Inclusive Practices: Including All Students in the Life of the School

by Tina Spencer, M.S.

Educators readily acknowledge the need to focus on the intellectual development of all students, but equally important is students' social-emotional development.  The stigma of "being labeled" has left many students with disabilities feeling unwanted, insecure, and isolated in classrooms across the nation.  In his book, The Motivation Breakthrough, Richard Lavoie discusses the need for teachers to "create a classroom environment in which students feel secure and accepted" (Lavoie, 2007, p. 65).  He stresses the importance of building student confidence and self-esteem through daily classroom routines and rituals.  Educators must also teach students with disabilities to build positive relationships with others.  Healthy relationships are the foundation for feeling secure, accepted, and valued.

Teachers may use cooperative learning to include all students in classroom activities to promote academic and social success, and to teach students to respect themselves and others.  Cooperative groups may also provide the additional support most struggling students and students with disabilities need.  By carefully structuring cooperative learning groups, educators can foster interdependence among students, provide peer support for learning, and improve student engagement (Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001).  Further, assigning and rotating group roles (e.g., group leader or facilitator, recorder, time keeper) may cultivate the development and use of organizational skills, as well as foster social-emotional growth.

Disability awareness activities may also strengthen classroom relationships.  "Individuals who have a disability are moms, dads, sons, daughters, employees, employers, scientists, friends, neighbors, movie stars, leaders and followers, students and teachers.  They are people" (Copenhaver, 2009, p. 1).  As part of such awareness opportunities, educators might invite community members who may have experienced prejudice or discrimination to talk with students about ways to accept and respect differences (students need multiple opportunities to learn to respect diversity among classmates and others and to see that participating in school and community events leads to increased emotional development and positive self-esteem).  

Another way to promote students' social-emotional development is through school clubs and recreational teams.  Kleinert, Miracle, and Sheppard-Jones (2007) offer several ideas for getting students involved in school and community activities and programs, including:

  • Classes that include extracurricular activities as a part of their requirements, such as drama, dance, band, choir, and orchestra
  • School-sponsored sports
  • School clubs, such as camera club or yearbook
  • Classes or lessons outside of school, such as drama, dance, gymnastics, sports lessons, music lessons, swimming lessons, and horseback riding
  • Local YMCA or YWCA activities
  • Spending time together with peers, for example, doing things together or visiting each other on weekends
  • School-sponsored social activities, including dances, skating parties, sporting events, and overnight class trips

Educators and families should encourage and support students' active participation in the activities best suited to their interest and strengths. 

Don Deshler, founder of the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning (KU-CRL), observed that the biggest hill for students to climb is self-esteem (see "All Classrooms, All Students" video clip  Building inclusive environments that provide opportunities for academic and social success will empower students of all backgrounds to embrace and become part of the life of the school.  Providing experiences for students to work together in the classroom and encouraging extracurricular school and community activities will both increase academic performance and help students develop socially and emotionally.  Educating students of all abilities to master the demands and expectations necessary to be successful must include rich support networks of teachers, peers, and family members encouraging active student participation in school and out-of-school activities.


Copenhaver, D. (2009). Disability awareness: A primer on people first language.  Retrieved March 1, 2010 from

 Kleinert, H., Miracle, S., & Sheppard-Jones, K. (2007).  Including students with moderate and severe disabilities in extracurricular and community recreation activities.  TEACHING Exceptional Children, 39(6), 33-38.

Lavoie, R. (2007).  The motivation breakthrough: 6 secrets to turning on the tuned-out child. New York: Touchstone.

Marzano, R., Pickering, D., & Pollock, J. (2001). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. (2004-2010). All classrooms, all students. Retrieved from the Virginia CLC Content Literacy ContinuumTM website:

Additional Resources:

Cosden, M., Morrison G., Gutierrez L., & Brown, M. (2004).  The effects of homework and programs and after-school activities on school success. Theory into Practice, 43(3), 220-226.

Gilman, R., Meyers, J., & Perez L. (2004).  Structured extracurricular activities  among adolescents:  findings and implications for school psychologists. Psychology in the Schools, 41(1), 31-41.

Harrison, P., & Narayan, G. (2003).  Differences in behavior, psychological factors, and environmental factors associated with participation in school sports  and other activities in adolescence. Journal of School Health, 73(3), 113-120.

Hilsen, L. R. (2009). Tips to sustain a positive learning environment. Retrieved March 1, 2010 from (link no longer available).