A Look in the Mirror: "Polishing" Inclusive Practices with Self-Reflection

By Lee Anne Sulzberger, M.Ed.


Why Reflect?

Reflection can play an important role in helping teachers improve their inclusive practices. In his book Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction (2007), Jim Knight notes that “reflection is necessary for learning since often the most important parts of skillful or artistic activities, like teaching, are hidden from our conscious understanding” (p. 48).  Knight (2011) observes that reflection can occur three different ways:

  • Looking back is thinking about something after it has happened and considering what went well and what needs to be done differently the next time. For example, “Did I provide enough opportunities for all students to respond during the lesson?  What else could I do to increase the number of opportunities?”
  • Looking at is being aware of what is going on while in the moment and making adjustments as needed. For example, “Hmm, I think I need to draw a picture to help students understand the difference between a direct and an indirect object pronoun right now. My example didn’t get the idea across like I expected it would.”
  • Looking ahead is “thinking about how to use an idea, practice, or plan in the future” (p. 37). For example, “How can I use the recording option in our presentation software to make the lesson on integers clearer?”

Guiding Questions: How Inclusive Am I?

Teachers can use the following questions to help identify strengths and areas needing further attention.


  • Do I collaborate with other teachers, related services providers, and paraprofessionals on a regular basis?
  • If I am a co-teacher, do I regularly meet with my partner to plan lessons that meet the needs of our students? Do we use a variety of co-teaching methods?

Classroom Structure

  • Are group and individual work areas clearly defined?
  • Are classroom rules displayed?
  • Is the daily schedule posted? Have I considered using color or pictures to make information more explicit?
  • Are opportunities for purposeful movement built into the lesson?
  • Do I use and have I taught students cues for starting work, getting materials, and quieting down?
  • Is there a clear plan for transition times and do students know the plan?
  • Do I help students organize their materials by using checklists, folders, or other tools?

(Adapted from Bender, 2002)

Lesson Design and Delivery

  • Do I differentiate instruction by using flexible grouping, providing activities that appeal to various learning-style preferences, giving students choices, and creating alternative activities and assessments (Tomlinson, 2001)?
  • Do I think "universal design" when planning instruction? Do I incorporate the three qualities of universal design when planning instruction:  
    • Multiple means of representing content (e.g., visual and oral strategies);
    • Multiple means of students' expression of content (e.g., writing, illustrating, speaking); and
    • Flexible means of engagement as students learn (e.g., videos, software, and role-playing) (Center for Applied Special Technology [CAST], 2011).
  • Do I provide opportunities for students to work in small groups and in pairs?
  • Do I use graphic organizers to assist students with organizing information in meaningful ways? For example, Bender (2002) suggests providing students with lesson outlines as note-taking tools.
  • Do I use the instructional sequence of "I do" (teacher model), "We do" (group practice), and "You do" (individual practice) (Bender)?
  • Do I provide supports or scaffolds to students as they are learning new material and withdraw them when they are able to perform the task on their own (Bender)?
  • Do I use active learning strategies such as "think, pair, share" to promote recall and understanding of new learning?
  • Do I teach learning strategies along with content material? Strategy instruction may be defined simply as instruction in how to learn and perform (Lenz, Deshler, & Kissam, 2004). "Learning strategies help students learn and perform by providing them with a specific set of steps for: (a) approaching new and difficult tasks, (b) guiding thoughts and actions, (c) completing tasks in a timely and successful manner, and (d) thinking strategically (Lenz et al., p. 261). Learning strategies may include organizing materials, memorizing information, taking notes, reading text, and taking tests.
  • Do I use ongoing informal and formal assessments to help inform instruction and monitor student progress?
  • If I co-teach:  
    • Do students consider both teachers as “their” teacher?
    • Are both teachers actively involved in instruction and classroom management?

Reflecting on current inclusive practices and identifying new opportunities to refine those practices can help teachers create a supportive learning environment for all students.

trWhere Can I Learn More?

For more information about strategies for creating inclusive environments, consult the T/TAC W&M website at http://education.wm.edu/centers/ttac/.  Click on the “Resources” link to see a complete listing of helpful resources. Highlights include a link to the T/TAC William & Mary lending library where teachers can access a list of holdings, an online search engine, and ordering instructions. Library materials will be sent along with a postage-paid return mailer.

Considerations Packets, information packets that provide a brief overview of current topics and best practices for serving students with mild/moderate disabilities, may be ordered by clicking on the “Considerations Packets” link on the resources web page. For information on specific teaching practices, consult Co-Teaching, Co-Planning for Student Success, Differentiating for Success in Inclusive Classrooms, or Grading in Inclusive Classrooms.

For an in-depth article on four modes of thinking that reflective teachers use, visit http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb09/vol66/num05/Fostering-Reflection.aspx.

For more information on universal design, access the website of the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST)


Bender, W. N. (2002). Differentiating instruction for students with learning disabilities: Best practices for general and special educators. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). (2011). About UDL. Retrieved from http://www.cast.org/udl/index.html

Knight, J. (2007). Instructional coaching: A partnership approach to improving instruction.   Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Knight, J. (2011). Unmistakable impact: A partnership approach for dramatically improving instruction.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Lenz, B. K., Deshler, D. D., & Kissam, B. R. (2004). Teaching content to all: Evidence-based inclusive practices in middle and secondary schools. Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

 Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed ability classrooms (2nd ed.).  Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.