Since our provincial government doesn't bother to ask parents of children with disabilities for their input, we decided to do it for them.
The following is a compilation of comments from Manitoban parents whose children live with disabilities and are currently in public school.
What "Inclusive Education" REALLY means to Parents of Children with Disabilities
- School staff need to do a better job of risk assessment (and acceptance), teaching children how to do their own risk assessments, and allowing elements of risky play with reasonable boundaries. Schools are overly concerned with forbidding and banning certain activities because of the (usually low) risk of injury, thus robbing children of opportunities to self-monitor, learn to assess situations for themselves, and to develop skills to manage and mitigate their own risks.
- Each school division and each school needs to identify the barriers and hurdles that they have put in their system that are causing special needs students to struggle and not succeed.
- Parents are tired of constantly trying to change a system that isn’t interested in change and instead puts up barriers that the parents always need to identify. It's about time that they do their own inventory.
- Schools can be incredibly rigid in needing to apply rules consistently to everyone, "no matter what". Instead, school staff could set an example of flexible thinking and being accommodating. We can teach our students that everyone has different needs, and equity isn't always the same as equality. This way, children won’t always expect everything to be equal because they will understand that what helps or hinders one person is not the same as what helps or hinders another.
- Adults are often preaching to children about having a flexible mindset and about adapting to change, yet school staff tend to be incredibly resistant to change and administrators and policy-writers tend to have very fixed mindsets.
- The learning environment should adapt to the needs of its diverse students, rather than always expecting children to adapt based on the rigid, out-dated expectations of the school (both physical environment and pedagogy).
- Teachers, resource teachers, principals all well trained in Executive Functioning skill development, including emotional dysregulation, impulsivity, time management, and organizational structures. This would not only benefit kids with ADHD or other Executive Functioning disabilities, but all kids!
- Increased occupational therapy and behaviour specialist support staff for educators.
- Accountability for all school staff to be required to follow student IEP/SSPs and clinical recommendations. For example, any instructions from a school psychologist, guidance counsellor, social worker, behaviour specialist, occupational therapist, other expert, etc. must be followed and strategies implemented.
- If there are not enough resources to follow the recommendations, then the division must provide them, or make an application to the provincial government so that expert recommendations can be followed.
- More classroom teachers and resource teachers to allow children to grow and thrive in a school setting for more than a few hours a day.
- Greater focus on emotional and social skills in the classroom: more than just an hour per week with the guidance counsellor learning the Zones of Regulation, or Fixed vs. Flexible Mindset. This needs to be integrated into the daily routine of classrooms and students need to be supported emotionally and socially first, before they will be effective learners.
- More training for all school staff in best practices for supporting students with special needs, as well as what proper accommodations look like in public schools on a day-to-day basis.
- Training on compassionate and effective communication for school administrators.
- Training for school staff on how to prevent and deal with bullying in schools.
- Child-centred and evidence-based training for supporting students with challenging behaviours, such as the Collaborative and Proactive Solutions model (Greene, 2008).
- Believing children when they are sharing their perspective and concerns. Taking their point of view seriously and truly working to understand their experience. Teaching children to advocate for themselves, and then listening to them when they do.
- Truly understanding that unwanted behaviours are not malicious or intentional, they are a form of communication. School staff need to be trained in seeing beyond the surface behaviour and looking for underlying reasons, triggers, and causes. It should never be acceptable for any adult to blame and shame a child for behaviour that they cannot control. It is the adults' responsibility to teach children strategies for managing emotions, and coping with adversity.
- Inclusion must be an all-encompassing attitude and culture where all persons are valued and their needs met.
- Truly educating all about what inclusive education means and what it is. Parents and caregivers of both disabled and non-disabled children need to be educated about neurodiversity and disabilities so that they can raise well-informed children who are inclusive and welcoming to all.
- Inclusive schools, classrooms, and curriculum planning should be required courses for ALL teachers and all school staff, these should not only be mandatory for those specializing in special education. Education programs and professional development should normalize and demand inclusion practices for all, not just specialists.
- School divisions should only hire trained professionals, including Educational Assistants (EAs), which means divisions need better funding in order to better pay school support staff.
- Some divisions hire parents and caregivers, or people wanting to go into education, but have zero training in supporting children with disabilities.
- This is particularly true during recess and lunch times, when EAs or lunch room volunteers are the primary supervisors. These times are unstructured and can be loud and stressful for many children, especially students with disabilities, yet they are the time when the least number of trained staff are available.
“Many parents feel frustrated when support personnel handle the most stressful parts of their child’s day, leading to uninformed discipline decisions. Whether the EAs are staff employees or parent volunteers, they should be educated to support all students.” (Hirt, 2018).
- Students need better consistency with their EAs. Schools and divisions should make best efforts to keep the same EAs with the same students, and a student should work with the same EA for most of their school day. If an EA and a student have developed a good working relationship, they should be able to continue working together.
- However, if the relationship is struggling, then the EA and student need full support to improve the relationship, the EA needs better training to better support that student, or the student needs an EA who can more effectively support them.
- Schools need to be transparent and communicate openly and regularly with families. Caregivers need to be kept up to date on any issues at the school and whether an EA that works with their child is either being provided with additional supports and training, or whether they are considering having a different adult support their child.
- School administrators should be responsible for spotting issues or concerns, notifying staff and students (if appropriate) involved, notifying families, and then initiating a plan for problem-solving.
- If something isn’t working, they need to acknowledge this and sit down with their team of experts to find a better way, not wait until a parent complains, or hope that the problem goes away on its own.
- Good policies are only effective if they are practiced, and this can only happen when divisions and schools are provided the resources to see them through.