Best Practices for Inclusion

Inclusion ClassroomAn inclusive classroom is defined as a classroom in which a general education teacher and a special education teacher work and instruct together to support all students in their classroom. Data from inclusive classrooms point to benefits across academic and social domains for students with and without disabilities:

  • One 2015 study found that students with disabilities in inclusive settings are nearly five times more likely to graduate on time than peers that are not.
  • Typically developing students in inclusion-based settings experienced social-emotional gains that their peers in non-inclusive settings did not.

With 64.8% of students receiving special education services in inclusive classrooms, it is critical that these spaces function optimally to support all students, and that all stakeholders, from administrators to teachers to related service providers, are on the same page.

Here are a few suggestions to support the construction of a solid foundation for an effective inclusive classroom.

Establish a Partnership

An enriching inclusive classroom begins with the co-teaching partnership. An initial discussion that outlines expectations, roles, and goals is critical to establishing a “team” mentality. Important topics to consider include how lesson planning and resource creation will be approached, the division of labor in regard to grading, and even who and how to handle behavioral issues that arise. This can be framed in an “ICT Contract” or similar document and can be reviewed and updated regularly. The goal is not to create a rigid and static division of labor, but to promote direct, ongoing communication and collaboration that best leverages the strengths of each educator and ultimately ensures all students have access to meaningfully engage in the curriculum. Small steps, such as using “we” pronouns in the classroom and planning lessons together, promote a sense of equality and co-ownership both to each other and to students.

Cultivate Community

Once a strong foundation between the educators has been established, they can work to cultivate a community that embraces all students. Allow time at the start of the year for students to collaborate on a community agreement that outlines success criteria, expectations around behavior and communication, and how to resolve conflicts. This practice allows all voices to be heard, gives students a sense of ownership in their class, and reinforces inclusivity.

Additionally, be sure to provide consistent messaging and normalize what equity can look like in your classroom (e.g.: “Different people need different things and everyone gets what they need in this class”).

Normalizing the use of a variety of materials and instructional strategies is a way to embrace equity, inclusion, and empathy.

Maximize the Adults in the Room

A question that should be asked when planning each and every lesson should be, “How are we maximizing both educators during this period?” One of the benefits of having two educators in the room is that it enables a variety of co-teaching models to best support students towards the lesson objective. Data is a helpful tool to use to inform which model would work best. For example, if a group of students struggled with yesterday’s lesson based on classwork and exit tickets, alternative teaching can support those students with a reteach in a small group with one teacher, while the rest of the class moves forward or dives deeper with the other. Station teaching is fantastic for incorporating a variety of resources, including technology stations, read alouds, and direct instruction. Examine both the lesson objective and student data to select the instructional model that maximizes both educators to optimally support student needs.

Ensure Access & Equity for All

Another critical consideration when lesson planning is ensuring that all students are able to access the content. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework that offers guidance in ensuring access via three principals: multiple means of representation, multiple means of engagement, and multiple means of action/expression.

“Representation” refers to the “what” of learning and the kinds of materials and resources utilized. Consider how students are able to access the lesson: text, audiovisuals, graphic organizers, manipulatives are different ways that content can be represented.

“Engagement” refers to the “why” of learning. For example, how are we motivating our students and encouraging their sustained effort? Lessons and materials that connect to their daily lives, backgrounds, and interests support this principle. The choice to work in groups or individually is another way to optimize engagement.

“Action/Expression” refers to the “how” of learning. How are students able to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding in a classroom? A project that offers students a menu of options, for example, allows a variety of ways they can show what they know, be it an essay, an infographic, a podcast recording, or even a TikTok video!

Teachers provide access and equity to students of all abilities and academic levels when they keep these three principles in mind while preparing lessons and resources.

The Recipe for a Highly Effective Inclusion Classroom

In inclusive classrooms, leading by example and creating a partnership of trust and mutual respect helps teachers to weave respect and collaboration into the fabric of the class culture. Couple that with consistent pedagogical planning that emphasizes accessibility and equity, and you have the recipe for a highly effective inclusive classroom where all students can learn and grow.

Contributor Bio

Katie Giberson, M.Ed., currently serves as an Account Manager at TeachTown, as well as an adjunct college professor. Previously, Katie worked as a special education teacher in New York City for nearly 10 years and has extensive experience in professional development and project management. She received her Master’s Degree in Adolescent Special Education from Hunter College and was in the New York City Teaching Fellows program. Katie excels in using data to inform roadmaps, accelerate outcomes, and achieve growth for partners and students alike.

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