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Inclusive School Culture

An inclusive culture starts from the premise that everyone in the school – students, educators, administrators, support staff and parents – should feel that they belong, realize their potential, and contribute to the life of the school. In an inclusive culture, diverse experiences, perspectives and gifts are seen to enrich the school community.

Achieving an inclusive school culture goes beyond making a decision to run a workshop on bullying, put in a ramp, or offer diversity training to staff. It is more than just developing a value statement that talks about inclusion. An inclusive school culture requires a shift in the attitudes of all the stakeholders as well as the development of policies and practices that reinforce inclusive behaviour. Real inclusion is about actions, not just words.

An inclusive culture is based on the philosophy that the whole school shares in the responsibility for inclusion. A real culture of inclusion cannot be brought about unless everyone embraces it.

Creating an inclusive school culture is critical because our schools act as mirrors of the larger community. There is a great opportunity to teach students, early in their development as citizens, about the importance and value of inclusion. They will learn behaviour that will ultimately help nurture truly inclusive communities. It also provides an opportunity for parents to learn through their children about the importance of belonging, acceptance and community.

In an inclusive school culture diversity is embraced, learning supports are available and properly utilized, and flexible learning experiences focus on the individual student. There is an innovative and creative environment and a collaborative approach is taken. At the heart of inclusion is committed leadership and a shared direction.

(As cited in An Inclusive School Culture - a resource tool created by the Ontario Community Inclusion Project of Community Living Ontario)

Inclusive Education in Newfoundland and Labrador

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development promotes the basic right of all students to attend their neighbourhood schools with their peers, and receive appropriate and quality programming in inclusive school environments. Such inclusive education involves much more that just student placement. It embraces all students – not just those with identified exceptionalities – and involves everything that happens within the school community: culture, policies, and practices.

For students with exceptionalities, inclusive education does not mean that every student is required or expected to be in the regular classroom 100% of the time. Some students, whether for medical, academic, social or emotional reasons, need to be taken out periodically in order for their needs to be met. Inclusive education simply asks teachers and administrators to ask the following questions whenever considering removing a student from the regular classroom: Has it has been demonstrated that optimal learning cannot occur in the regular classroom? Have the purpose, timelines, intended outcomes, and evaluation plan for the intervention been stated? Is there is a plan in place for the student to return to the regular classroom?

Inclusive Schools Initiative

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development is currently implementing an inclusive education initiative in which schools from all areas of the province enter by phases. List of schools by entry:

Representatives from each school have or will receive training in:

  • the use of the Index for Inclusion (a tool used by schools to determine their current level of inclusivity based on three scales: culture, policies, and practices)
  • differentiated instruction
  • collaborative teaching models
  • development of annual action plans

These schools are supported by district level itinerants for inclusive education.

What makes inclusion work in schools?

  • an understanding of, and commitment to, inclusion
  • a welcoming and safe school environment
  • a strong administration team
  • a focus on teaching all children
  • involvement from families and outside agencies
  • professional development for teachers and other school personnel
  • common planning time for teachers
  • effective instructional and assessment strategies to meet student needs
  • appropriate accommodations and support systems in place
  • opportunities for relationship and team building
  • a commitment to continuous improvement and growth

Three stages in developing inclusive programs

  1. The first stage is addressing teacher beliefs and values concerning inclusive schooling.
  2. The second stage in developing a good inclusion program is careful planning.
  3. The third stage is the actual implementation and maintenance of the inclusive program.
(Adapted from James McLeskey and Nancy L. Waldron’s article, “Responses to Questions Teachers and Administrators Frequently Ask About Inclusive School Programs,” October 1996, Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 78, No. 10)

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