I ended the year in December by going to a Sing-Along at Cook Elementary school. I don’t quite know why this is so, but a gym full of children singing Christmas Carols is about the sweetest sound you can end the year on. Their voices are like a chorus of chiming bells, and everyone is singing in tune, or at least it sounds that way. That in itself is magical, but of course there was more. It was snowing, and on top of that, Santa himself suddenly arrived and worked the room like a pro, shaking hands and spreading the magic.
Rumour has it Santa was a student who flew in from nearby MacNeill Secondary School, but he got caught up in the magic too. I talked to him after his showstopping entrance, and the first thing he said, was, “They thought I was real. I think they really did!” This was a new angle on the “Is Santa real?” question.
An event like this sing-along has a place and space for everyone. Everyone is in the gym together, and all voices join in. It’s inclusive in the broadest sense, because inclusion is essentially about being part of a community.
This leads to the very real 2014 question – where are we in the Richmond School District when it comes to creating and sustaining inclusive learning environments?
After over 30 years of defining ourselves as an inclusive school district, it seems as if it’s time to think about what inclusion means – and doesn’t mean.
As a school district, Richmond has been deeply committed to inclusion ethically, socially and intellectually since the 1980’s. The important idea behind this is that all children deserve the opportunity to feel connected, respected and capable of learning . So what, exactly, does that mean?
Here’s some food for thought in the form of BC Ministry of Education definition of inclusion:
Inclusion describes the principle that all students are entitled to equitable access to learning, achievement and pursuit of excellence in all aspects of their education.
The practice of inclusion is not necessarily synonymous with integration and goes beyond placement to include meaningful participation and interaction with others.
(Ministry of Education 2013)
This definition seems to imply that inclusion is not simply a place, but a “place of mind” (apologies to the University of BC for co-opting their motto). In other words, it’s about being engaged and connected in a meaningful way regardless of the setting.
This in turn leads to another question. Does inclusion mean all students are in the typical classroom at all times, or can settings be differentiated depending on particular student needs? Sometimes the typical classroom is absolutely the best place for a student to be, but perhaps at other times something different is needed, whether it’s a small group setting, individual help or learning in the community.
Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting a return to where we were 30 years ago, when students with significant learning challenges were in institutions, separate schools, or completely separate classrooms. No one would support that today, ethically or pedagogically. But maybe it’s time to ask ourselves if inclusion means being in a typical classroom all the time, or whether it allows for a variety of learning environments that include, but are not limited to, the classroom. Come to think of it, this question is a good one to ask when we think about all students.
In the spirit of investigative blogging, the next few posts will be about the relationship between the concept of inclusion and different settings for different learning purposes. I’ll be visiting some of these settings and describing what’s going on there.
Any thoughts on this concept are welcome, and if you have a setting or classroom you think might be of interest, let me know, and I’ll try to come by for a visit.