Inclusive Education in School District 46 – An Educators Perspective By Kate Kerr, Director of Instruction for Inclusive Education
I began my journey with School District 46 with my first teaching assignment at Elphinstone Secondary in what was then called the Life Skills Program. This was a class of incredible students with strengths and gifts that they shared with me and others. From an outsider’s perspective these were students with multiple challenges. Their developmental disabilities meant that they were visibly different from their neurotypical peers, but thebeautiful thing about these students is that they had so much to give and teach. Working and learning together with the staff and students at Elphinstone meant that these children could be integrated and included. This meant that creativity and problem solving were essential to providing an authentic and meaningful experience for not only these diverse learners, but also for their peers. The Life-skills program evolved into Cougar Crossing – a place where Elphinstone learners crosspaths in their learning and shared common experiences. Seeing how educators and students embraced integration and inclusion was inspiring for me as ateacher and I saw and experienced a foundation that is fundamental to our journey as a district.
Fast forward eight years and our school district continues to grow in our learning aboutprovidingan inclusive education for all learners, recognizing that neurodiversity is not always visible,and that true inclusion also means social equity for all. Our Board of Trustees in the 2019-2023 Strategic Plan place inclusion as a value: We strive to be a diverse and dynamic community through welcoming and inclusive practices. As well,our board has formed an Ad Hoc Equity Committee with the terms of reference being,”The committee shall develop a policy outlining the board’s commitment to creating a safe, welcoming, respectful, inclusive and affirming environment for all individuals. This policy will enable the board to create and promote a vision among our students, staff and community that expects equity, inclusion and an affirmation of anti-racism.” This policy willstrengthenand broadenthe scope of what inclusion is and the importance of equity in inclusive practices. With this guide,our district will have a clear direction and mandate from our board to continue our work of providingan inclusive education for each of our students.
Our provincial curriculum implemented in 2016 has provided the opportunity to educators to focus on strength-based models of planning and delivery. The curriculum frameworkallowsfor more flexibility in meeting the needs of each individual. Students are able toexplore and learn about their strengths and their stretches focussing on formative feedback, growth mindset and the continuity oftheirlearning. Indigenous ways of knowing and being are also embedded in the curriculum through the First Peoples Principles of Learning and we continue to understand the importance ofweavingthis into our daily work. We recognize that this shift in thinking takes time, patience and support. This year,the Board of Trustees also embraced the proposalfor a District Inclusion Support Team. This three year pilot program includes two teachers, two educational assistants and a family navigator whose purpose it is to support inclusive classrooms district wide.
While we learn and grow, we also have seen the need to change our vocabulary and the words we use. Words are important. The poet John Keating said, “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” As we see the shift in language at the provincial level from Special Education to Inclusive Education, as a district we also need to make that shift to reflect our values and purpose. This year our teachers who support our diverse learners will be known as Inclusion Support Teachers and I am proud to now hold the title of Director of Instruction for Inclusive Education. This shift in language holds us to our purpose and reminds us of the job we are here to do.
Our learning journey is not over. Our goal is that every child truly and authentically belongs. We continue to stretch ourselves and strengthen our knowledge through our commitment to inclusive education for all, knowing that as educators we can be better tomorrow than we were today.