Inclusion at ISB
I was asked to write a blog about inclusion at ISB. As an inclusionist, it seems this ought to be an easy topic for me to write about and yet, after 30 years of doing this work, I still find myself at a loss in defining inclusion in our international schools.
You see, the idea of inclusion as well as my own thinking about inclusion has expanded and evolved over the years. In the early 1990s, I worked in a group home with adults with intellectual disabilities. Inclusion meant ensuring they had access to the community and participated in social activities with peers without disabilities. During that same time as a special education teacher I taught in inclusive schools which meant all students were taught in their neighborhood schools with their same age peers in the classroom.
This narrow definition of inclusion held true until I moved overseas in 2000. For those of us who have been teaching in international schools this long, we remember the days where we either didn’t accept students with diagnosed disabilities or we only accepted students with mild learning disabilities. Often, we accepted these students in elementary school where we felt confident in meeting their learning needs and then determined by middle or high school they wouldn’t be able to manage the rigorous, academic program. So, we did what we thought was in ‘the best interest’ of studentS and encouraged them to find a different school placement. Inclusion meant we accepted some students into our school for some period of time. Whether or not we provided adequate and professional services was another matter.
Thank goodness we’ve moved forward and now better understand the needs of our international families and their children. Some of our schools have been forced to be nimble and adaptable in terms of the students we enroll and some of us have enthusiastically chosen the pathway of greater inclusivity. I’m proud to be in a school where the latter is true.
International schools have expanded inclusive services where we now welcome students with Specific Learning Disabilities, communication disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, etc. – and we have invested in professional resources to meet the needs these high incidence conditions present. A few international schools around the world have or are starting programs for students with intellectual disabilities, pushing the boundaries of inclusion even further.
And yet these definitions of inclusion still feel too narrow. Inclusion isn’t just about accepting students with identified diagnoses. Inclusion is really about equity and access for ALL. Inclusion is for all of us and when it comes right down to it, we are all unique and have the need to be included in our school community, regardless of gender, race, disability, religion, social beliefs, socio-economic status, sexuality, language background, etc. I encourage ISB to think about and define inclusion in this broader sense, emphasizing equity and access for all, rather than thinking inclusion is only for those with learning disabilities. Because of our privilege, our responsibility for including others is great. We have an opportunity to make the world a better place by embracing our differences and celebrating the value we each bring to the school community.
I went home for the winter holidays and witnessed firsthand the work so many advocates have done over the years in including those with intellectual disabilities into the community. While at the 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle, I ran into a gentleman with intellectual disabilities I supported 27 years ago! He is now 60 years old, living a full life that included work (he’s retired), friendships, and an active social life. My heart was full knowing he was accepted and fully embraced in his community these past years. This acceptance and sense of belonging is what I wish for EVERYONE at ISB.