No one is perfect, and even the most seasoned educators will get things wrong from time to time.
The mark of a truly great teacher is that she will accept responsibility for her actions, learn from these mistakes, and grow in the process — and parents can help.
A willingness to try, sometimes fail, and try again is especially important in an inclusive classroom. This stance not only provides a model for students to emulate, but also instantiates the open attitude and flexibility critical to successfully differentiating instruction and meeting a wide array of learning needs in a single class.
Here are four common mistakes teachers in inclusive classrooms make, and the strategies parents can use to help educators avoid them.
1. Inadequate Planning
Most people will agree — there are just not enough hours in the day to do everything you want to. But a successful inclusive education demands intentional planning. Committing to this learning approach requires that a teacher devote the necessary time to ensure that each and every class is thoughtfully laid out — and includes a back-up plan!
Shortcuts, moreover, are unacceptable in inclusive classrooms as they will only leave students with less than they need for an effective learning experience. Similarly, ignoring aspects of classroom management or lesson development is out of the question. Each of us is guilty of rushing from time to time, but successful inclusion means devoting the time necessary for appropriate planning.
How You Can Help
As a parent, you can be up-front and open with teachers about your child’s specific needs. Establishing lines of communication — especially early in the school year — will eliminate the need for an educator to dig for such information later. When she is given sufficient background at the start, a teacher can plan accordingly, saving precious time that would be required to revise lessons later. This is especially crucial in an inclusive classroom, where she is working to accommodate a range of learning needs effectively and efficiently.
2. Standardized Instruction
When teachers find strategies that work, it’s easy to assume that these will continue to be effective over time and with every child. The truth, though, is that many children, particularly those with learning disabilities or differences, require different approaches as their needs evolve.
How You Can Help
Talking to your child about her education is important. Ask what she finds most interesting or which strategies make her want to pay the closest attention.
Communicating this information to your child’s teacher is an important first step in building a strong partnership with the school and its staff. Share anecdotes about what has worked at home (but also recognize that home and school environments are very different), and offer realistic feedback about the success of particular lessons. When parents approach an educator in a spirit of meaningful and constructive collaboration, the teacher is more likely to listen to their suggestions. Ideally, she will use this information to deepen her teaching practice, in turn benefitting all of her students.
3. Underestimation of Learners
We have all done it — sometimes we’re wonderfully surprised when a child accomplishes something we never expected. Teachers do not mean to underestimate their students, but they may not have seen what these learners are capable of achieving. It is essential for educators to push students to their highest potential, even if this has yet to be fully discovered.
How You Can Help
Keep expectations high while also setting realistic and attainable goals. Children need to know that their parents believe in them. Those with unreasonable expectations for their kids will consistently be disappointed, while those with low standards will fail to encourage their children to reach ambitious goals.
Strike a balance that encourages your child to set and work towards high results, while simultaneously accepting setbacks and helping her to rebound from them. Increasingly, educators and researchers like Angela Lee Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania recognize the importance of grit — that is, the ability to persist after failing at early attempts — in children’s development. Conveying your understanding that there can be as much growth in the process of learning as there is in the attainment of specific goals will help your child to keep moving towards her potential.
4. Misalignment of Words and Actions
Do you justify parking in a handicapped-accessible spot because you’re “just running in for a minute” — even though you work in an inclusive classroom? Do you push for mainstream opportunities for children with special needs in school, but then allow your own child to exclude a classmate with disabilities from her birthday party? As a teacher, it’s important to be a consistent model of inclusion for both our peers and children — not just in formal situations, but in day-to-day choices and experiences as well.
How You Can Help
Parents too have the ability to lead by example. You can be the person you hope your children will become. Explain to them that you favor accommodations for people with disabilities — such as assistive technology — because these supports enable them to live and learn independently. You can also demonstrate the value of treating others with kindness by discussing the importance of choosing your words carefully and standing up for equal rights.
Even the most dedicated teachers sometimes make mistakes in their practice, and this is no less true for those who work in inclusive classrooms. For educators and parents alike, understanding the potential pitfalls and how to avoid them will help to create a successful learning environment built on strong home-to-school support.
Want to learn more about the benefits of inclusive education for all children? Check out more articles by Noodle Expert Nicole Eredics, including Building Inclusive Schools for Children of All Abilities.