Setting students up for success is one of the foundations of education. Ensuring that success means providing students equal opportunities for learning and development, regardless of ability, race, sex, or religion. Inclusion in special education seeks to open the door for students with exceptionalities by providing additional paths to learning. For this reason, inclusion is a critical part of any special education program. With this guide, learn more about exactly what inclusion is in special education, why it matters, and what the benefits are of inclusion.

What Is Inclusion in Special Education?

In order to begin to understand what inclusion in Special Education (SPED) means, you need to take a look at inclusion in the classroom, and specifically in SPED classrooms. Special Education Guide explains that inclusion means making space for all types of students to learn side-by-side in school programs, from academics to extracurriculars. By valuing and embracing diversity, inclusive education welcomes the contributions of all students in the classroom through a sense of belonging and shared goals. In short, inclusion in special education welcomes all. 

Why Is Inclusion Important in Special Education?

A focus on belonging and shared goals means all students from all backgrounds have the opportunity to learn. This inclusion breeds equity, and as Resilient Educator explains: “Providing equitable access to education and supporting tolerance of those who look different or have special needs creates a positive effect on learning. Classroom management falters when students experience friction with other students. By actively engaging in learning activities that instill respect for diversity, the classroom can become a place where respect is a cornerstone and intolerance becomes abhorrent.”

What Is the Goal of Inclusion?

The goal of inclusion in education, then, is to create equity and opportunity through diversity, respect, and welcoming all learners. Not only do students at risk of being “othered” for their exceptionalities get an equal chance to learn, but all students of all needs get to reap the benefits of inclusion. According to Element of Inclusion, the goals of inclusion also include:

  • Creating diversity
  • Expanding friendships
  • Teaching students with different types of needs how to interact
  • Tangible changes in perceptions
  • Improved academic gains

What Are the Principles of Inclusive Education?

From “Best Practices for Inclusion,” New Brunswick Department of Education, the principles and beliefs of inclusive education state:

  • All children can learn
  • All children attend age-appropriate classrooms in their local schools
  • All children receive appropriate educational programs
  • All children receive a curriculum relevant to their needs
  • All children participate in co-curricular and extracurricular activities
  • All children benefit from cooperation and collaboration among home, school, and community

What Are the Basic Components of Inclusive Education?

To help ensure inclusivity in the classroom, there are a few key components. Kids Together finds that inclusion in the classroom can flourish if the following are welcomed and encouraged:

  • Relationships
  • Advocacy
  • Appropriate support and services
  • Shared experiences
  • Transparency

McMaster clarifies, “These elements fuel inclusive change in an ever-enlarging spiral — the more they are developed, the stronger the foundations (or ingredients) for inclusive change to emerge, and the more pronounced these core elements become.” In other words, as educators and administrators provide these elements more and more, inclusion increasingly develops in the classroom.

How to Teach Inclusion

While educators and administrators work hard to create an inclusive environment, they can also incorporate inclusion into their curriculum through activities. You don’t have to look far to find activities that emphasize not only inclusion, but also diversity and equity.

Inclusive School Communities identifies ways to teach students to be includers, which involve, but are not limited to, activities such as talking about unintentional exclusion and encouraging empathy; drawing on experiences; teaching children to look out for others; teaching friendly invitations; providing opportunities for connection; encouraging kindness; and teaching the differences between cliques and friendships.

Taking the time to incorporate social skills throughout the curriculum helps create a classroom that embraces Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).

What Is an Inclusion Specialist?

When the “Every Student Succeeds Act” took effect in 2015, replacing the 2002 law, “No Child Left Behind,” the new law pushed to provide more flexibility in education, laid out transparency for students and parents, and overhauled student assessments. As a result, the need for inclusion specialists skyrocketed, according to career site Chron.

Inclusion specialists are credentialed teachers who work in general education classrooms and provide additional support to the teacher and students. They work on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, particularly aiding in integrating all children into the academic, physical, developmental, and social norms of the classroom. By helping students adjust to working alongside other kids, inclusion specialists add to DEI efforts without removing students from the environment.

What Does an Inclusion Specialist Do?

Specifically, it is common to see inclusion specialists encouraging the education of students with diverse needs through a number of functional responsibilities. Chron and classroom support resource Bright Hub Education identify these inclusion specialist duties:

  • Identifying students with a need for extra support
  • Training and educating staff on strategies for DEI
  • Attending meetings with parents, administration, and other professionals
  • Keeping records of behavior, development, and learning
  • Understanding federal and state mandates to assist students
  • Developing and implementing Individualized Education Plans (IEP) for students
  • Providing accommodations and modifications for students to meet classroom standards
  • Adapting instructional methods to meet student needs
  • Using assistive technology to help with learning and increase students’ independence

Who Needs an Inclusion Specialist?

While there may seem to be an obvious answer to who needs an inclusion specialist — students with learning needs — all students and staff could benefit from an inclusion specialist. As the role of inclusion specialists is to uphold DEI initiatives, everyone benefits from these specialists.

Four Benefits of Inclusion in the Special Education Classroom

In an inclusive classroom, students and teachers in general education work with students and teachers in special education. identifies these four benefits:

  • Inclusion tailors education for all types of learners
  • Inclusion decreases the differences among students
  • Inclusion provides support to all learners
  • Inclusion creates high expectations for all

Notice the “all” in the benefits of an inclusive classroom. All get included. All are equal. All get the academic, social, and developmental benefits from inclusion.

Overview: What Is Inclusion in Special Education?

Stemming from DEI initiatives and laws such as the Every Student Succeeds Act, inclusion in special education means students and teachers in general education and special education work and learn together. While accommodations are available, students of all learning types benefit from working and developing alongside one another.

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