Creating an Inclusive School Environment: A Model for School Leaders
Inclusion is an approach to education based on the premise that all students should be accepted and valued for their unique abilities and included as integral members of the school. Research shows that students with and without disabilities benefit both socially and academically from inclusion. To help principals to create an inclusive school environment, this module has demonstrated a process built around Kotter’s eight-step model of change. Click on the movie below to review that process (time: 3:20).
Transcript: Wrap Up
The first thing is really establishing a sense of urgency. If we do the same things we’ve been doing, we’re going to get the same results. So we have to do something differently. The job of the leader is to really create a sense of urgency. Using data takes it away from a personal opinion, puts the focus on students, and puts it on what students really need.
The second step is putting together a team or forming a coalition. We always started with a small group of willing people, what I call early adopters and innovators. We focused our efforts on them, built our successes with that group, and then spread it virally through the school.
The third area is creating a vision. Most people in schools don’t really have a clear mental picture of what they want things to be like in their school. It’s really important we develop a vision because that vision will act in the future as a filter to help us compare where we are to where we want to go. It will help us align all our behaviors in relation to what we’re doing now to where we want to be. And also it provides a rationale for the changes we’re going to have to make and the things we’re going to have to endure to get where we want to go.
Next thing is communicating the vision. We have to make sure that everyone understands, appreciates, and is committed to what we’re trying to do, and use every opportunity to communicate that.
The next is to empower people. We had to really change the way we did things, and that required a lot of communication. My job, after we agreed on our vision, evolved into someone who was acquiring resources to ensure that we have the time, the equipment, the training that people needed, and I spent a lot of time removing barriers or obstacles, things that were keeping us from being successful. Nothing’s more frustrating to people than when you give them a vision and then don’t give them the time, the resources, budget, etc., to succeed. We wanted to identify the high-leverage points that we could focus on that would make the most impact on our students.
Next is short-term wins. Getting those early wins was really critical for us in terms of keeping the motivation high and creating some momentum.
Next, look at consolidating the improvements and sustaining the change over a long period of time. Initiatives like inclusion mean a change, not only in behavior but a change in the culture of the school. The key here is to distribute leadership for the initiative throughout the school. That means developing teacher-leaders—not administrators, but teacher-leaders—who really lead the effort and are in partnership with the school principal.
The last area is institutionalizing the changes, making them permanent. Sustaining change is not good enough. It has to be a continuous improvement, trying to continue to fine-tune what we were doing. Changing the beliefs, expectations, attitudes, and behaviors of people takes time. It takes three years to put the changes into effect, five years to ensure that it was a part of the culture.
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Although the process of creating an inclusive school may take three to five years to implement and sustain, principals who have taken on this important endeavor, such as those below, have observed successful outcomes for their students.
Principal, Pima Butte
“[W]hen I started, we had roughly twenty percent of our kids in the special ed pull-out-classrooms type setting. At this point, I think we just ended the school year with three kids who were receiving, I think, one hour of pull-out a day.”
Outcome: Only 3 of 455 students are in pull-out programs.
Principal, Morgan County High School
Evans Elementary School
“[I]n 2004, we only had thirty students who were in an advanced class. And in this past school year that we finished , we had over 430, and this is of a school of about 980 students.”
Outcome: Forty-five percent of students are in advanced classes.
Three years after CMS began to make changes toward becoming more inclusive, they reflect on their progress. They acknowledge that CMS has experienced a number of positive outcomes.
- The general education and special education teachers work together collaboratively to support all students. The teachers report enjoying this new approach to teaching.
- The number of students in special education classrooms decreased from 13% to 4%.
- The number of parents of students with disabilities participating in PTO and other school activities increased by 32%.
- Over 90% of the teachers report feeling that they now have the skills necessary to teach students with disabilities and feel comfortable doing so, due to effective, targeted PD.
In addition to these school-related outcomes, students at CMS have experienced a number of positive results.
- Reading scores for all grade levels and all subgroups have increased by 8% to 15%.
- Discipline referrals for all subgroups have decreased by 12% to 17%.
- The number of students with disabilities participating in extracurricular activities has jumped from 8% to 60%.
Revisiting Initial Thoughts
Think back to your responses to the Initial Thoughts questions at the beginning of this module. After working through the Perspectives & Resources, do you still agree with those responses? If not, what aspects about them would you change?
What is inclusion and why is it important?
What model can school leaders use to guide the change necessary for creating inclusive school environments?
How can school leaders prepare for the changes required to create inclusive school environments?
How can school leaders implement changes that result in inclusive school environments?
How can school leaders sustain the positive efforts toward creating inclusive school environments?
When you are ready, proceed to the Assessment section.