Nothing hurts more than being excluded. Everyone has felt it, no one likes it. Call this a passion of mine, but I’m on a mission to make sure my students are treated as valuable, important members of our school population. I want their presence to be the norm. I want general education teachers to love my students the way I do. I want my students to feel welcomed everywhere they go. My school does an amazing job at inclusion, both academically and socially. But what can you do when your students are excluded?
Two words: Educate & Advocate.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right? This is especially true with inclusion. Take the time to educate those you are working with. You have so many rolls as a special education teacher, and this is one of them. Approach this with a positive, joyful attitude. If you go in angry, demanding or upset, your emotion will be the star of the show, not your students’ needs. You’ve got several groups of people you’ll need to educate: students, staff, and yourself.
Educating the student population on autism is one of my favorite things to do. The picture above was taken during one of my lessons on autism in a general education classroom. Do what you can here. Visit the classrooms your students visit and share a lesson on autism or pick a few classrooms at random to talk to. Ask to be a speaker and create a presentation for your school during an assembly (administrators love free assemblies!). Brainstorm with your administration on how to get the word out there… whatever you do, make it your goal to share and educate.
There are a TON of resources out there for you to choose from. The Autism Helper has the perfect autism awareness unit ready to go if you don’t want to create something. Young children especially are naturally curious about disabilities and differences. When we address their curiosities in a positive manor and use them as teaching moments, our entire school benefits. Be sure to share ways students can include students with autism. Give them ways to be a friend. Teach them about communicating with students with autism. Let them ask questions. Don’t wait for autism awareness month, either. The sooner you do this, the sooner your students will benefit from being surrounded by a student population that understands autism.
It’s your job to let teachers know how great your students are. Shower them with information on how great your students are and how they make you smile everyday. I share a list of each student’s strengths with each teacher I work with.
Set staff up for success. Give them a copy of the IEP. Show them the accommodations and modifications before school even starts. Help them understand your students before they meet them. Once school starts, include them in the process of problem-solving. Offer ways to promote inclusion.
Recognize teachers when they are flexible, helpful and inclusive. Send an email thanking them, or drop them a quick note. Always include them in celebrating your shared student’s accomplishments.
Make it a point to know what’s going on in all of the general education classrooms you work with. Ask the teachers to share their newsletters with you. Print them out and look for opportunities where your students could join in. If the general education teacher uses an app like Remind, SeeSaw, or Class DoJo, ask them to include you so you can see events and get reminders of what’s going on. The more you know what’s happening the more you can look for ways for your students to be included. Ask to be informed about all parties, celebrations, or special events. Know what’s going on in each grade level you work with. Let the general education teacher know you’ll provide support for your students. Have an inclusion plan hashed out before the project or event both you and the general education teacher feel comfortable with.
Not everything in your journey of inclusion will go perfectly. You might meet staff or administration that doesn’t understand or support inclusion. That’s when it’s time to advocate. Don’t be afraid to advocate for your students. Go in with a plan on how you are going to make your students successful and the support you are going to offer. Anticipate any objections staff or administration may have when you are pushing for inclusion and have answers ready.
When you find out your class was excluded, address it. Respectfully go to the teacher or administration and ask what happened. Did someone think you wouldn’t want your class involved? Let them know you want your class involved. Did someone forget to think about you? Remind them that you want to be included and that your students are valuable members of the student population. Ask them how you can be sure you’ll be included next time. Changing culture takes time, so don’t give up. Keep pushing for inclusion.
Be an advocate.