Inclusion is a big buzz word in education right now. On any professional development day, teachers and school administrators are invited to attend workshops and presentations on how to make classrooms more inclusive for all learners.
While there are many ways having an inclusive classrooms benefits all kids, I have found that most parents have no idea what inclusion means and why they should care.
I have even heard parents say, “That’s for kids with disabilities. My kid doesn’t have any learning issues.”
New solutions for old problems
Here’s the deal — every student has a unique learning style. Children are not factory produced, which means every kid is different. Inclusion is about recognizing and working with these differences instead of having a one-size-fits-no-one approach.
One area of inclusion that interests me is classroom seating. Many of us remember sitting at a desk in hard plastic or wooden chairs. We spent most of our school day at these desks, only leaving for gym class or recess.
I don’t know about you, but I hated sitting at my desk. It was uncomfortable and often too short for my long, gangly legs. I wanted a place to stretch out instead of being confined. I did not have ADHD, low muscle tone or mobility issues. I was a “normal” neurotypical student, yet I struggled with the confines of standard classroom seating.
Here’s where inclusive seating in a classroom helps all students. Instead of just having desks and hard chairs, an inclusive classroom has a number of seating options. These can include bean bag chairs, exercise balls, scoop chairs, a couch, cushions on the floor and more.
While these options are often brought into the classroom to help a student who has difficulty with traditional seating, they are not for the exclusive use of one student. The new seating options are enjoyed by all students.
This is inclusion.
Many teachers have told me how making small changes, like introducing inclusive seating, have benefited the entire classroom. Students who struggle with focusing at their desk are able to complete their reading when laying a cushion or sitting on an exercise ball. The seating options have not been a distraction, but rather allow kids to find a space that makes them comfortable. This helps foster, not hinder, their learning.
Inclusion also means teaching to the various learning styles and abilities in the classroom. Gone are the days of segregating kids with disabilities into special education classes (thank goodness). Just as inclusive seating benefits all kids, so does inclusive teaching.
Let’s take the case of a child who has difficulty with noise. Not only is a loud classroom annoying, it can also overwhelm the child and lead to a meltdown. The best way to avoid a meltdown is to manage classroom noise as well as offer a quiet space with noise reducing headphones or a nook away from the main traffic areas.
An inclusive classroom opens up this space to all students.
One of my daughter’s teachers created a quiet nook that students could use whenever they needed a break. They could take their work with them or just sit and relax.
While this space was initially created to provide a quiet area for a child with autism, it was open to and used by all students. Its frequent use sparked a conversation in the classroom about noise, with many students saying how difficult they found it to concentrate when the class was loud. As a result, the students collectively came up with ways to reduce the noise in the classroom.
I love this example as it shows how the inclusive classroom did not single out the child with autism, but rather looked for ways to include the student in the classroom — which ultimately benefited other kids.
These are just two examples of the many ways inclusion in the classroom benefits all students, not just kids with disabilities.
My hope is inclusion will move beyond a buzz word to being a reality in all classrooms. All parents, not just those of us raising kids with disabilities, need to support inclusion — in all forms.
I promise, the end result will benefit all kids.