“Inclusion” is a term that gets thrown around a lot in special education and there are so many opinions surrounding how students in a cluster program should be included with their general education peers. While IDEA doesn’t necessarily mandate inclusion, it does require that the least restrictive environment for a student to be determined on a case-by-case basis. If you work in a cluster program in a general education setting, use the opportunity to be “all-inclusive” (which makes me think of a resort, which is why I choose the picture above from our class tiki party).  Here  are five things to keep in mind when creating inclusive opportunities at your school…

1. Establish a Presence 

Depending on how many special education teachers are at your school, you might be a lone wolf and administrators may allow you to do your own thing since the cluster classroom can be very different than a gen ed room. While it is tempting to skip that grade level meeting if you are not required to go, establishing a presence at the school as another teacher is important for creating inclusive opportunities for your students. If you go to grade level meetings, you can share what you are doing in your classroom and help build working relationships with gen ed teachers in the same grade level so you can collaborate about different activities that could be inclusive opportunities for your students.   

2. Determine the Opportunities

There are many ways to include your students in the general education setting. Here are a few:

  • Lunch/Recess
  • Specialty Classes (gym, music, art)
  • Fun Fridays (behavior incentive for free time at the end of the week with a gen ed classroom)
  • School Activities/Field Trips (dance classes, spelling bee, school election, dress up days, class parties)
  • Reverse Inclusion (invite students from the gen ed to do an activity in the cluster classroom)

3. Schedule

Scheduling is the tricky part of anything we do as teachers. If there is a way you can meet with your administration or case manager to talk about the schedule before the year begins, that would be ideal. Since that always doesn’t happen, getting creative with scheduling and collaborating with your colleagues is the best way to ensure that students can have these opportunities.  For example, my students have music class while their grade level peers are at gym. I want to include some of my students in this gym class, but I also don’t want them to miss having a music class (especially with a smaller student-teacher ratio). I decided to break up the group of students going to a general education gym class on the same day as music into two smaller groups, so these students are going to an inclusion gym class once every other week and our class music time once every other week. Not ideal, but students are not missing music and still get some time in a specialty class with general education peers. 

4. Try It Out

You won’t know if a certain inclusive opportunity works unless you try it out. Every year, the fifth grade general education students take ballroom dancing lessons. Two years ago, I had 3 out of my 4 fifth graders participate and it went really well. My students enjoyed participating and one of my students even started correcting the gen ed students on their dance steps! Last year, I brought two of my fifth graders to the dance lessons and it wasn’t really a good match, which is okay. The most important thing is that we try as teachers to bring these opportunities to benefit students. If it’s not a beneficial opportunity, there will always be another opportunity to try something that might be a better fit. 

5. Evaluate

Just like collecting behavior and academic data, observations and data collected on inclusion activities are essential in determining if the inclusive opportunity is appropriate for the student and if they are directly benefiting from this opportunity. Recently, I brought a group of my students to a general education classroom for “W.I.N.” (What I Need) Period and the project students were working on was coloring large posters in teams. I separated my students among the teams and when I checked in with one of my teams, I noticed that one of my students was displaying anxious behaviors, which I had never seen before. Knowing this student’s history from mom and observing his reaction to being with the group of gen ed students, I determined that this inclusive opportunity might not be the most beneficial for this student right now. Attempting reverse inclusion or a one-on-one inclusive activity might be a better place to start with this student.  

I hope this inspired you to create more inclusive opportunities for your students! Share ways that you include your students with their same-age peers at your school!

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