Getting to Yes- Inclusion

As International schools morph and change, the goal is our schools become better versions of what we’ve been before. Whether it is to provide a more cohesive and articulated curriculum, more rigorous vetting of our personnel for safety, or more purposefully designed and earth-friendly facilities, we are always changing and improving.

One area which is garnering a lot of attention right now is inclusivity. The idea that our schools can accept students with special needs isn’t new, but striving to do so, and even expanding the notion of what we can support, is a change.

Championing this idea is the Next Frontier Inclusion project led by Bill and Ochan Powell. This past week, I was with them at Hong Kong Academy to see an inclusive school in action: the journey, the celebrations, and the next steps for all of us trying to make this a reality. It was an interesting visit.

While, I’m slightly embarrassed to admit it, I wasn’t sure how I would feel around students with special needs. Having grown up in and always worked in international schools, I have limited exposure to students who are considered SEN (Special Education Needs) children. Of course, being on site at HKA and seeing those students playing, learning, and making friends eased my fear and opened my heart. While most of our schools will never be a true microcosm of society, we can and should modify our definition of diversity. 

The big questions shared and chewed on with the group included:

  • How do you do this? Staffing, marketing, facilities, etc.
  • How do we go from where we are today, to where we want to be without compromising our already rigorous programs?
  • What if our school communities (existing families) don’t want to do this?

Of course, for many of our schools, it will take time, planning and persistence to shift the culture and become more purposefully inclusive. Each school will face challenges based on its locale and clientele. However as often happens in our connected community of international school educators, once a few of us leap out, it will be easier (and become more important) for others to do the same. That is our strength as a global community.

Here is a first step I can share about the journey we are on at my school. It is a small shift that has produced big changes. It is a shift in language and mindset. It is replicable by any school wanting to become more inclusive. 

We have recently changed our admissions stance from ‘no’ to ‘yes and…’ In the past, we would receive a file of a student with needs and work as an admissions team to explain all the reasons why we couldn’t admit the child. This process was designed to help the family understand why we were saying ‘No’.

Now, the admissions team (principal, resource teachers, counselor, admissions rep, possibly a classroom teacher) is tasked with presenting a scenario to our director based on ‘yes’. There is no longer a ‘no’ option at this meeting.

Instead, ‘yes, and…’  comes with the plan/proposal of what we would require to fully support the child in our school. There is no boundary to what we can propose: shadow teachers, more testing, modified curriculum, partial day, on-site therapy, etc. The proposals are not predicated on what we already do, but instead generated by what would be possible if there were no limits. The admission team’s job is to paint a picture which gets us to yes. From there, the director makes the final decision about whether or not we can get there.

This shift in mindset and emphasis has produced a few interesting results. First, we are much more likely to think out of the box when we are starting with a positive, can-do frame of mind. Secondly, the two or three cases we have reviewed in this vein have turned out to be doable, surprising us all, as in the past, we probably would have simply said ‘no’. And finally, the level of communication and ownership for the inclusion plan is spread out among those people who proposed an idea worth hearing. 

Getting to yes is a motto we are beginning to live. While there are sure to be pitfalls, we are happy to be taking an active and conscious step toward inclusion.

What is your school doing to change the conversation?

Image credit: ‘Diversity Clip Art’ www.clipartsheep.com, Creative Commons right to share

About Jen Munnerlyn

Jen Munnerlyn is the Elementary Principal at the American School of Warsaw. Her international experience began back in 1980 when her parents first started teaching overseas. Jen blogs about her own experiences as a Third Culture Kid, the adventures of being the mother of a TCK, and about elementary education in an international school setting. Her picture book The Adventure Begins, about the first day at an international school, is a favorite among adults and students abroad.
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2 Responses to Getting to Yes- Inclusion

  1. Jen says:

    I love that there is a push to start from a place of yes. I think when we start form a place of yes – in school or in life – more positivity follows.

  2. Judy says:

    When I taught in China, a student with pretty serious brain damage was in my classroom. He had been in the school since kinder and was a very sweet kid, but had temper and behavioral issues. Our school required the parents to hire an aide to go to school with him and help him. This seemed to work well when he was younger, but I got him when he was older and after a year had a long talk with my principal and the parents. We just couldn’t offer him the help he needed. His learning was stagnating despite everything we did for him, his behavior was starting to affect the other students, and students who used to try to help him, really didn’t know how to handle him anymore. If we had had an actual special ed teacher who could have worked with him on his social skills and who had the training needed to help his learning it would have been a much better situation. As it was, I felt like I was failing him. If you really want inclusivity, make sure you hire qualified special ed teachers to help out. It is vital if you want all your students to succeed.

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