“When young people discover they can be agents of change, wonderful things happen. They start to serve in the neighborhoods, learn about public issues, create innovative solutions to tough public challenges and eventually become the voters, community project builders and leaders in our communities and nation.” Alma Powell
We think that quote gets it absolutely right! Students can make our world a better place and no one knows better about making students feel welcomed, valued, safe and included at school than students themselves.
We have been thinking about how we can make our schools more inclusive and here is what we think, but if you have any other ideas, please contact us!
- Is your school Inclusive?
- Why Inclusion matters
- Be a better school mate
- Bullying: Be a Defender not a Bystander
- What if you are being bullied?
- How can students help build Inclusive schools?
- Where to get help
1. Is your school Inclusive?
Everybody likes to think their school is inclusive but the best way to work this is out is to ask if you can say these things about your school:
- All students are welcomed and belong! No one needs to earn the right to be included and no one needs to show they are “ready” to be a part of their school. Students with and without disabilities, students of different races and cultural backgrounds all have the same right to be there, to learn in the same classrooms and to have the same opportunities to participate in the life of the school. Students are helped to learn if they need it, but they are not separated from regular classrooms because of it. If your school has separate buildings or rooms for students with disability, that’s just not inclusion!
- Differences are understood. This means that your school and teachers encourage students to learn about and understand about all the things that make us a diverse society and different individuals, because before we can really respect differences we need to learn and understand what makes everyone different.
- Differences are respected! This means that everyone is respected and their differences are accepted by teachers and students as natural and valuable. Students are not forced to act the same as everyone else and students are not favoured or shamed depending on their grades, their skills or who they are – that is just not inclusion!
- Students support each other to do their best! Students are encouraged to work together and support each other. Individual progress is celebrated but so is helping everyone to be their best. Students are encouraged to help others that need assistance, in class (this is called ‘peer tutoring’) and in the playground.
- The physical and learning environments are accessible. An accessible school means that everyone in the school is able to fully participate. Students with disabilities should be able to freely move around the school building, parcipate in the same learning and social activities and communicate with their teachers and peers. When students are physically separated unable to access the same location or participate in activities along with their peers, they will end up feeling excluded and isolated.
- Everybody is committed to inclusion and promoting an inclusive society. Take a look at your school’s vision, beliefs, policies, practices and culture. Do “inclusion” and “diversity” feature prominently?
What does an Inclusive school look like?
An inclusive school isn’t just about having students of different races, cultural background or with disability in the school, just physically “being there”. It’s about what your school does to make sure that each student doesn’t feel left out – whether from their classroom, their class lessons, from the playground, from sporting and other school activities and every other aspect of school life. Some students, like students with disability or diverse learning needs are at greater risk of being excluded – so inclusion is all about making sure this doesn’t happen.
- all students included in the regular education classrooms all day, every day;
- all students working in naturally supportive and flexible groupings with other students regardless of individual ability;
- all students are presumed competent – they are expected to be able to do things, it is not just assumed that they can’t;
- students supported (when needed, such as through modifications to class lessons, assistance from education assistants and ‘peer tutoring’) to participate in the same core class lessons as the rest of the class; and
- all students known and valued as full members of the school community, assisted to develop meaningful friendships with peers and to participate in all aspects of the life of the school.
Inclusion IS NOT:
- a student being only allowed to participate in the class if they are “keeping up”;
- a student being frequently “pulled out” of class for extra assistance;
- a student working separately in a corner of the classroom with the education assistant while the teacher instructs the rest of the class; or
- a student being given a separate “special” curriculum or “program (as opposed to being supported where needed, including through lesson modifications, to participate in the same core lesson); or
- a student demonstrating independence as a condition of being in the classroom.
The United Nations Committee on the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities has said what inclusive education means, to help governments make sure that they are complying with their obligations under Article 24 of that Convention to have an inclusive education system.
Myths about inclusive education
- Myth #1: The general education classrooms won’t provide the support that students with disability need. REAL DEAL: Our laws provide for supports in regular schools and good inclusive practices happen in schools in Australia and elsewhere (eg Italy has been educating ALL students together in the same classrooms since the 1970s!).
- Myth #2: Students with disability do better when they are educated in separate schools or classrooms. REAL DEAL: 40 years of research proves that students with disability learn more when they are in the same classrooms as non-disabled students.
- Myth #3: Students with disability in regular classrooms have a negative impact on the learning of other students. REAL DEAL: Research shows non-disabled students do just as well and also have the advantage of developing understanding, empathy and acceptance of diversity.
- Myth #4: A student can’t be included unless they can keep up with the pace of the general school curriculum. REAL DEAL: The curriculum is for everybody. There are teaching strategies and practices that are all about making the general school curriculum suitable to ALL learners!
- Myth #5: Schools include students with disability as a favour, to help them feel part of society. REAL DEAL: Inclusion is not charity. It is a fundamental right, in international and Australian legislation.
2. Why Inclusion matters!
School is the gateway to our future society and more inclusive communities start with more inclusive local schools that value diversity and respect the right of ALL students to be welcomed, safe and to belong. More inclusive schools not only benefit students from different cultural backgrounds and students with disabilities but ALL students.
In inclusive schools, ALL students of ALL abilities, learn the skills they need to live full lives as part of their communities and to build the communities of the future.
Inclusion is happening EVERYWHERE! All over the world, there are schools that are inclusive. Did you know that in Italy 99% of students with disabilities have been educated in regular schools since the late 1970s?
3. Be a better school mate
“I made friends who explained to me that ‘I am who I am, and there is nothing more beautiful than being yourself’.There were also some bullies, who told me to do foolish things, which I did because I was a bit naïve. But thanks to the good advice of teachers and friends, I learned how to make everyone respect me, defend myself and think before acting.” Marta Sodano, student with Down syndrome and inclusion advocate
There is no more important thing to how students feel at school than the quality of their relationships with other students.
When we choose not to acknowledge some students in our classroom or school, that in itself sends a strong message that they are not valued. No one has to be friends with everyone, but when we see students with few friends, or no friends, all of us can reach out and help them build a bridge to their peers, to their classroom and to their school.
It is only when we offer humanity, that we experience humanity ourselves.
So many times students say, “It was only when I got to know” … Sarah … or Lee … or Ahmed, that I realised they were really quite cool, funny or interesting. Everyone has something to contribute – and everyone needs an opportunity to do it.
Inclusive peer relationships are not about charity, pity or making ourselves feel good about being “so nice”, they are about respecting another person’s right to be part of our classroom or school – to receive an inclusive education together with and amongst their local community.
4. Bullying: Be a Defender not a Bystander
Children who bully others can do this for many reasons. Sometimes it is simply to try to “impress” the other students that are watching – physically or online. Sometimes it is not about trying to the make the victim feel bad or embarrassed, but about the person doing the bullying making themselves feel better about themselves.
By watching and saying nothing, or worse, by laughing – in a real way, students may encourage the bullying.
Don’t be a bystander. Be a defender.
There are 5 easy steps to moving from being a bystander to bullying or abuse to being an active defender – a human rights defender:
- Notice what is going on. You need to be alert to identifying bullying, abuse or inappropriate behaviour towards another student – in the classroom, playground or online. Don’t just close your eyes. Imagine what it would feel like if you the words, actions or online posts were directed at you.
- Recognise that bullying and abuse is very harmful, sometimes fatal. Bullying and abuse results in physical and emotional harm. There is nothing more damaging to a student than to be attacked by their peers, physically or psychologically. We think of victims as having few friends. But just because someone is popular or has lots of friends does not mean that they do not feel threatened by bullying – especially if the bullying and abuse is coming from their friends.
- Take responsibility for helping out. Helping is not about “interfering” in the bullying incident – but it is about responding to the needs of another student who may need support. If no one responds, then we are all bystanders just making up an audience for the bully. From the perspective of the victim, we are just endorsing the bullying by our presence or silence.
- Choose an appropriate way to intervene. Not everyone can take on the person who is doing the bullying. Sometimes that might make the situation worse and can even be dangerous. Often the best thing to do is to support the victim. By supporting your fellow student, you let them know that they are not alone and you also show the person doing the bullying that their victim has your support – that is often enough to stop the bully from continuing. But sometimes the bullying or abuse is so serious (e.g. the victim is in physical danger or has said things about harming themselves) that the right thing to do is to immediately report the bullying behaviour to a teacher, to your parents or to contact one of the Help Services listed below, such as the Kids Help Line 1800 55 1800 or Bullying No Way – Safe Australian Schools Together.
- Carry out the Intervention. Once you have worked out an appropriate way to intervene, carry it out. Actions change things, just good thoughts don’t. By being a defender, not a bystander, you can help to stop bullying.
Download our Printable PDF poster here.
5. What if you are being bullied?
All of us sometime feel that someone is being deliberately mean to us and that we don’t deserve it.
But bullying is usually more than that – it is more than an argument – it usually involves someone or some people repeatedly doing things, saying things (like calling you names or spreading rumours about you) or posting things online with the intention of hurting you, causing you distress and embarrassment or excluding you from your friends. It often involves someone that is more powerful than you using their position, power or popularity to harm, distress or exclude you.
Bullying is never OK and it can cause you harm, physically and mentally (like anxiety and depression), if nothing is done about it – and that harm may not be just now, but may also last until you are much older too.
So if you are being bullied don’t just “accept it”. You don’t deserve it. Do something about it quickly.
The first step is to know that you are not alone and that there are people you can talk to for advice and help. Start with a friend you trust, an older sibling, a teacher that you are comfortable talking to or your parents.
You can also contact one of the free Help Services listed below, such as the Kids Help Line 1800 55 1800 or Bullying No Way – Safe Australian Schools Together.
It is really important that you know that bullying is not really about you, but it is really more about the people doing the bullying and how they feel about themselves. The worst thing you can do is to think that the people bullying you must be right and that something must be wrong with you.
Nothing is wrong with you.
6. How can students help build Inclusive schools?
There are lots of great ideas to help your school or classroom become more inclusive. Here are just some ideas:
- Set up a Student Inclusion Committee in your school to develop some projects that will help to make your school more inclusive and accessible to everyone. Include students with disability and diverse backgrounds on your Committee. Their perspectives are really important. Talk to your teachers or Principal because there may be a teacher or other staff member at your school who is responsible for making your school more inclusive, so that teacher or staff member might be keen to be involved, help you set up the Committee and find a place for the Committee to meet to discuss ideas and projects.
- Hold a School Inclusion Day or Week. Some countries, like Canada, have a whole School Inclusion Month. The USA has an Inclusion Week. Australia doesn’t have even an official Inclusion Day – we are hoping to change that. But that doesn’t stop you organising an Inclusion Day or more at your school to focus on the importance of your school environment being inclusive of all students. Ask you Principal or a staff member responsible for school inclusion to help. Click here for some ideas to celebrate inclusion at school.
- Organise presentations by people from diverse backgrounds, like students, their parents or people from your community to come to your school or classroom to talk about their culture, religion or what it is like to live with a disability. Hearing about difference from people that know, is the best way of understanding difference.
- Encourage your school to organise presentations on bullying. Talking about bullying and abuse, including bullying online, is the best way of educating students about identifying and responding to bullying and abuse – which is so important to having an inclusive school culture.
- Encourage each classroom to have “peer tutors”. We all know students that always finish their work early and sit bored in class or start talking and annoy everyone else who is trying to finish. Well that “spare time” is valuable. Teachers should be encouraged to pair “early finishers” with the students who need a little more assistance or for concepts to be repeated for them so that they can better understand. This is called “peer tutoring” and studies show that it helps all students – even the “early finishers” because by having to explain the concepts to other students they learn even more.
- Have a conversation with someone new every day. It is easy to get stuck being happy just hanging around each day with your “besties”. But not everyone has “besties”. There are so many cool, funny and interesting students in every school that have trouble talking to other students or making friends. But if you start the conversation, and work to keep it going, you will often be surprised by how friendly and interesting they really are.
- Ask people how they are. When you think someone may not be feeling happy at school or in your classroom ask them how they are feeling, “Are you OK? You don’t seem yourself. How can I help to make things better?” Those words say a lot to someone. Sometimes all they need is to hear that someone has noticed them and that will help them talk about what is really bothering them. It shows them that they are valued, which is what everyone wants to be.
- Mind your language. Think about the words that you use and how they may make other students feel, even when you don’t mean to be offensive. Here is some information about disability and language.
- Just be friendly and respect differences. Diversity is about who we all are but inclusion is about how we treat each other. You will be surprised how being positive and friendly towards other students helps change the feel of the whole school. Not in one day, but over time.
7. Where to get help
You don’t need to know all the answers – but it’s important to know who to ask for help.
The following free Help Services may have counsellors, advice or helpful information.