Planning for a More Inclusive School: Reflecting on Current Practices and Progress

by Lee Anne Sulzberger, M.Ed.

"A goal without a plan is just a wish." Antoine de Saint-Exupery, French writer (1900-1944)

Even though the 2007-2008 school year is just barely coming to a close, school personnel are already busy preparing to improve teaching and learning for next year. As part of these efforts, school planning teams may wish to consider including goals in their 2008-2009 plans that address becoming a more inclusive school as a way to promote academic success for all students.

What Is an Inclusive School?

Inclusive schools act upon "a philosophy or set of beliefs based on the idea that students with disabilities have the right to be members of classroom communities with non-disabled peers, whether or not they can meet the traditional expectations of those classrooms" (Friend, 2007, p. 5). Inclusive schools are also "places where all students are welcome, and where all students learn essential academic and non-academic lessons in preparation for life in the community" (Salisbury & McGregor, 2005, p.2).

How Inclusive Is Our School?

In order to identify the goals that are needed to move a school toward its vision of becoming more inclusive, it is important to gather information regarding current practices. Voltz, Brazil, and Ford (2001) have identified three commonly agreed upon elements of inclusive education: (a) meaningful participation in all aspects of school, (b) a sense of belonging on the part of all students, and (c) a shared ownership among faculty and staff for the success of all students.

Educators can reflect upon the following questions (adapted from Voltz, et al., 2001) to help identify school strengths and areas of improvement in each of the three areas when planning for next year:

Participation

  • Do students with disabilities participate productively in classroom instructional activities?

  • How frequently do students with and without disabilities interact with each other? What types of interactions occur?

  • How do adults interact with students? Are interactions similar in quantity and quality for students with and without disabilities?

Belonging

  • Are students with disabilities teased more often than their peers without disabilities?

  • Do students without disabilities voluntarily include students with disabilities in a variety of activities?

  • Do all students appear to value the ideas and opinions of their peers?

Shared Ownership

  • Do adults use the words "our" and "we" more often than "you" and "they" when discussing students?

  • Do general education teachers and special education teachers share in meeting the challenges of students with and without disabilities?

  • Do general education teachers and special education teachers share in celebrating the successes of students with and without disabilities?

What Other Information Is Needed?

While guiding questions can provide valuable insight into the status of inclusive practices at a school, additional information is helpful. Since it has been noted that "inclusion has more to do with how educators respond to individual differences than it has to do with specific instructional configurations" (Voltz, et al., 2001, p. 24), a thoughtful review of student achievement data will enable school staff to reflect upon how they are responding to student academic needs. Answers to the following questions can provide schools with key information regarding the academic progress of all students in the building:

  • Where are the widest achievement gaps?

  • How have students with disabilities performed compared to overall student performance?

  • Does the three-year trend data demonstrate steady, significant gains over time for all students? For students with disabilities?

  • Are there differences worth noting between demographic groups?

  • Are there major differences among curriculum areas (math, science, social sciences, and English)?

  • Are there grade level differences?

  • What are the bright spots? What might explain these successes?

    (Adapted from Hitch and Jenkins, 2004)

What Makes an Effective Plan?

Once questions regarding the current status of inclusive practices and student achievement have been answered, schools have the information needed to develop a plan to capitalize on the strengths of the school and improve areas needing attention.

The following practices are evident in plans developed by schools that have "higher student achievement and significantly greater achievement gains" (Reeves, 2007/2008, p. 86):

Monitoring
The plan indicates consistent analyses of student performance, instructional practice, and leadership practice. Such analyses should occur at least monthly.

Evaluation
The plan indicates that all practices and initiatives in the school are constantly scrutinized to see if they are working. Ineffective practices and initiatives are discontinued.

Expectations
The plan indicates a belief that the quality of teaching and learning taking place in the school impact student achievement more than student characteristics or demographics.

The desire to improve inclusive practices demonstrates a willingness to change behaviors and beliefs about how schools can better meet the needs of all students in the building.

For more information about strategies for creating inclusive schools, consult the T/TAC W&M website at www.wm.edu/ttac. A complete listing of professional resources available through the T/TAC William & Mary lending library may be viewed by clicking on the "Library" link. This site provides a listing of holdings, an online search engine, and an online order form. Library materials will be sent along with a postage-paid return mailer. Considerations Packets may be ordered by clicking on the "Considerations Packets" link off the main web page. For further information on a process for creating inclusive schools, consult Strategies for Creating Inclusive Schools. Topics addressed in the packet include developing a vision of inclusion, creating a comprehensive plan, and providing ongoing professional development. Additional information about inclusive schools may also be found at http://www.inclusiveschools.org/.

References

Friend, M. (2007). Collaborating for school success. Training material presented at VASSP/VFEL in collaboration with Virginia Department of Education and the College of William and Mary workshop, Williamsburg, VA.

Hitch, C., & Jenkins, K. (2004). How do I use all this data? Retrieved March 3, 2008, from http://www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/hitch-data-0702

Reeves, D. B. (2007/2008). Making strategic planning work. Educational Leadership, 65(4), 86-87.

Salisbury, C., & McGregor, G. (2005, November). Principals of inclusive schools. Retrieved March 3, 2008, from National Institute for Urban School Improvement Web site: http://urbanschools.org/publications/on_point.html

Voltz, D. L., Brazil, N., & Ford, A. (2001). What matters most in inclusive education: A practical guide for moving forward. Intervention in School and Clinic, 37(1), 23-30.

Date: May/June 2008