 would be an excellent tool to help students understand their range of emotions.  (Also found here on page 7 of the powerpoint).

Page 41 offers a great assignment for students (and adults) to track their emotions in an "Emotion Journal".  The idea is to write down how you are feeling throughout the day and associate an emotion with that feeling.

Tools to help students with regulation included yoga, tai chi, meditation and breathing exercises (p. 44).  However, if parents are resistant to some of these, you could also do stretching, walking, breathing exercises outside, observe nature, singing, animal therapy or listening to your heartbeat.

It was noted by staff that some children have only models of disregulation at home, making it difficult for schools to help students learn.

It was also noted by staff that teachers have differing abilities to regulate which might make it difficult for students moving from teacher to teacher in junior and senior high.  Meeting the expectations in each class may cause disregulation.

How can we use this knowledge in our work?
1. use strategies as suggestions in reports
2. offer parents ideas if they are open
3. offer teachers ideas if they are open
4. model discussion about emotions if asked to model lessons
5. introduce the SNAP model 
                          STOP (things I can do to STOP myself and calm my body)
                          -snap my fingers to remind myself to using calming strategies
                          -take deep breaths
                          -put my hands in my pockets
                          -take a step back
                          -count to 10

                          NOW AND (things I can say to myself to keep calm and help me to make the
                          right choices)
                          -calming thoughts/ coping statements
                          -"this is hard, but I can do it"
                          -"I can stay in control"

                          PLAN (Once I have stopped and calmed down, what can I do?)
                          -pick a plan that will work for me and
                          -make me feel like a winner
                          -make the problem smaller not bigger
                          -not hurt anyone, myself or anything
From PAGE 40

6. recommend the book
7. creating awareness for teachers to react calmly to students
8. introduce cultural awareness when needed

Finally, someone read a saying on a poster in one of our buildings...

                                               If a child doesn't know how to....

                                                               read, we teach
                                                              swim, we teach
                                                             count, we teach
                                                             drive, we teach
                                                            behave, we ... punish?

Students need to learn  about their emotions and they don't learn this by osmosis.  We need to model, role play, share, discuss, reinforce, and practice, practice, practice. Our students with exceptionalities often need even more practice yet we give up so easily on them and "place" them in a class that will "better meet their needs."  Yet, if we failed to teach emotional regulation to all of our students, we have failed them.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Calm, Alert and Learning: book study

Our team is completing a monthly book study on Stuart Shanker's book, "Calm, Alert and Learning."  Today our focus was on chapter one: The Biological Domain.  I asked staff to read the chapter and then in small groups, discuss what stood out for you?  What surprised you? and finally, how can this knowledge impact your practice when you are in classrooms?

This is a collection of their thoughts...
What stood out for you in this chapter?
1. The need to "de-clutter" classrooms.  A great deal of visual stimuli is not always helpful.  It can over stimulate students.
2. The concept of up-regulating and down-regulating.
3. There shouldn't be a "one size fits all" approach.  Students are all different. What gets some students going may be too much for another student.
4. We need to give teachers the understanding and the background tools to understand students are not ever "bad."
5. As I write reports, I need to self-regulate.
6. The analogy of self-regulation and cars
7. The Biological domain is included in self-regulation.
8. Shanker includes good, practical ways to explain this to teachers.
9. The more you work toward teaching students self-regulation, the deeper you can go and then children will be better able to understand the nuances and differences in their own self-regulation.
10. The Alert Program is similar to the Zones of Regulation.
11. This would be a familiar starting place for teachers.  The book offers general ideas for teachers or a more structured approach as needed.
12. Activities like soccer or other gym activities take time for down-regulation.
13. We need to take notice of what students are using currently to self-regulate.
14. Look at the environment, the task demands, and then the child. You can never just look at the child.
15 Arousal is not always under the control of the student.

What surprised you?
1. Kids are not bad, you just need different strategies.
2. The more dis-regulated a student is, the more difficult it is for them to become regulated.
3. The assertion that "self-regulation" is going to be the 21st century intelligence quotient concept.
4. That teachers don't all see students as individuals and then plan proactively.
5. Students need a calm and not over stimulating environment.
6. The environment affects the child's regulation.
7. Getting to the right level of arousal takes a great deal of energy from the student.

How will you use this in your work in classrooms?
1. Use this as a reference back to the "why" we need to adapt for students.
2. Remind that visual distractions can contribute to lack of self-regulation.
3. Create "tip sheets" with the summary information at the end of chapters.
4. Help teachers understand that "less is better" in classroom decorations.  Could help to take one thing off the teacher's plate if they didn't feel the need to decorate so much.
5. Give ideas for testing situations.
6. Take note of student needs and point these out to teachers.  Eg. student in class who could not regulate.  Suggestion given for him to put on his coat because he was cold.  Regulation occurred!

What a rich discussion and opportunity to meet together to think about how we can put this material and understanding in classrooms.  I look forward to future discussions as we move forward in this book.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Collaboration is Powerful

What a fantastic opportunity for teachers, educational assistants and consultants to get together and discuss the approach we are taking in literacy for students with significant disabilities. During the summer, we took a group of eight staff to Detroit to learn from Karen Erickson.  We took two teachers with the idea they would become "show classrooms" for other teachers to learn from.  Last year, my team began working with another self-contained classroom in the district.  This classroom was not doing anything around literacy and basically was a custodial space for students to be in for the day.  We worked very hard to bring in little bits of information that would support our grand design down the road.  BUT mainly, our focus was to build relationships; to show the staff we would work with them not just drop in and tell them what to do and then leave.

yesterday this class and the two teachers who accompanied the group to Detroit shared what they have been doing and what worked in their classrooms.  It was amazing to see their excitement in sharing the information they had and the LITERACY activities they had been doing.  The educational assistants were excited to share their parts and it was clear that they were all partners in literacy.

The best part of the day was when our speech pathologist shared a demo video of shared reading.  The teacher of these students had been on sick leave and said, "Who picked these students?" when she saw the group.  Then I think her jaw dropped when she saw their incredible engagement.  I have to say the students in the group included a student who simply spins all day, a student who usually either bangs his head or wheels his wheelchair into things all day and a student who just sits on the fringe.  But during this time, they all interacted with the "reader" by answering yes-no questions, pointing to parts in the book, turning pages, and exclaiming joy.  She was AMAZED!  We all learned good lessons in wait time because she needed significant time to wait for their response.  So many times we rush a student who may need more time to process the questions.

We also looked at the Tarheel Reader as a resource for shared reading and independent reading material that is free and available. Teachers were excited to go back and make storybooks for their students. Finally, we looked at the new IPP templates (these have to be opened in Explorer). I can't wait to read the IPPs from these classrooms this term as we focused on writing goals that were about literacy NOT fine motor, gross motor or speech.  While these are important pieces of the work to take the barriers to literacy away, they are not the focus of the IPP at school.  Teachers committed to writing IPPs free from behaviour goals as well.  We will offer them another tool (Positive Behaviour Support Plan) to address behaviour but the IPP will focus on literacy.  Hallelujah!

Our next steps include figuring out how to get this literacy information to all of our teachers.  We are planning an information day on the next PD day and look forward to making a difference in all classrooms.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

September is Nearly Over???

We have been working the speed of light in schools to this point.  It is exciting that schools are working earlier to set kiddos  up for success.  They want our consultants in earlier so that they will have all the strategies necessary for student success.  I must say, that I am noticing that classrooms are becoming so diverse that it will be necessary for teachers to differentiate if not only for the success of the students but for their own survival.  A couple of our consultants attended an extensive course with Jennifer Katz around the three block model of Univeral Design that we looked at last year.

One highlight of our fall is the work we are doing in an Individual Support classroom.  During the summer a group of eight staff (two supervisors including me, two speech pathologists, one behaviour specialist, two teachers and one reading specialist) headed to Detroit, Michigan to learn with Dr Karen Erickson and Dr. Dave Koppenhaver about Literacy for Students with Significant Disabilities.  This new information often caused us to have great paradigm shifts in the way we have "always done things" to a new way of thinking.  This group didn't need to be told to presume competence in our students  but that we would deliver a literacy program rich in reading and writing with full access to the alphabet for ALL students.  This carved away some of our beliefs that all students could not learn to read and Picture exchange should suffice for communication for some students.  However, we were told that while pictures could offer a start, they could not completely communicate for a student because meanings of pictures are often ambiguous. 

So we discussed all of our learning at length and helped the two teachers along to create their initial plan for their students.  They were excited to begin to offer a literacy rich program to all of their students with a systematic approach provided by the presenters.  

When we returned, our SLP and Reading specialist presented to another classroom.  We were pleasantly surprised and pleased as the staff embraced this new learning. What is even more exciting, every time we go back to the classroom, new and exciting things are taking place. They have begun shared reading (reading for engagement and enjoyment) and independent writing for all students (the scribbling we encourage our emerging writers to do at young ages), signing in and out of the room (this means being creative for writing for students who may not yet be able to hold pencils - they have purchased some great letter stamps with easy grips!) and a name wall so students can see and learn their names.  We are beyond happy with the work this class has done and I expect there will be a great deal to share as the year progresses.

Finally, our group has decided to have our two teachers who came along on the trip and our teacher who is doing awesome things in the classroom, as well as four educational assistants who have begun this work with students who are included come together for a day of sharing on the district PD day.  We hope to share our current successes, some challenges and then some resources.  We will take a look at the Tar Heel Reader.  This website offers many created books for students to enjoy in shared and independent reading time.  Especially great because they are FREE!  Creating books is an equally beneficial tool for students to see themselves as authors.  

At the end of the day, we will take a look at writing IPPs that address literacy in these classrooms and for students with significant disabilities.  Click here for sample IPP goals for students with significant disabilities.  As well, we will look at the Alberta Education website to look at the new templates for IPPs for students with severe needs.  One thing to note that if you want to see the new templates, you need to open up the link in Explorer.  These new templates require teachers to tie the literacy and numeracy goals to the Program of Studies.  Yes, even for our most complex students and especially for them.  It is so easy to limit their goals to behaviour and compliance but we need to do so much more if these students are to be able to communicate in our community when they graduate.  We owe it to them to teach necessary skills of reading and writing (however that looks for each student - up to us to be creative in finding the best way for them to communicate) using alternate pencils if needed. Check here and here and here for information on alternate pencils.  

As we move forward, we hope to involve many more teachers to make a literacy community of practice for any teacher who wants to create a literacy rich classroom for students in Individual Support Classes (ISP), Community Life Skill Classes (CLS) and Interactions Classes for students with severe Autism.  We believe all and we mean ALL students need access to the full alphabet and our goal is to make this happen in our district!  Can't wait to share more updates!

Friday, 8 August 2014

Bullying? Pondering for the New School Year

When we even say the word, we may conjure up past experiences, we think about something we have read in the news, we may cry for the pain of our own children.

Reading Stuart Shanker's Calm, Alert and Learning gives credence to the fact that children need to learn empathy.  Without empathy we have bullies.  Unless a child learns to care about someone else's emotions, learns to help others deal with their emotions, and learns to distinguish between theirs and someone else's emotions can result in emotional and related psychological and behavioural problems such as bullying (p. 95).

A google search reveals this definition for bullying:
  1. 1.
    a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.
    synonyms:persecutor, oppressortyrant, tormentor, intimidator; 
  1. 1.
    use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.
    "a local man was bullied into helping them"

Shanker states that many psychologists believe that empathy is a core temperament trait and it plays a key role in a child's prosocial development (p.99).  Without empathy a child cannot even imagine how another child may feel should he/she make fun of her or get rough with her.  Children need to do more than communicate; they need to understand another's intentions, attitudes, desires, fears and so on.  In other words, they often co-regulate one another to create a harmonious relationship. Without this ability and an underlying lack of empathy, a child can become a bully. Without the ability to self-regulate in the prosocial domain, or fit in with the larger group or one on one, bullying can become the norm for some children.  If a child cannot empathize, it becomes easier to persecute, tyrannize, threaten, harass and so on.

Shanker provides the following table for teachers to distinguish between play-fighting and bullying:

Play Fighting                                                                         Bullying

-positive facial expressions (eg. smiling)                                  -negative facial expressions (eg angry looks)
-voluntary participation                                                           -involuntary participation
-alternated roles (eg being chased, then being                          -fixed roles (being either the aggressor or the
the chaser)                                                                            victim always)
-tempered force                                                                     -aggressive force
-children stay together after playing                                         -children separate after an encounter
                                                                                                      (p. 96)

These distinctions can help us in the classroom to determine if bullying is indeed happening.  Important to be able to do because we hear the word "bully" for many different interactions in the classroom and on the playground.

How to bully proof your classroom?  Do you need a program?  Or do we need to ensure our students are having opportunities to learn to be empathetic.  Do we offer discussion times about how the other person might feel?  Classroom meetings can be an excellent moment to learn about the perspective of classmates. Can we offer book studies and discuss the feelings of characters?  A few ideas are offered here. Or do you use a program such as Roots of Empathy?  This innovative program uses a new baby in the classroom to help students learn about empathy. A parent and baby visit the classroom every three weeks and children observe the baby and label its feelings.  It has met with positive results.

I would love to hear other ideas to promote empathy in the classroom that resulted in less bullying.  What do you do as a teacher?

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Almost Back to School Time

Yes, we are getting closer to that date.  You are probably thinking about how the school year will go, how you will approach your lessons and how your classroom will look.  As teachers, we think about the themes our decorations might be focused on.  We think about how to make a warm and welcoming space for our new students.  Hey, we wonder who will BE in our classroom?  What will they be like?  Will the class be an "easy one" or will it be a "tough year"? 
To prepare for the new school year, I have been reading Stuart Shanker's book, Calm, Alert and Learning: Classroom Strategies for Self-Regulation. Shanker lists five domains for self-regulation including the biological, the emotional, the cognitive, the social and the prosocial domains.  He reminds teachers and parents that students do not learn to self-regulate in each of these domains by osmosis but rather need to be taught and to be given experiences in order to learn to self-regulate.  He suggests teachers think about a successful student in the classroom because that student is likely successful in all of these domains and then think of a student who we were sure had ADHD.  Rather than labeling that little person, maybe some help to self-regulate is needed. Shanker states, "[s]elf-regulation is increasingly being seen as essential for enabling children to respond efficiently and effectively to the everyday challenges they face in and out of school" (page xii). 

He shares six critical elements for optimal self-regulation: 
  1. when feeling calmly focused and alert, the ability to know that one is calm and alert.
  2. when one is stressed, the ability to recognize what is causing that stress
  3. the ability to recognize the stressors both within and outside the classroom
  4. the desire to deal with those stressors
  5. the ability to develop strategies for dealing with those stressors
  6. the ability to recover efficiently and effectively from dealing with stressors    
(page xiii)

This may seem like a monumental task to help students understand themselves, allowing them to self-regulate but without these skills, students will not have the capacity to learn.  Without an understanding of the domains of self-regulation, teachers may misinterpret the behaviors of a student.  For example, a student who seems to daydream or doesn't get her work done may be hypoaroused for any number of physical reasons (maybe lack of sleep or food) and the teacher may see this student as lazy or even rude.  However, if we take the time to understand the underlying causes for this behavior, we may change the way we teach this student so the correct amount of arousal and then engagement occurs.

This book is fascinating as it gives the reader an opportunity to see students in a completely different light.  It challenges the labels we often put on students.

One final example will serve teachers everywhere...
As we gear up for the new year, teachers are planning their classroom look as I said earlier; Thinking about all of the cute items you could incorporate to make the space warm and inviting.  However, hold those thoughts. If you think you may have students who have difficulty paying attention (and who doesn't?), you may want to reconsider what you do with your space.  For example, you may want to limit the amount of "stuff" you put on the walls.  Put away those brightly colored borders and commercial posters. Try to use natural light as much as possible as those pesky fluorescent lights can cause problems and the natural light is calming.  Keep your clutter to a minimum (organize your papers, etc in bins of some sort).  Cover the bottom of desks and chairs with tennis balls if you are lucky to have no carpet (carpet is problematic for many other reasons such as allergies, dirt, chemicals). Arrange your centres so that noisy centres are in one place and quiet centres are away from them. Try not to use noisy fans.  Make available a quiet space where students can go when they need a break. 

Consider giving all students a fidget toy - the students who need it will be grateful and the others will forget about it.  Explain why you are giving the fidget if you are worried students will "play with it" too much.  Post your schedule and try to stick with it so all students know what is coming up. Allow students to know when transitions are coming and use the same signal each day - maybe a chime or a drum or a pattern of clapping. Give students choice in how they present their learning so they have autonomy over their learning.  Observe your students over a period of time so you can see what and when they become hyperaroused and then consider changing your practices at those times.  Finally, model your own self-regulation to your students so they can see how you handle the stressors in life.  (Shanker, 2013, 20-21).

These are just some of the ideas in this great book.  If you decided to give this a try, you might be surprised at the results.  Your students may be calmer and you will have a great year.  AND you will save yourself some money by not buying all those cutesy things.  Have a great year and do try and read this book!  You won't be sorry for taking the time to read it!


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,, 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.”