Yesterday I posted a hypothetical Differentiation Situation in which a special educator in an inclusion class disagrees with an administrator on the teacher’s approach to making content more accessible because he has done so for all students, not just the students with disabilities. I have my own thoughts on this issue, which I imagine is not as novel as I think it is.
First, I think it is important for me to define some terms the way I view them, which will help me better frame my argument.
Inclusion – a philosophy of education that brings students of varying abilities (some with labels/IEPs/disabilities, others without) together to create the most hospitable learning environment possible for every student in the class.
Co-teaching – an instructional model that combines a general educator’s experience and expertise with a special educator’s experience and expertise so that students in the class can benefit from whatever each educator brings to the table.
Differentiation – a mindset of teaching that accepts that all students will require instruction to be adapted to their current needs/abilities/intelligences.
To take this all a step further, I submit this: in an inclusion classroom, there should be no distinction between “your” kids and “my” kids. The students with disabilities should be considered the responsibility of the general educator as much as the special educator. The students without disabilities should be considered the responsibility of the special educator as much as the general educator. If anything short of this happens, and factions of students are delineated for each teacher, well then, that is not true inclusion.
Parallel teaching is part of co-teaching, but that does not mean that each teacher should only focus on the students that fall under their title. Picture a room in which, for every lesson, the general educator sits with “her” students and the special educator sits with “her” students. In this sense, the only thing the students with disabilities are included in is the physical space of the classroom. And of course, separate but equal is never equal.
With appropriate planning, there will frequently be times when the general educator pulls a group that includes students with disabilities. Indeed, there will frequently be times when the special educator pulls a group that includes students without disabilities. That is true inclusion, as the lines that separate those with disabilities from those without become blurred and everyone is regarded as, more than anything, a classmate.
To this end, I return to the hypothetical situation I posed yesterday. A special educator, based on my definition of co-teaching above, brings certain expertise to the co-taught classroom. One of those strengths should be breaking down teaching to make it more accessible, not just to the students with disabilities, but to every student in the classroom. Remember, the purpose of an inclusion class is to create the most hospitable learning environment for all students.
If all students benefit from having the small book of writing strategies, even though it began as a tool for the students with disabilities, how is this a bad thing? Maybe the administrator is being nitpicky by saying the special educator is not differentiating appropriately for the students with disabilities. Or maybe the interpretations of co-teaching and inclusion held by the administrator assume that if two teachers work in the same room and some students have IEPs, then everything is hunky dory.
I think it’s the latter. In order for co-teachers to be supported in an inclusion situation, the administrator must expect and demand true co-teaching. That is to say that each teacher invariably works with all students. And accepting this as true inclusion means, to me, that if every student benefits from that small book of writing strategies, then the administrator is witnessing inclusion and co-teaching at their best.