Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Inclusion as a Way of Doing Business

Sometimes a passing comment will get a person thinking.  One such comment got me wondering if inclusion is a behaviour or an attitude or perhaps something different all together.  Perhaps it goes much deeper and is a permeation of both thought and action.  Perhaps it is a "way of doing business".

In the book Raymond's Room: Ending Segregation of People with DisabilitiesDale Dileo states that "institutionalized thinking is, at its core, based on the need for people who have a disability to be segregated."  He states that to move away from institutionalized thinking we must consider individualized service-based approaches that happen within the community that already exists rather then creating artificial communities.  Real environments. Real connections. Real contribution.  It is only then that a person can experience the dignity of risk that is such a critical element of authentic learning and autonomous living. Inclusion, in the context of my day to day job, links closely to these thoughts. 

The theory is perhaps hard to apply to education as schools as a whole may be thought of as artificial environments.  Some believe that we need to label and categorize in the hope of minimizing the diversity we need to respond to so that we can operate effective and efficient classrooms.
But labels do have a potential downside. The problem is really statistics 101: whenever you convert a continuous measure into discrete categories, you lose valuable information. Humans are so much more than either "anorexic or "obese", "introverted" or "extraverted", "learning disabled" or "abled", or "gifted" or "ungifted".
When we split people up into such dichotomous categories, the large variation within each category is minimized whereas differences between these categories are exaggerated. Truth is, every single person on this planet has their own unique combination of traits and life experiences.  While this isn't true of objects, such as rocks, books, and television sets, it's true of humans. Which is why we must be very, very careful when we allow labels to get in the way of our perceptions of reality."
Source: Psychology Today: The Pesky Persistence of Labels  
One of the classes I took this summer was on Professional Learning.  The final assignment I did for the class was a literature review comparing the communities of practice approach to adult learning to recommended and researched collaborative practices to support inclusive learning of students with disabilities.  Both approaches are rooted in social learning theory which really depends on diversity.  If we were not each unique we would not be able to construct any more then the knowledge that we currently have.  We learn with each other as much as we learn from each other.

I find myself zooming in and out quite regularly now. What is the big picture of inclusion? How does it apply to my specific context which is related to being part of a team that focuses on minimizing the impact of disability and maximizing participation and engagement for students with complex needs? And as I get closer to finishing my Masters, where does "leadership" fit in to all of that?

In the end, my conclusion is that it is perhaps more about integrity and personal leadership in the moment and context that one is currently in then it is about anything that is too large and complex to understand.  Focusing on a circle of influence rather than a circle of concern. Thinking about the way I do business rather then the way that business is done.  Taking a personal leadership stance tied to what I value and believe and working towards acting from that place. 

Sometimes thoughts come at you at an angle rather then directly. This morning I was reading this post titled 30 Outdated Leadership Practices Holding Your Company Back and came across the chart below.  The idea of "creating a culture of leadership" as opposed to "having a leader" resonated with me as being reflective of what inclusion in the larger context actually is.  So I kept reading and found myself nodding my head with each line thinking that the "new paradigm" is really a paradigm rooted in inclusive practices. 

And then I circle back to thoughts of if this is about behaviours or attitudes or about something a whole lot bigger.  Perhaps the answer is actually rooted in our humanness and how that collides or aligns with our institutional structures.  Perhaps in the middle of initiatives like "Curriculum Redesign" this is already known. 

Zooming out and then zooming in. The big picture is there but at the end of the day, inclusion is about belonging and belonging only happens in the middle of understanding.  Inclusion is not somewhere we are going to "get to" but rather something that we strive towards simply because we are human. It might sit at the core of our being. It seems to go back to our basic needs. 

But that might mean being vulnerable... perhaps even as vulnerable as the students that I learn and grow with every day.
Vulnerability is expressing yourself in a manner that feels right to you even if it doesn't sound right to the rest of society." (Simon Sinek) 
Maybe there is nothing complicated about it at all...

I would never want to be categorized and placed in an artificial community based on my weaknesses or deficits.  I would hope that I would be able to stay in my natural community and those around me would look to find my strengths, passions or interests and then engage with me to figure out how I can use and develop them to more deeply connect with and contribute to that community. I would hope that not just for me, but for every member of that community. I would hope that was the kind of learning that others would support me with because it is the kind of learning that would have the greatest impact on my current and future quality of life.  I would hope that I would have the opportunity to sit on both sides of that learning table and that our community would be an evolving reflection of what we are together rather than what we are as individuals.  I would hope we could move beyond striving for "independence" and aim for "interdependence". 
When I look back on the first 21 years of my career, I see clearly that the world and education and our understanding of "disability" are constantly evolving.  Institutional thinking and packaging people neatly in boxes is being challenged in more than just the disability field.  Perhaps, though it isn't about the challenge. Perhaps it needs to be explored. Perhaps it is more about engaging in the exploration that leads to continued evolution and community building then it is about fighting or challenging it. 

What will it take?  I don't think anyone actually knows that and I don't think the answer can come from anywhere but within the community that engages in a process of moving towards that "new paradigm" outlined above.

My conclusion in the literature review that I spoke of above reads as follows...

At the heart of the social learning theory behind communities of practice sits the theory of Legitimate Peripheral Participation which is rooted in the idea that learning is the process of coming to belong to a community.  Interestingly, belonging is at the heart of the inclusive education movement.  In the quest to find a definition of inclusion, the concept of belonging comes up over and over.

Belonging happens when three conditions occur:
  1. A person feels that they are a part of a larger community.
  2. A person feels they are contributing to that larger community. They are aware that if they were not part of that community, something would be missing from it. 
  3. A person feels free to be themselves. This is fostered through the assumption of competence. Each member in the community assumes competence in themselves and in the other members. 
Research in to both inclusive education and communities of practice reveals similarities in the experience an adult has within a community of practice and a student has within an inclusive school.  Is it possible that the authentic experience of belonging and contributing to a community of practice might be what creates the circumstance to create inclusive schools and classrooms for students?  Parker Palmer sums it up as he concludes his book The Courage to Teach (2007): "If you are here faithfully with us, you are bringing abundant blessing.  It is a blessing known to generations of students whose lives have been transformed by people who had the courage to teach - the courage to teach from the most truthful places in the landscapes of self and world, the courage to invite students to discover, explore, and inhabit those places in the living of their own lives."

1 comment:

  1. This is awesome. I am in the middle of writing a % minute speech fot the school board on why we should look for someone with Inclusive ideals on the search for a new superintendent. Thank you
    Liz Tree