Inclusive Practices in International Schools
The MiniPD team thanks Shannon Raybold, MiniPD Coach, for contributing the article below. Shannon has been in the field of education for over 20 years. She has supported children and adults with special needs in public and private schools around the world, in addition to owning a private educational consulting practice. She is currently a Program Administrator for Multnomah Early Childhood program, which provides special education services to over 3,000 children ages birth-5 years old. Shannon is also working on her doctorate in Special Education leadership. She is an advocate for students and teachers and believes that through supporting teachers, we can better support students. Shannon is thrilled to be a part of the MiniPD team!
Inclusion is a word that is often used in educational settings, but how do schools implement inclusive practices? For students who are neurodivergent or have physical disabilities, true inclusion in their full educational program can be elusive. Oxford Languages defines inclusion as “the practice or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those who have physical or mental disabilities and members of other minority groups.” But it is so much more than that. Inclusion intimates a sense of belonging, not just access. It implies genuine relationships with people who believe that ALL students should be there, not just those who fit a typical profile. The principles of inclusion are inextricably wrapped up in related notions of diversity, equity, and justice. Many international schools are focusing on DEIJ issues within their communities currently. It is important that we not leave students with special learning needs out of that conversation.
Development of Inclusive Practices
The inclusion of students with varying needs in international schools is feasible and desirable. Decades of research has shown the benefits of inclusive practices for both students with and without disabilities. A research summary done by SWIFT (Schoolwide Integrated Framework for Transformation) stated that “thirty years of research shows us that when students with varied learning and support needs learn together, they experience better academic and behavioral outcomes, social relationships, high school graduation rates, and post-school success.” (SWIFT, 2017). Some international schools are concerned about the impact on their college-prep focus and reputation if they allow students with special learning needs to attend their school. To truly prepare global citizens who are able to work with diverse populations, show characteristics of empathy, compassion, and tolerance, and who have developed the emotional intelligence needed to look at the world through another’s view, we must provide schools for students who have a wide range of learning characteristics. When there is a lack of diversity in a school population, the development of these skills tends to suffer.
There is a process that should be undertaken to design an intentionally inclusive culture in a school community. Using Robert Dilts’ Neurological Levels as a framework, the following components must be addressed when envisioning what inclusive practices could look like in your school.
- For whom is your school operating? What is the vision that leaders and stakeholders hold for your school and its graduates? Is the school designed only to academically prepare students for university coursework? Is it designed to develop global citizens who see the complexities of the world around them? Is it designed to support students who have the social consciousness and desire to make changes in society?
- Who are you as a school? How does your school define itself? Who is a part of your community? Identity is affected by beliefs. Does your community believe that all kids deserve to learn in your school? What different skills must your teachers have to support every student? Who do you have on staff that has the skillset to teach diverse learners? Do you need specialty staff such as learning specialists, trained paraprofessionals, counselors, nurses, speech therapists, or physical or occupational therapists? In multicultural contexts, it is important to ensure that there is a common understanding between culturally diverse audiences to guarantee that the function (role of service), form (service delivery model), and practice (service in action- i.e. strength building for physical therapy) of services is clear. Does your school have the funding to provide such services? If not, how could you grow your funding base so that you can support the vision of meeting the needs of all students?
Beliefs and values
- Why do you believe inclusive practices are important? Do you have a strong, unwavering belief that you can teach ALL children? Do you have a vision for what inclusion looks like in your building? It is important to look at the school’s mission statement and core values to ensure that all children regardless of disability, race, culture, or economic status are wrapped into and supported by that mission statement. Ensuring those values are stated in your school’s policy shows a commitment to building inclusive practices.
- How can you support this vision? How can you build a culture of inclusion for teachers, parents, and students? What training do you need to provide? Does your staff know how to make accommodations and modifications to the curriculum? Inclusive practices do not happen by accident. They must be intentionally fostered and nurtured as they grow and bloom into a part of the community’s social fabric. School leaders, teachers, and students should be part of the conversation about what is needed to facilitate that. Parent education should also be part of the equation, not just for students with special learning needs, but for the whole community. Parent education can help familiarize them with terminology and program goals. For parents who have a child with special needs, the school can teach them how to carry over support to home and community environments.
- What will academic, social, and behavioral supports look like so that all students are able to work at their skill level? What is the least restrictive environment for each student in each subject of the day? What levels of support can we provide to students with varying needs? How will students participate in extracurricular activities, such as assemblies, sports, and clubs? How will you engage the whole school community to ensure that true inclusion (i.e. building meaningful relationships, equitable access, and “just right” levels of support) happens for all students and how will we know if it is working (did someone say “data”)?
- Where will any needed resources be housed in the school? Are there areas in the school that need to be adapted to ensure access for all? The environment must match student goals and needs. Learning spaces should be flexible but defined. You may want a specific classroom space for students who need additional supports, or you may choose to support students in their home classrooms. Another consideration of the environment is to ensure that classroom equipment and set up promotes independence in use and access.
It is important to acknowledge that building inclusive practices into an existing school culture takes time, leadership, flexibility, and adherence to the long-term vision of what the desired school culture looks like. That vision necessarily extends beyond the school walls into the community and what the stakeholders and graduates desire to see in the world around them. Living in a just, diverse, and inclusive world is what many parents want for their children.
For more specifics on how to develop inclusive practices at your school, please contact Shannon for coaching or follow her on Twitter @ShannonRaybold. She would be happy to discuss this further!
Join the Conversation
We invited educators from around the world to join us in a Coaches-in-Conversation on our theme, Student-Centered Interventions to Support All Students on 15 December 2022. Jump into the recording below to listen….
- Enroll yourself, team or school staff in Dr. Peg Dawsons 4+ hour course, Building Executive Function Skills in Students, where we explore the importance of executive function (EF) skills for school performance and adjustment, along with building a tool kit of EF strategies that can support you and your students.
- Enroll yourself, team or school staff in Shannon Raybold’s Course Bundle, Universal Supports for Learning, Explore ways to leverage accommodations, implement multi-tiered systems of support, and understand specific learning disabilities in the classroom. Implement your learning and impact your practice in one-to-one or small group coaching conversations with Shannon.
MiniPD Coaches, (2022) Tools and Actionable Strategies
Dilts’ Neurologic Levels. (n.d.). Dilts Pyramid – the neurological levels. Retrieved January 16, 2022, from https://www.landsiedel.com/en/nlp-library/neurological-levels.html
Oxford Languages. (n.d.). Oxford languages and google – English. Retrieved January 16, 2022, from https://languages.oup.com/google-dictionary-en/
SWIFT Schools. (January 2017). Research Support for Inclusive Education and SWIFT. Schoolwide Integrated Framework for Transformation. Retrieved January 16, 2022, https://swiftschools.org/sites/default/files/Research%20Support%20for%20SWIFT%202017.pdf
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