In recent years, there’s been a shift towards more inclusive classrooms across the world of education. Specifically, inclusion in education refers to a movement where students of all abilities are integrated into general education classrooms as seamlessly and often as possible. Rather than being separated into “special education” schools or dedicated classrooms, the idea behind inclusion in education is that everybody has a place in the classroom—and that students of all abilities do best when they have the support they need to succeed alongside their classmates.
Today, educational leaders play a critical role in creating more inclusive learning environments in their schools. Suppose you’re a teacher or an aspiring educational leader (such as a principal, district supervisor, or superintendent). In that case, you may wonder what steps you can take to create more inclusive environments in your school.
Teachers and educational leaders can do their part to make a difference by understanding why inclusive education matters and how to overcome common barriers to create more inclusive learning environments.
The Positive Impact of Inclusive Education
Research has found that all students can benefit from inclusive classrooms. For starters, an inclusive education provides the necessary support for all students to succeed and thrive. Rather than pulling students out of their general education classrooms for specialized instruction (such as speech therapy), service providers are brought directly into the classroom to receive the support they need in a familiar environment.
Meanwhile, by incorporating students with disabilities or other learning challenges into the general education classroom, every student learns that people of all abilities can learn and thrive in their own way. Inclusive classrooms can significantly reduce the stigma around disabilities while encouraging students to embrace their differences.
The Role of Educational Leaders in Promoting Inclusion
While most teachers, educators, and parents agree that an inclusive environment is vital to quality education, creating an inclusive classroom can be easier said than done. Educational leaders can help encourage inclusive environments by promoting these concepts in their schools.
The Influence on School Culture
Educational leaders such as principals, direct supervisors, and superintendents greatly influence the schools they serve. Their influence strongly impacts staff, students, parents, and other stakeholders. With this in mind, educational leaders who want to offer quality education for all must begin by getting others on board with the idea before they can move any further with student accessibility and inclusive learning services.
Advocating for Inclusive Policies
From pre-K to the college level, educational leaders play a vital role in advocating for more inclusive policies and accommodations for learners of all ages. These policy changes can be challenging to implement, so educational leaders may need to exercise some persistence here.
Examining Successful Case Studies
Recent research has shown the advantages of inclusive education and how to create inclusive learning environments in classrooms of all sizes. Educational leaders looking to create more inclusive learning environments must stay up-to-date on the latest case studies and present them to other educators, parents, and stakeholders. In many cases, ideas and principles from these case studies can be adapted and applied to ensure inclusive teaching and foster a quality education for all learners.
Creating an Inclusive Learning Environment
There are a few factors to consider when creating an inclusive learning environment.
Embracing and Celebrating Diversity
In an inclusive classroom, differences are celebrated and embraced rather than ignored or downplayed. Students with disabilities or other special learning needs are kept in the general education classroom as much as possible rather than sent to different classrooms for specialized and individualized education. As a result, all students see first-hand how diversity can be accepted and celebrated in the classroom.
Implementing Effective Strategies
Educators and education leaders must also have a plan to implement the most effective strategies for inclusive education. These strategies may mean creating a plan to break students into small groups and ensuring that special education teachers can intervene or excuse themselves from the classroom as needed. Likewise, a good inclusion plan should use practical aids (such as interpreters, co-teachers, and paraeducators) for those with special needs.
Collaborating to Ensure Inclusivity
Creating an inclusive learning environment requires a group effort involving teachers, specialists, administration, leaders, parents, and guardians. With collaboration and involvement from all, educational leaders can improve classrooms, and schools can gradually become places of inclusive education for everybody.
Empowering Teachers to Foster Inclusivity
When creating an inclusive learning environment, educational leaders are also responsible for empowering teachers and educators. After all, most teachers want to foster more inclusive classrooms but may not have the support to do so independently.
Providing Professional Development Opportunities
Educators should receive professional development and continuing education opportunities on inclusive learning best practices whenever possible. Attending workshops, seminars, and other demonstrations regarding inclusive education can be extremely useful for teachers looking to incorporate more inclusive practices in their classrooms.
Encouraging Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Principles
Educational leaders should encourage teachers to apply Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles to their classrooms. Specifically, UDL refers to a way of thinking that provides students from all backgrounds and walks of life with legitimate opportunities to succeed. Teachers should receive regular training on UDL guidelines and find ways to incorporate them into their classrooms with educational leaders’ support.
Recognizing and Celebrating Inclusive Teaching Practices
Educational leaders should also go out of their way to recognize and celebrate teachers and other staff successfully incorporating inclusive education practices into their classrooms. This recognition is well-deserved and will demonstrate to other educators the importance of their ongoing efforts.
Identifying and Addressing Barriers to Inclusion
Teachers and educational leaders must face and overcome obstacles when striving to achieve student accessibility and inclusive learning services for all.
Recognizing Common Barriers for Students
Students sometimes struggle with issues related to bullying or isolation in an inclusive classroom—especially in classrooms where there may not be enough teachers, teaching assistants, or aides to recognize and address these problems proactively. Educators and leaders should be trained to recognize these issues and create game plans to overcome them.
Developing Tailored Support Plans
Teachers can only foster inclusive classrooms with plenty of help and support from their administration and educational leadership. With this in mind, tailored support plans must be drafted and revisited often to ensure that teachers receive the help and resources they need to run their classrooms smoothly.
Utilizing Assistive Technologies in the Classroom
Assistive technologies, such as “text-to-speech” software and interactive whiteboards, can make all the difference in an inclusive learning environment. Educational leaders must advocate for the funding needed to implement these assistive technologies in their respective schools.
Promoting Collaborative Partnerships for Inclusion
Engaging with parents, caregivers, and community organizations or support services can make all the difference in creating more inclusive classrooms. Educational leaders should work to build these collaborative partnerships and develop networks of inclusive schools to share their best practices and resources openly.
Pursuing Educational Leadership With Salem University
When classrooms are more inclusive, they’re better environments for students of all abilities. From pre-K to adult learners, the reality is that everybody benefits from inclusivity in learning. If you’re ready to make a difference while taking your education career to the next level, Salem University’s online Master of Education in Educational Leadership may be right for you. This accelerated program is designed to prepare you for rewarding work as a principal, district supervisor, or superintendent across all education levels—and by completing one class per month, you can have your degree in as little as 12 months.