PHD’s for Inclusion not WECHE’s

PHD’s (Person, Heart, Determination) for Inclusion not WECHE’s (Wimpy, Enabling, Cool-Hearted, Exclusionists)

By Bill Henderson, Retired Principal, Dr. William W. Henderson K-12 Innovation Inclusion School 

Students with disabilities who are included need and deserve knowledgeable and skillful teachers and support staff.

classroomThere are thousands of different programs, materials, and apps which can be effective in helping students with disabilities learn and succeed in inclusive classrooms. None of these will realize their greatest impact though, unless we demonstrate on a regular basis how we are PHD’s rather than WECHE’s.

P – Focusing on the Person first and his or her capabilities and potential is critical. Too often, at IEP meetings, in the teacher’s room or in workshops, in classrooms or on the playground, or during parent or community meetings, we hear comments by some harping on the deficits or limitations of students with disabilities. Do we speak out and counteract such one-sidedness pointing out strengths or strategies for improvements, or do we Wimp out and remain silent? Do we develop policies which promote ability diversity (prioritize inclusion in mission statements, cite 3 glows before a grow, offer ongoing disability awareness highlighting contributions of persons with disabilities) or do our inactions Enable some to keep lowered expectations and to abrogate responsibility for success?

H – Establishing a positive relationship with a warm Heart is essential. Too often we hear stories of Cool Heartedness toward students with disabilities. Some still resist seriously considering inclusion as the first option thus denying basic civil rights. Some “accept” the students with disabilities in their rooms but don’t interact enthusiastically with them. Some believe that just treating everyone the same is enough and the right thing to do, but they actually limit opportunities by not offering necessary accommodations or specialized services. Do we speak out and counteract such Cool Heartedness, or do we Wimp out and do nothing? Do we develop policies which foster positive relationships (draft job descriptions with explicit expectations for inclusion, model and monitor appropriate interactions, identify and utilize helpful supports), or does our passivity Enable some to treat students with disabilities in ways that make them feel unwelcomed, not good enough, or apart?

D – Demonstrating the Determination to help students with disabilities excel at the highest possible levels is transforming. Too often we witness the limitations caused by lowered expectations or overbearing help. Do we challenge students with intellectual or print disabilities to read, students with physical impairments to exercise, and students with speech and language disorders to interact as much as their nondisabled peers and as independently as possible (albeit sometimes in different ways), or do we Wimp out and flow with a lower status quo? Do we develop policies which actualize rather than give lip service to high levels of determination (set rigorous standards for learning and participation, assess student progress and staff performance, and collaborate and problem solve for continuous improvements), or do we Enable minimal achievements or hovering staff under the guise of misguided “niceness?”

Clearly, students with disabilities who are included need and deserve knowledgeable and skillful teachers and support staff who can identify and implement a range of effective strategies to promote their development. However, unless we can demonstrate our ongoing commitment to be PHD’s, then we will never maximize students’ learning and participation. Instead, even with advanced degrees, we, by default, become “WECHE’s” (Wimpy, Enabling, Cool-Hearted, Exclusionists) .

Bill Henderson is the former principal of the Henderson Inclusion School in Boston, Massachusetts, and a sought after speaker at workshops and conferences.