Classroom Inclusion: Hurdles with Successful Implementation

E – Exemplify service to the teaching profession.

E3 – Exemplify an understanding of professional responsibilities and policies.
 Teacher candidates demonstrate knowledge of professional, legal, and ethical responsibilities and policies.

Classroom Inclusion: Hurdles with Successful Implementation

Students with disabilities are presented with many challenges, one being accepted by other individuals within their school community. Evans (2008) presents opposing views to classroom inclusion practices, discussing the challenges associated with inclusion when it is and is not successful. The law is designed to protect students with disabilities, allowing them to be educated in the least restrictive environment possible. Many teachers are concerned about providing an adequate education to these students due to a lack of funding, communication, and other resources. In many cases, students are also concerned due to insecurities and lack of preparation for classroom inclusion. Classroom inclusion practices should be implemented in the public school but the school needs to be prepared for this challenge; without appropriate planning and preparation, inclusion could be a negative experience for many students.

IDEA and Special Education Placement

When evaluating what is expected of educators in regard to state and federal law, there is a requirement beyond the moral and ethical matters associated with classroom inclusion practices. As stated by federal special education law, students with disabilities are required to be:

“…Educated with children who are nondisabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily” (Lewis & Doorlag, 2011).

Although students are required to be taught in the least restrictive environment (LRE), there is a grey area as to what defines the nature or severity of a student’s disability and what environment is appropriate. For example, a student with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) that is non-communicative may present behavioral and safety concerns to those evaluating that student’s individual education plan (IEP). Many general education teachers are not equipped to handle or evaluate behaviors that are exhibited as self-harming or harmful to others. In this example, perhaps the student with ASD occasionally screams, bites himself, or hits his head on his fist when frustrated. While behavioral specialists may evaluate such behaviors as communication, other teachers would evaluate them as violent and insubordinate. The views of individuals on IEP teams are not only detrimental to the future of a student with a significant behavioral problem but also to those students that are not potentially dangerous. In many cases, staff may categorize non-communicative students as incapable of handling a general education classroom based on past experiences with similar more violent or self-harming students. It is therefore important that teachers, staff, and districts evaluate individual children without bias and provide professional support to assist with behaviors appropriately in order to facilitate integration into the general education population. The law provides some guidance for these students but the professional opinions of the IEP team will ultimately decide their educational circumstances.

Furthermore, IEP goals aren’t only determined by the student’s capabilities but also by the educators involved and the resources their district is able to provide. As represented in figure 1, Lewis and Doorlag (2011) provide a simplified model of what defines the least restrictive environment for students with disabilities. This model provides an example of what options are available to students who require educational accommodations and additional support. For certain accommodations, such as services for the hearing impaired, it may even be decided to bus those children to another district or school to receive these services if they are not available in their assigned school. In other cases, these services might not be available at all.

Figure 1. Placement in the least restrictive environment (Lewis & Doorlag, 2001, p. 16).

Figure 1. Placement in the least restrictive environment (Lewis & Doorlag, 2001, p. 16).

Lastly, if a student is placed in a highly restrictive environment, the hope is that the school can provide a behavior and/or education plan to help this student with social integration into the general education population. This goal to move students forward toward more inclusion in the general education population is determined on many factors. The collaboration of the student, the parents/caregivers, the district, the school administration, the teachers, other staff, other students, and the greater community are all implementers of a successful educational outcome to those on IEPs. It is the responsibility of the parents, professionals, and school district involved in their education to facilitate that they have appropriate support.

Teacher and Staff Concerns

In order to meet individual IEP goals and promote successful classroom inclusion practices, it is important that teachers receive realistic resources to help meet these goals. While evidence shows that classroom inclusion can be beneficial to students, it can also cause problems for them, especially when resources are not provided to help them succeed.

For example, as observed by Able et. al (2014) in response to their study of focus groups at elementary, middle, and high school inclusive classrooms, general education teachers were unclear as to how to teach and assist students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Due to their lack of training, these teachers were unaware of the behavioral difficulties that may occur with this disorder and the modifications that are necessary to teach to these individuals. As with many disabilities, reading a text on a disorder in a teaching preparation program does not provide the same skill and experience that hands-on training provides (Able et. al, 2014). It is therefore important that districts provide appropriate training as one resource to teachers to help with diverse student populations.

Furthermore, many students with disabilities must receive assistive care, which may not always be available due to lack of funding. For example, students with physical and mental disabilities may require assistance with bathroom facilities, emotional behavioral support, or language services. While many schools have paraprofessionals, other staff/students, and outside support to assist teachers with these services, many also do not. With rising academic expectations in public schools and limited funding in many districts, teachers are forced to assist with these tasks, further taking away from instructional time. If schools are expected to meet the requirements of federal and state law to meet the educational needs of students with disabilities, states and the federal government should help provide funding to provide the necessary resources to do so.

Lastly, communication within the school is crucial to promoting the success of students with disabilities. Many times, there is a lack of communication between special education teachers and general education teachers. In some settings, this is simply due to time constraints or physical location of classrooms within a large school campus. With the lack of expertise many general education teachers have in regard to a variety of disabilities, it is important that they have regular communication with the special education teacher about these students’ learning progress. If professionals within the school are meeting and collaborating on what works and what does not work for students with special needs, these kids will have a consistent support team that can build on their educational success.

Student Concerns

It is important that the school prepares students in the general education setting, the students coming from a special education background, and the adults involved in their education prior to students with disabilities being placed in the general education classroom. Many times, a lack of preparation will lead to bullying, learned helplessness of the student with the disability, and other negative consequences (Lewis & Doorlag, 2011).

General education students may not understand how to interact with those with disabilities and could potentially fear those students. Informing general education students (and their parents) “…about the needs of students with disabilities, the purpose of the programs, and the impact on their children will help gain their support” (Lewis & Doorlag, 2011). This can be done by informing students about diversity through literary sources, adult speakers living with a disability, peer tutoring programs, educational videos, or through other educational activities. It is also important to do this without drawing additional attention to the student that will be joining the classroom. Therefore, care should be taken with this preparation and education should be ongoing to ensure that students are treating each other with kindness and respect.

In addition to preparing general education students for classroom inclusion, special education students should also be prepared. Adults should set realistic goals for students with disabilities in order to prepare them for success. Success should be determined on their individual IEP goals rather than on them keeping up with other students within this setting. General education teachers should also be aware of the educational goals for these students. For example, a student at a first grade reading level should not be expected to comprehend a seventh grade level text. Students with disabilities should also be aware of and in most cases agree with goals and expectations prior to arriving to the general education classroom in order to avoid confrontational situations. In some circumstances, students may not agree with the goals of their individual inclusion plan. They may initially fear integration into a general education setting. This could require a behavioral implementation plan (BIP) or another educational goal. Social integration in a general education setting, such as beginning with PE in order to prepare them for other classes may help them overcome this barrier and agree with future educational goals. The PE class could also be a first-step in preparing them to exhibit appropriate behavior for other general education settings. Lastly, these students should be provided with resources for communication within their environment and prompted to ask for assistance when needed. For example, some non-communicative students may require an iPad to display communication devices for their teachers and other students.

Lastly, in many inclusive settings, a paraprofessional is provided in order to assist the general education teacher in teaching students with disabilities. Causton-Theoharis (2009) states, “Students with the most challenging learning needs deserve more contact time with the most trained teachers in a school. Unfortunately, when a paraprofessional works with a particular student and the paraprofessional remains close to the student, less teacher-to-student interaction occurs” (p. 39). Paraprofessionals and general education teachers should be aware that whenever possible, they should fade adult support. Most students are cognizant of additional adult support and where adults position themselves within the classroom. “Even when students need close support because of behavior difficulties or physical needs, educators should use temporary or intermittent supports rather than permanent supports” (Causton-Theoharis, 2009, p. 39). Constant adult supervision or over-assisting a particular student may further alienate them from their peers and promote learned helplessness. Figure 2 presents types of support methods ranging from most intrusive to least intrusive, providing a range of possibilities to fade adult support.

Figure 2. Range of supports ranging from most intrusive to least intrusive (Causton-Theoharis, 2009, p. 42).

Figure 2. Range of supports ranging from most intrusive to least intrusive (Causton-Theoharis, 2009, p. 42).

Conclusions

There are many challenges involved with classroom inclusion. In order to promote the success of all students within the inclusive classroom, educators must collaborate amongst each other and come to an agreement as to how to facilitate this success. In addition to teamwork, school districts must provide adequate resources to schools in order to support these educators. States and the federal government should also work to provide adequate funding to schools to design successful educational programs for diverse student populations. Lastly, students and teachers should be properly trained and prepared to create an environment of acceptance and understanding. As stated by Noddings (2006), “Caring teachers – no matter the theory of motivation to which they subscribe – will not scorn the expressed needs of their students” (p. 18). Classroom inclusion practices are necessary for all students but if not successful, could present some hard consequences. If everyone involved comes together with realistic planning and expectations, classroom inclusion could provide many positive results.

Reference:

Able, H., Sreckovic, M. A., Schultz, T. R., Garwood, J. D., & Sherman, J. (2014). Views from the trenches: Teacher and student supports needed for full inclusion of students with ASD. Teacher Education and Special Education, 38 (1), 44-57. doi: 10.1177/0888406414558096

Causton-Theoharis, J. N. (2009). The golden rule of providing support in inclusive classrooms: Support others, as you would wish to be supported. Teaching exceptional children, 42 (2), 36-43. Retrieved from http://www.chinooksedge.ab.ca/documents/general/Golden%20Rule.pdf

Evans, D. (2008). Taking sides: Clashing views in teaching and educational practice (3rd ed.). Boston: McGraw Hill Higher Education.

Lewis, R. B., & Doorlag, D. H. (2011). Teaching students with special needs in general education classrooms. Boston, MA: Pearson.

Noddings, N. (2006). Critical lessons: What our schools should teach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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