I see my work as a behavior coach as a means to facilitate inclusion. This is to say that my major project in education has been to create the opportunity for full inclusion at the schools I have worked in. The National Council on Disability, in a report to the President concluded, “[S]tudents with emotional disabilities are one of the most underserved and inappropriately served disability groups” (National Council on Disability, 1998) . This is because it is easy to view these students as not belonging in our schools, as too disruptive, too unsafe, too aberrant. However, this is a dangerous approach because when we start to exclude some, we open the door to excluding anyone. “There is an endless list of those whom we may exclude. Every one of us, we may be sure, is on someone’s list” (Vanier, 1998).
In trainings that I provide, we often talk about our intrinsic motivation because we need to be strongly intrinsically motivated to do this work. What I usually talk about is what the social consequences for working with students with challenging behavior are. If I am successful in my work and keep kids in their regular classes in their neighborhood schools, then we are modeling the kind of world I want: everyone gets what they need to be included. When we send kids away from our schools we model a world in which people that seem different from “us” aren’t allowed. If that is the model we present to kids, it’s the society we’ll get. If we present an inclusive model in schools, we may get an inclusive society. This holds true for all minority groups. When people of color, women, migrants and sexual minorities are in regular classes with their white male counterparts, we’re creating a microcosm that mimics what we want for the broader society.
To this end, staff must be culturally competent. A commitment to social justice and equity in our schools is a requirement given the task of public schools to educate all children. Educators cannot only be willing to work with students with a diverse background, they should feel it is imperative to their work. It is the school leader’s job to ensure staff are, at the very least, oriented toward cultural competency. This priority has to be made clear to staff and training opportunities must be given to support this goal.
Working in Gresham provides me with an opportunity to be in a truly diverse district. The Gresham-Barlow School District stretches from the urban Rockwood neighborhood to the rural City of Damascus. Many of the classes I observe are evenly mixed between white and non-white students. These students are having a very different educational experience that I did as well as, mostly likely, their parents. But simply mixing kids who are superficially different in one class does not mean we’re “doing inclusion”. Real inclusion requires training that helps meet the needs of all students in the classroom. We have the problem of most schools in America: “…with more than eight in ten teachers in the United States being white, the children in the care of teachers for eight hours a day often look very different from the kids to whom those teachers go home at night” (Wise, 2005). We must attempt to be inclusive in our pedagogy as well as our hiring practices.
Inclusive practice, like instructional improvement, is not something we do if we have time. It’s also not something we add on top of our schools like gravy. It is the ground in which our pedagogy is planted and from which our future emerges.
Discipline of Students with Disabilities: A Position Statement: National Council on Disability. (1998). Retrieved from http://www.ncd.gov/publications/1998/May1998
Vanier, J. (1998). Becoming human. New York: Paulist Press.
Wise, T. J. (2005). White like me. Brooklyn, NY: Soft Skull Press.