Building Community Acceptance and Making Accommodations
Inclusion in special education starts with building an accepting atmosphere in your room, then finding accommodations to foster success. We accomplish this with a few different strategies.
Acknowledge Differences Openly
There are situations where a child’s physical differences are very obvious. Their differences set them apart, unless the teacher helps to humanize their situation by addressing the curiosity of other children.
First step: Ask ask parents for permission to explain the details of their child’s situation. Most will agree, but do not proceed without their agreement.
Next step: Talk it over with the child. Inclusion in special education means obtaining his permission to ensure he’s comfortable with a discussion.
Gather the class and review, how the student ended up with his difficulties. Examples may include:
- Low birth weight
- Accidental injury
- A medical diagnosis
- Plus many others or combinations
Provide simple explanations that kids will understand, such as explaining Autism as a child’s brain “being wired differently.” The point is to demystify the condition and remove the stigma of “differentness” that humans are so prone to focusing on.
Everyone is Good at Something
After addressing curiosity about impairments, inclusion in special education can be furthered by teacher emphasis on the concept that every single child is good at something. I believe that phrase is true, without exception.
A child can be good at…
- Being funny
- Being artistic
- Being willing to partner
- Being extra kind
I once taught a Special Ed kid named Nick who could visually find things in pictures that other kids missed…or that I even missed. It was an unusual and unique talent. Which brings me to the next step:
- NOTICE chidlren’s strengths.
Nick didn’t really know he had a talent for seeing better than others. He needed me to highlight it and bring it to the attention of the class to allow him to be proud of it. Inclusion in special education takes teacher leadership.
So how do we notice?
By taking action:
- Applaud the runner
- Wink at the appropriately funny comment
- High-five the super kind gesture
- “You captured the feeling in your painting perfectly!”
- “Great eyes buddy!”
By making a big deal.
How does this relate to inclusion in special education? For example…
The first time I asked my students to partner up one year, one of my profoundly Autistic children was left standing uncertainly alone. I called out for a someone to be Austin’s partner and another children reluctantly agreed.
Big deal time!
“You are my hero for being so kind and thoughtful!”
And that was all it took. After that everyone wanted to do it and Austin was never without a partner.
This approach works. The children learn that it feels good to be nice; the teacher helps by making sure they feel good when they are nice.
As I say on other pages:
Never underestimate the power of just noticing.
Let Children Give Back to the Community
All kids like to be helpers. Be sure to give special needs kids more opportunities early in the year so they start investing in the community…and have an “excuse” to interact with other children (passing papers, etc.).
This also gives them the best chance to make friends and to start overcoming impressions of “differentness.”
Inclusion in special education means making accommodations. For example:
- Allow a springy chair to help the ADHD kids move in place
- Designate an area for a child who must walk
- Guide a verbal processor into appropriate ways to talk out their thoughts
Here’s an important point about making accommodations for only certain children: Other kids “get it.”
They can tell when another student has different needs, especially when the need is noticeable from looking or listening (physical needs or speech issues). They will accept you making accommodations for others…if they know in their hearts from your example that if they need more help from you, they’ll get individualized attention as well.
Strategies for Whole-Class Buy-In
Special education inclusion involves your entire elementary classroom. Everyone must belong to the “pack” with no one left on the margins.
This is easier to achieve than most teachers think, but it does take consistency in a few areas. These approaches will help you create an inclusive and accepting community of learners.
Handling Student Put-Downs
Facilitating Entrances and Exits
The way kids leave and enter your room to go to specialists may seem a minor thing, but it’s not…it’s huge. Think of a meeting or training session you have attended as an adult and recall how awkward it is for someone to leave or arrive in the middle.
This person is almost automatically branded as an outsider because their pattern is not in sync with the rest of the crowd.
Now imagine how a young child feels when all eyes follow her to the door, or when there is no obvious group to belong to when she returns to find the class working in small groups. It’s a horrible feeling that anyone who has been ostracized can understand.
And it can significantly affect her willingness to learn.
Setting the tone
Set the appropriate tone the first time kids leave for a specialist (such as speech therapy or Special Ed):
Katie, go ahead and work with Mrs. Winter now. We’ll be working on social studies when you get back.
There is no slipping out and sneaking back hoping not to be noticed for being different. It’s out in the open that this child is getting specific help and the class will support her because their teacher supports her.
When she returns:
Katie, Angela is ready to partner with you and she has your worksheet.
Because of the teacher’s approach, Katie knows that she has no need to fear anyone staring at her when she returns, nor does she have to fear feeling left out of whatever activity has started while she was gone. This removes the stress from separating herself from her peer group to go get help.
No Put-Downs – Ever
STOP everything and address any put-downs, no matter how minor. Do not allow even a single, mildly disparaging comment to pass, EVER. Each one must be dealt with immediately or it will corrode the special eduction inclusion in your classroom community.
Remember…some Special Ed kids also have behavior goals, meaning they may be prone to anti-social behavior.
If a disparaging comment is made, follow these steps. After reminding the entire class that “every person learns differently,” use an apology as a tool. Say to the offending student:
Mashia will be ready to accept an apology when you are ready to give one.
An apology is more focused on reinforcing the appropriate behavior by the perpetrator than to atone to the victim. Even a grudging “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have talked to you like that” makes an impact.
An apology can take awhile; keep coming back until the student is ready. If he refuses, then advise him that he needs to do it by lunch or by some event he looks forward to…he will infer that he will miss out (stay in for recess, miss art class) if he doesn’t provide one.
Enforce Rules for Partnering
Randomly generate partners of the day or week so all students end up working with all others. Take a look at this page for ideas.
Our classroom mantra:
We will work with anyone.
Use Teachable Moments
Opportunities for special education inclusion happen all day long. Use teachable moments…
- To celebrate
- To learn from a positive or negative experience
- To redirect behavior that is trending in the wrong direction
Savvy teachers can set up these teachable moments by using classroom goal-setting…set team goals then teach children how to help others meet the goal:
- Goal: All kids pass the next unit math assessment
- Method: Partner those who need help with those who understand the content
- Follow-up: Celebrate a group achievement
Leave nothing in doubt – make the importance of your teachable moments very clear by including details. For example, if someone helps another student with schoolwork, thank them for “explaining it a different way than I do.” Other children will then become eager to help and share their knowledge with others if they know exactly what you are looking for.
Special education inclusion does not just happen. It takes intentional work by you, the classroom leader.