Early Statement on Inclusive and Special Education

IMG_2183As a pre-service teacher beginning to grasp the elements of the profession, I am becoming aware of my evolving professional philosophy. The most poignant moment for me so far has been in recognising that inclusive education practices benefit every student in a classroom (Evans, 2015). Ensuring that inclusive pedagogy is the cornerstone of my professional philosophy will help me to support students with disabilities, as well as ensure that all students in my class can engage as active participants. According to Foreman and Arthur-Kelly, at the heart of inclusive education are three principal drivers, “social justice principles, legislative requirements, and research findings or evidence” (2008, p. 109). These three areas, touching on values, policy, and research, best summarise what I see as the relevance and influence of inclusion to my professional practice.

The role that social justice principles play in inclusive education is in recognising the right of every student to equal learning opportunities (National Centre on UDL, 2015, ‘What is UDL?’). As a teacher, it involves being critical of the way that schooling can reproduce inequalities associated with disability, or even socio-economic disadvantage. Seeing education as a matter of social justice looks to inclusive practice to halt and ameliorate inequality (Mthethwa-Sommers, 2014). Part of this approach includes the way teachers design their programs, which must assist students in achieving outcomes by accommodating their prior knowledge and skills (Evans, 2015, 106). This personalised approach is outlined in the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, which states it is a professional responsibility for teachers to “differentiate teaching to meet the specific learning needs of students across the full range of abilities” (2005, p. 9).

These social justice considerations are also legislative requirements for educators, as outlined in the Disability Standards for Education 2005 (Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department, 2005, p. 23). The right for all students to participate in learning is echoed in the Professional Standards, which outlines that teaching strategies must “support full participation of students with disability” (2012, p. 9). Not only is inclusive education a social justice ideal, it is also a requirement and an expectation in quality teaching.

My approach to a meaningful inclusive pedagogy is therefore developing to be comprised of a clear understanding of the right of all students to quality learning outcomes, an understanding of my legal obligations, and a growing awareness of ‘what works’ in the classroom. The need for strong evidence-based practice has particular relevance in special education due to the need to maximize and target learning opportunities for students with disabilities (Konrad, Helf & Joseph, 2011). Konrad, Helf and Joseph outline this as ‘instructional efficiency’, stating “when teachers implement methods that help students with disabilities learn quickly, those students can learn more material and begin to catch up with their peers” (2011, p. 68). Instructional efficiency can be increased through the way a physical space is managed, the way the day is structured, and extend to the strategies used to teach and increase engagement (Konrad, Helf & Joseph, 2011). This concept appeals to me as a goal in becoming the most effective and efficient teacher I can be.

Reflecting further on the role of evidence in my professional philosophy, there is a vast amount of research outlining approaches that have a proven effect in the classroom. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) provides one model consolidating several evidence-based approaches. For example, elements of UDL that may assist teachers to accommodate students with diverse needs include: providing multiple means for representation, expression, action and engagement, using ‘big ideas’ to teach strategies and concepts, priming background knowledge, and making strategies conspicuous (Evans, 2015, p. 119). These have a proven positive effect on student achievement, outlined in Hattie’s meta-analysis (2009), through instructional quality, teacher clarity, and metacognitive strategies, among others. Incorporating the principles of UDL into program design will assist me in becoming more ‘instructionally efficient’, as “curricula that is created using UDL is designed from the outset to meet the needs of all learners, making costly, time-consuming, and after-the-fact changes unnecessary” (National Centre on UDL, 2015, ‘The Concept of UDL’).

Leading on from this need for instructional quality and efficiency, classroom and behaviour management is often cited as one of the most important elements in learning environments. It is however, one of the most difficult skills a teacher can master and tends to be the forefront of concern for pre-service teachers (Oral, 2012). Being ‘instructionally efficient’ is going to require proactive classroom management, as Oral states “the quality of education largely depends on the quality of classroom management” (2012, p. 2901). ‘Positive behaviour support’ provides teachers with a proactive framework for classroom management (Hallam et al., 2010). It is similar to UDL in that it is a philosophy that targets all students, but can be particularly impactful for some, such as students with behavioural disorders. It consists of a wide range of strategies to prevent problem behaviour, such as clearly articulated rules and behavioural expectations, opportunities for rehearsing expected behaviours, and high levels of positive reinforcement (Hallam et al., 2010).

In looking at behaviour management, Oral’s research found that anxiety experienced by student teachers only subsided with the professional competence that came with direct teaching experience (2012). I think it is important to the longevity of my teaching career that I recognise it is going to take classroom experience, an ongoing understanding of evidence-based practice, and collaboration with more experienced teachers to help me move towards ‘proficiency’ teaching outcomes (Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, 2005). Thomas refers to the imp
ortance of collaboration in professional learning, highlighting that teachers working and learning together in effective ‘professional learning communities’ can actually improve student outcomes (Thomas, 2010). Effective learning communities are “more likely to generate and support sustainable improvements in student outcomes because they build the necessary professional skill, capacity and shared good practice” (Thomas, 2010, p. 539). 

The theories of learning that I am developing now are going to have a direct impact on how I conceptualise, develop and plan the programs in my classroom (Evans, 2015, p. 105). Elements from inclusive education that inform my professional philosophy include positive behaviour support, effective classroom management, instructional efficiency for students with disabilities, and learning from and with a ‘professional community’ of teachers. Inclusive education approaches appeal due to the focus on accessibility for every student, as Florian states, “inclusive pedagogy…supports teachers to respond to individual differences between learners, but avoids the marginalisation that can occur when some students are treated differently” (2014, p.289). Adopting an inclusive pedagogy provides not only theoretical frameworks for quality teaching, but also tools and approaches that will make me more effective, efficient and resilient as a teacher.

References

  • Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. (2012). Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards NSW. Sydney: BOSTES. Retrieved from http://www.nswteachers.nsw.edu.au/publications-policies-resources/publications/australian-professional-standards-for-teachers/
  • Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department. (2005). Disability Standards for Education 2005. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
  • Evans, D. (2015). Curriculum Adaptations. In A. Ashman (Ed.). Education for Inclusion and Diversity (5th ed.). Frenchs Forest, NSW: Pearson Australia.
  • Foreman, P. & Arthur-Kelly, M. (2008). Social justice principles, the law and research, as bases for inclusion. Australasian Journal of Special Education, 32(1),109-124.
  • Hallam, P. R., Young, K. R., Caldarella, P., Wall, D. G. & Christensen, L. (2010). Preventing Antisocial Behavior and Delinquency: A Comprehensive School-wide Approach. International Encyclopaedia of Education. (Third Edition). p. 820-828.
  • Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routledge.
  • Konrad, M., Helf, S., & Joseph, L. (2011). Evidence-based Instruction is Not Enough: Strategies for Increasing Instructional Efficiency. Intervention in School and Clinic, 47(2), 67-74.
  • Mthethwa-Sommers, S. (2014). Narratives of Social Justice Educators: Standing Firm. Springer Briefs in Education. New York: Springer International Publishing.
  • National Centre on Universal Design for Learning. (2015). What is UDL? Retrieved from http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/whatisudl
  • National Centre on Universal Design for Learning. (2015). The Concept of UDL. Retrieved from http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/whatisudl/conceptofudl
  • Oral, B. (2012). Student Teachers’ Classroom Management Anxiety: A Study on Behavior Management and Teaching Management. Journal of Applied Psychology, 42(12), p. 2901-2916.
  • Thomas, S. M. (2010). Evaluating Schools as Leaning Communities. International Encyclopaedia of Education. (Third Edition). p. 539-547.
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