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Inclusion in Alberta: Ideas about Quality

SO How does inclusion get better in this transition period?  

Well with a change in mindset.  

Now as a special needs teacher, you might wonder – have I supported Inclusion from the beginning? Honestly, the concept of inclusion I heard about and saw in presentations from the Ministry of Education/Alberta Learning here in Calgary, no I did not agree.  What I am seeing on the ground now in this transition period, no I do not agree.  HOWEVER, with the larger concept of QUALITY, INCLUSIVE education – yes, I DO agree.

When discussing QUALITY inclusive education, the European Union contends that:
- Inclusion concerns a wider range of learners than those identified as having special educational needs.
- Access to mainstream education alone is not enough. Participation means that all learners are engaged in learning activities that are meaningful for them.
- The promotion of positive attitudes in education is crucial for widening participation.
- Ensuring all teachers are trained and feel able to assume responsibility for all learners, whatever their individual needs;
- Supporting the participation of learners and their parents in educational decision-making.
- A view of learning as process – not content based – and a main goal for all learners being the development of learning to learn skills, not just subject knowledge;
- Developing personalised learning approaches for all learners (Key Principles for Promoting Quality in Inclusive Education. Recommendations for Policy Makers, pg 15-16)

What I think was missing from the “instruction” on inclusive education from the government and school boards was that inclusion means PERSONALISED LEARNING FOR EVERYONE, not just those identified as having special learning needs.  Inclusion isn’t a process to manage special needs students; it is a philosophy that will bring better education to all.  Inclusion does NOT mean no more IEPs as I have had many teachers tell parents, it means IEPs for everyone – and I don’t mean the document: I mean the GOALS.
Did you notice that the definition of quality inclusive education included that teachers are “trained and feel able to assume responsibility”? That is all that teachers’ want – a system that supports them and gives them the opportunity to make inclusion work.
Did you also notice that it included “supporting the participation of learners and their parents in educational decision-making”?  This is what parents want.  Most parents want to understand what their options are… the fear and pain in the educational system comes from not knowing what they can fight for AND that it has to become a fight to get things done.  They don’t want to undo a teacher’s recommendation or not consider a teacher’s advice.  They want to help their child be the best that they can be.
Now does inclusion seem so scary, probably not.  Does that mean it is as simple as that? No! But reaching for quality education and taking the time to improve the system will. 
Administrators: teachers need time and training and at this point, most are so jaded about these two issues that they don’t believe they will get it.  Administrators: parents need to know what their options are, that their opinions will be heard, considered and attempted. Your job is not easy either.  You may discover a quality leader in education that leads from their classroom OR you may find that you are the one to take the leap and need to support your teachers as you take it. 
Will inclusion look the same for every board and every need: NO. BUT, we can start out with the common idea of quality in mind.
What about schools that try ability groupings? What about school programs that try teaching skills rather than subject matter? What about school programs that reproduce a variety of work environments? Why not have a school in Southern Alberta that focuses on the Khan Academy model or any other forward thinking, engaging process that allows skills to be applied across subjects?

There are so many possibilities and little time, space and money – I know! Let’s be creative – maybe scheduling needs to change – maybe all the kids who want to work on mechanics make their way to one area school for a few weeks and focus on a project that will build skills in all areas (math, science, communication) and then on to the next to work on a language or communication project at their home school environment for the next few weeks? Let’s think outside the box!

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