Paula Kluth challenged us to keep the “I” in IEP!
“Don’t we already do Inclusion?” This was the question keynote speaker Dr. Paula Kluth put to the audience at VOC 2017. Most schools will tell you that they do Inclusion, and that they have been doing it for a long time. However, as someone who provides professional development for teachers and personnel in schools across the country, Paula acknowledged that there is always more work to be done towards ensuring that Inclusion is done well. “Inclusion is a process, not a place” she exclaimed! “Expectations about students with disabilities have changed a lot over the years, yet we can and need to do better”. She encouraged us to “adopt a philosophy” of always asking “what is possible?”
Paula described how her own personal experience in high school, where volunteering in a special education class helped form her understanding of what is possible. She became interested in students with disabilities who seemed different, and those students became some of her best friends. The lessons she learned taking them to lunch and basketball games made a life-long impact and informed her career path. Over the years, the research confirms her experience: the benefits of Inclusion are not limited to the person with a disability. Rather, they impact us all.
Paula described one school she visited. The general education students played on the playground while waiting for classes to start, but students with intellectual disabilities, who arrived on a separate bus, went directly into the building. When she inquired about that practice with the principal, she was told, “They need more time to get ready”. Paula suggested that a tremendous opportunity for socialization had been missed, one that would benefit all of the students, and urged the principal to search out those possibilities.
Another school visit confronted her with a segregated classroom of special education students that actually had a sign over its door which read: “Inclusion Classroom”. Paula pointed it out to the administrator, who replied that she had walked past the sign many times and never really noticed it! If we are doing Inclusion, we will “Go over and under, around or through – find a way or make a way” for Inclusion to work, Paula declared.
Inclusion is a process, It is not a place! All students, those with disabilities and those without, will benefit from the opportunities it creates. We need only to see the possibilities!