Inclusiveness in schools makes everyone feel safe, respected and valued. All children should feel included in the learning process, regardless of individual differences such as disability, race, cultural background, economic status or any other factor.
An inclusive school is a more effective, productive and powerful environment for everyone. Students excel in inclusive environments, both academically and socially. For these reasons, school officials, teachers and parents should find the most effective ways to foster a setting of inclusivity.
What Does Inclusion Mean in Schools?
While inclusion can mean many things for many different groups of people, schools’ inclusion of students with disabilities has legal definitions. Understanding the meaning of inclusion in this context is essential. For years, human rights champions have sought equal learning opportunities for students with disabilities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act mandated equal education opportunities for students who have disabilities. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) emphasized the importance of inclusion. Per IDEA, schools must include students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment, creating three basic impacts on schools. Students with disabilities to:
- Be placed alongside students who are typically developing.
- Have access to the standard curriculum.
- Have access to typical non-academic activities.
The “least restrictive environment” is a continuum with various acceptable options. Parents, teachers and school officials should work together to find the best solution for students based on their unique needs. Full inclusion is the ideal — rather than removing students from inclusive settings, schools should incorporate supplemental aids and services, such as assistant teachers or technology solutions. Schools can only reduce these forms of inclusion if it benefits the student with a disability. In some cases, a student may see the most success with only partial inclusion.
The Importance of Inclusion in Schools
As established in the landmark Brown v. the Board of Education Supreme Court case, separate is not equal. Segregation leads to disparities in access and opportunities. Exclusion based on diversity serves no one. On the other hand, inclusion creates a more effective, helpful learning environment for all. Though some schools may seek to comply with IDEA for legal reasons alone, it’s also important to note inclusion’s many positive impacts.
The Benefits of Inclusion in Schools
Inclusion in schools serves everyone — students with disabilities, students who are typically developing and teachers. For the last several decades, study after study has found that including students with disabilities in schools has positive or neutral effects on those involved. All students enjoy academic and social benefits from diversity inclusiveness.
Benefits for Students With Disabilities
When students with disabilities feel included, they benefit in many ways. For one thing, they have a stronger sense of belonging. Because students who are typically developing become better accustomed to varying levels of ability, barriers are broken and friendships form. Inclusive schools teach all students that difference is normal, acceptable and even favorable.
For students with disabilities, this benefit can have a positive impact on their overall emotional and social development. They may get involved with activities in and out of the classroom, demonstrating independence and developing self-esteem.
Students with disabilities see academic benefits, as well. They may perform better in a traditional, inclusive classroom environment, with a challenging curriculum and a focus on academic learning. Achievement scores in reading, writing and math are higher for students in inclusive settings. Students with autism also earn higher scores in abstract and inferential skills.
Benefits for Students Who Are Typically Developing
Some parents and teachers may wonder whether including students with disabilities will impede learning for students who are typically developing. But inclusion has both social and academic benefits for a school’s students who are typically developing. According to a National Institute of Health study, having students with intellectual disabilities in the classroom had no impact on their peers’ learning progress.
Similarly, students in inclusive schools are just as likely to continue their education after graduating. A study based in Finland found the proportion of students with learning disabilities had no impact on the proportion of students who pursued post-secondary education. In fact, including students with disabilities may help students who are typically developing gain access to a wider range of resources. For instance, instead of pulling students out of the classroom for speech therapy, a speech therapist could spend time in the classroom, providing suggestions, information and support to all students.
An inclusive classroom also gives students who are typically developing exposure to diversity, which helps establish acceptance. This benefit may result in more empathetic adults who better understand disability and diversity. In addition, inclusive classrooms tend to accommodate various learning styles. All students, with or without disabilities, can benefit from this practice as kids have varying learning style preferences.
Benefits for Teachers
Teachers in inclusive schools have unique experiences and learning opportunities, which can help them become better educators. Inclusive settings give teachers the chance to collaborate with their colleagues, foster multiple learning styles and adopt new skills. Creating an inclusive environment in and out of the classroom fosters growth and improvement. Teachers learn new approaches and methods for creating the most positive, effective setting for all students.
How to Make Schools More Inclusive
Inclusion is powerful. Promoting inclusion results in a more effective learning environment for all students and provides strengthening opportunities for educators. If you’re looking for ways to make your environment more inclusive, consider the following strategies:
1. Use Diverse Visuals and Resources
The saying holds true — representation matters. When choosing educational resources, including posters, academic texts and library books, seek diverse representation. Choose stories that feature diverse characters created by diverse writers, illustrators and editors. An increasing number of children’s books address issues of race, ethnicity, religion, disability and other aspects of diversity. You can find resources catered to any age or reading level. This integration will help normalize differences and provide students with a productive vocabulary to address these differences.
2. Promote Collaboration and Development
Continued growth and change should be top priorities. Schools should encourage and organize conversations between teachers, parents and families. Schools need to keep lines of communication open and accessible, especially when integrating inclusivity measures. Collaborating and considering new ideas will help schools overcome any challenges that come up along the way.
3. Make Your Play Spaces Accessible
Inclusion has to extend beyond the classroom and onto the playground. Play is vital for any child’s development. It helps foster social skills, critical thinking, bodily health and motor skills. Schools should include accessible playground equipment to extend those benefits to students of all abilities and backgrounds.
Accessible equipment serves those with physical and intellectual disabilities. It features pathways wide enough for anyone to access, including those who use wheelchairs and other assistance devices. Accessible play equipment also features challenges appropriate for specific development levels.
Accessible Playground Examples
Examples of accessible playground equipment might include a spinning whirl with ground-level access for those who use wheelchairs. This functionality allows those with limited mobility to enjoy movement-based fun. Playgrounds can also incorporate accessible video game technology for developing visual, auditory and spatial relations skills while promoting physical exercise. These options provide an opportunity for students with physical disabilities to collaborate with their peers who are typically developing.
Accessible play spaces also provide refuge for students with social anxiety or risk of overstimulation. When creating an accessible playground, include cozy spaces where these students can hide away until they’re ready to resume play. Learn how you can make any playground more inclusive by adding thoughtful elements throughout. Inclusive school outdoor activities are as essential as inclusive classrooms.
Ways Teachers Can Be More Inclusive
Within the classroom, teachers can encourage and support inclusivity, and creating an inclusive environment should be a top priority for all teachers. Here are some tips on how to promote inclusion in primary schools and secondary schools.
1. Set Rules for Acceptable Behavior
Establishing clear classroom rules is always crucial. Students need to know what behaviors are and are not acceptable and why. Right away, teachers should tell their students to make their peers feel safe and respected, to honor personal space and boundaries and to only use kind speech. When a student breaks one of those rules, the consequences should be clear and consistent. Consequences should encourage students to correct their behavior rather than humiliating or chastising them.
2. Prepare for Teachable Moments
Teachers should know how to respond when they overhear insensitive language or notice the exclusion of certain students. They should interrupt these behaviors as soon as possible and explain how they’re hurtful. For instance, if a student says, “You can’t play with us,” to a student with a disability, the teacher should address the comment and offer suggestions for how students can play together. Teacher intervention is crucial for preventing bullying and creating a more inclusive environment.
3. Know Every Student’s Unique Needs
Every student, whether or not they have a disability, has unique needs. Teachers should take the time to learn about each student’s circumstances to create the most productive, safe and inclusive environment. Pre-assessment and private surveys will help the teacher learn about their students. These should be included at the beginning of every new academic year.
Knowing every student’s needs makes the learning environment more inclusive. For example, a teacher should be aware of students who speak English as a second or foreign language. If they do, they should offer clarification or translation when needed. The classroom may also need an assistant teacher with a background in teaching English as a foreign language.
In addition, teachers should be aware of the diverse ethnicities, religions, family structures and other factors among their students. Noted diversity will help the teacher use inclusive language. For instance, instead of saying, “Everyone ask your mommy and daddy,” the teacher should say, “Everyone ask your grown-ups at home.” That phrasing includes students in single-parent homes, students with same-sex parents and students in other situations.
4. Focus on Individual Progress, Not Competition
In many classrooms, learning is competitive. Teachers compare students to each other, using rankings and award systems. This structure can be disheartening for students with progress-affecting disabilities and may even cause them to give up on a certain task.
It’s more productive to focus on individual progress rather than competition. Challenge students to do better than they did yesterday instead of doing better than each other. Ask every student how they can improve for next time, including those who excel. This attention is helpful for all students, including the academically gifted. It teaches them to have a growth mindset, which will help them achieve future goals.
How Parents Can Teach Their Kids to Be More Inclusive
Teaching students to be inclusive starts at home. Like teachers, parents play a key role in encouraging inclusivity at school. Here are some of the ways parents can teach their children to be more inclusive.
1. Teach Children How Exclusion Is Bullying
Students may know how using hurtful words or aggression can be bullying. But they may struggle to see exclusion as bullying. Parents should help their children understand how keeping others out of the group can be hurtful. Ask your child how they would feel if everyone played without them, leaving them alone. This perspective will help them develop a stronger sense of empathy and will encourage inclusive behaviors at school.
2. Model Inclusive Behavior
It’s no secret that children model the behavior they see. As a parent, make an effort to engage with diverse groups of people of different races, religions, socioeconomic statuses and other characteristics. Allow your child to interact with children from varying backgrounds with notable differences. Choose acceptance rather than stereotypes or prejudice, and your child will learn to do the same.
3. Show How Difference Is a Good Thing
Teach your child self-love and self-esteem based on their unique characteristics. Show them how everyone’s different qualities make each person special — how a person’s appearance, personality, interests, beliefs and other characteristics make them who they are.
You can use books and other resources to help you in these conversations, teaching your child to value difference in others rather than seeing difference as something negative. They’ll be more inclined to include their peers with disabilities, as well as peers with other differences.
4. Encourage Respectful Language
Encourage your child to use kind words and speak to others with respect, and teach your child to recognize and avoid rude words. Model this behavior by refraining from unkind language in real-life situations. It’s also essential to teach a child how to apologize if they hurt someone’s feelings. They can then make and maintain healthy friendships with other children, including children with disabilities.
5. Expose Your Child to Diverse Groups
According to the contact hypothesis, exposure to diversity can help reduce prejudice. As a parent, you can facilitate connections between your child and those who are different, including children with disabilities. Allow your child opportunities to make friends with diverse groups. Involve them in various sports, clubs and other group activities where they can meet a broad range of peers.
6. Teach Them to Take a Stand
Teach your child to advocate for others and promote inclusivity. Ask them how they would feel in their excluded peer’s shoes, prompting empathy. Give them the tools to notice others’ exclusion, stand up for their peers and invite new friends into the group. Suggest strategies for including others, such as sitting with someone new at lunchtime or walking with them between classes. The result is a better environment for children with disabilities. What’s more, it’ll help children who are typically developing learn stronger social skills and promote advocating for what’s right.
Make Your School More Inclusive With Accessible Equipment
Inclusion benefits everyone. Recognizing and celebrating diversity makes any environment more welcoming and effective. In an inclusive school, students with disabilities have the same socialization and academic progress opportunities as their peers who are typically developing. As a result, they have more productive academic careers and an easier time making friends. They feel more accepted and happy. Meanwhile, students who are typically developing benefit from access to different resources, develop stronger social skills and become more accepting, empathetic people.
Schools should promote inclusion both in and out of the classroom. They should encourage parents and teachers to use inclusive strategies. They should also take inclusive measures outside of the classroom, providing inclusive school outdoor playgrounds. At Playworld, we offer a broad selection of inclusive playground equipment designed to help children develop motor skills, critical thinking, independence and physical health. If you’re interested in making your school’s playground more inclusive, request a quote today.