March 1, 2016
Online Journal - Inclusive Education: Embrace, Involve, Integrate
Lisa Stevens, Special Education Coordinator/Teacher Mentor, British Columbia Conference, Abbotsford, BC

As Adventist Christian teachers, we want our classrooms and our schools to be oases of safety and care. We take seriously Christ’s admonition to care for the weak and poor. I believe that we want to extend that care to our students who struggle with their classwork and their behaviour. So often, though, our desire to reach each student and meet each need is overwhelmed by the reality of life in our classrooms. Many Adventist teachers in Canada teach multiple grades in one classroom and resources are thin. Students in single grade classrooms work at several grade levels. Even if we attend workshops and take classes to help us build our repertoire of teaching tools, we often fall exhausted back into our default—teaching the way we were taught. We come back from workshops revved up to go, but get frustrated and dragged down by the enormity of trying to do something different for every child. Guiltily, we eagerly look for the days when “that child” is sick and doesn’t make it to school, and we start to give up the dreams we had when we first entered this profession.
 
A valid and hopeful alternative to this professional rat-race is Inclusive Education. Those words are not simply buzzwords. The reality of Inclusive Education is this: it is a paradigm shift in my thinking as a teacher, moving me to embrace, involve, and integrate the needs of my most challenging students into the circle of my classroom environment and routines as well as into my planning. Instead of teaching to the majority of students who will probably understand the concept no matter which way that I present it, I am purposeful in finding ways to reach that challenging child through my whole-class teaching. If I am able to teach the concept to that child, through story or movement, song, visuals, nature, group work, or even reading, the entire class will learn more deeply. Inclusive education peels back the “how-to” of learning so children become excited and involved in the process of learning itself. Inclusive education is not solely about the academics; it is intentionally teaching social skills within my classroom to the growing number of children who struggle to get along with peers. It is embracing and involving that child as Jesus would.
 
Our heads understand that inclusive education is best practice. Our hearts want to reach these students, to help them learn and grow and reach their God-given potential. Our hands, though, sometimes do not have the tools necessary to do this huge job that God has given us. If we have been in this profession for a while, we have seen changes in the students that we now teach. Today’s students are, in some ways, markedly different that the ones we taught years ago; we may need new tools to reach them. If we are new to the profession, we are still trying to figure out what tools to use, and when, where, and how to use them. This is where professional development comes into play. If we can be intentional about building the skills we need to reach our students, and to finding resources that will reach our students, our hands will follow our head and our hearts (Pudlas, 2007).
 
Some of these skill-building tools are readily available. The newly-revised NAD Education REACH website is one resource that will support Adventist teachers in their quest to teach using inclusive practices. Not only are there valuable ideas and resources, but this site has become a clearinghouse for ongoing professional development in inclusive education. Continue to check this ever-growing resource that has a wealth of Canadian content.
 
Another important option for teacher is your conference Office of Education; check to see if there are any professional development initiatives about inclusive education happening in your conference. A number of conferences in Canada are creating professional learning communities (PLCs) to help teachers learn and try out inclusive classroom practices; if your conference has PLCs, get on board. Get involved in public school inclusive education professional development if it is available to you. Subscribe to a professional magazine in your teaching area: you will find articles on inclusion. Regularly choose a practice from your new learning to build into your classroom planning or routine. Pray for wisdom and guidance as you grow in this, because you do not teach alone: angels and the Holy Spirit are your co-teachers. Do all you can to work with these heavenly agents to embrace, involve, and bring each child into the circle of Christ’s love (White, 1900, p. 82).
 
Footnotes:
1NAD Education REACH website http://www.nadeducation.org/reach/2/4
 
References:
“Include”. (2015). In Merriam-Webster.com. Retrieved February 2, 2015, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/
 
Pudlas, K. A. (2007). Head and heart and hands: Necessary elements of inclusive praxis. ICCTE Journal, 3(1). Retrieved from http://icctejournal.org/issues/v3i1/v3i1-pudlas/
 
White, E. G. (1900). Testimonies on Sabbath-School Work. Battle Creek: Review and Herald Publishing Association.