I am privileged enough to work at a campus that is incredibly diverse. From ethnicity to abilities, we are surrounded by Wolves that aren’t all the same. While that is ALWAYS true of all our campuses, I am fortunate enough to have two self contained classrooms that make my heart so happy. In addition, each year, I find myself blessed with Wolves who challenge the ways we have done things and make me more aware of ways I can do better by these babies I am entrusted with each day. It’s always been important to me that my self contained classrooms, those with students with special needs, feel as if they are just as much of a part of our campus family as the other classrooms. I spend time in those classrooms, and give the same feedback as I do with other teachers, and take every chance to share out the great things I see in their rooms like I would a general education classroom. I send positive cards to each of those Wolves, celebrating things that have gone well…and I have even been known to spend some time out at recess, coming when they say come, and going when they say GO.
Are they connected with appropriate grade level peers?
Beyond during the typical inclusion or lunch/PACK time…we make sure that our families are included with a partner teacher and are on their email list. (They can always opt out, but no one ever has!) They get the newsletters, the contacts, the communication , the curriculum blurbs, etc. They are a part of the classroom Facebook pages. When there are events, I want them to feel just as included in grade level activities and invitations. Programs, socials, etc…they are always invited and we make sure they are able to participate to the best of their abilities. Sometimes, even though something shared isn’t as developmentally appropriate, families can adapt and discuss at home.
Where can you find these friends in your yearbooks?
In addition to listing these students within their class pages for their self contained class & teacher, we also include them with their inclusion class. These are the peers that they interact with throughout the day, during their inclusion , lunch, & recess. They are just as much a part of that room as they are of the other. When they flip through that yearbook later, I want them to see themselves within BOTH groups of friends. We make sure collages also include all the friends…because there are plenty of opportunities to get candid shots of their interactions, if you’re looking for them.
Where do they sit during programs?
When at all possible, we allow students to sit with their inclusion class. Again, an opportunity to socialize with their peers…even if its just sitting and enjoying a program or campus pep rally. Typically, they have a “buddy” a student with a big ol’heart that wants them to sit with them and makes sure they are enjoying them self. They find them at recess and invite them to sit by them at lunch. These are the Wolves that are going to change the world, I have no doubt. Watching these friendships develop is one of the very best parts of my job.
How do you plan their parties/field trips?
We make sure that the self contained classrooms have separate parties scheduled. One with daily friends, with a craft and snack that is appropriate to each student, but we also make sure they have the chance to attend their grade level party. If this means I need to provide additional coverage, I do that. If more bodies are needed on field trips, I find them. It definitely means I consider ALL classrooms when making scheduling decisions, instead of just gen ed ones. We have students who leave for therapies, and I take that into consideration when looking to schedule #allthethings.
How do you communicate your messages and values with your families?
We share a LOT via social media. I like a good font, a fun clip art…and LOVE having props that go with all the crazy fun elementary things we do. We intentionally choose images that represent ALL our friends. From diversity to special needs, it speaks to our campus when they see images or shares that resonate with their ethnicity, culture, or faith. We seek out and include as many as can. Whether this is holiday related or just a regular ol’message…we try to make it as diverse as possible. Seek out parents with different faiths, ask how you can celebrate their culture. Ask what matters to them and be intentional when you reach out and invite them to participate with your campus. It will make you all better! #leadwithappreciation
Principal confession: I got this wrong this year in a pretty big way. Despite making sure communications, posters, flyers, etc. are diverse, we created a photo op of a cowboy/cowgirl that students could take pictures inside of, with a fun face cut out. They were REALLY cute. They were also both very fair skinned/blonde haired. What a missed opportunity for my Wolves with dark hair and dark skin! We could have created one more with a different hairstyle/color that could have included many more of my students. Do I have to make one for every ethnicity we have? No, but it is pretty important to at least give options when I can. This was an easy add that I just missed. I don’t want them to feel like they have to misappropriate who they are, just to include themselves in the themed fun we have.
If nothing else, please take away that decisions are made on the individual-ness of each student.
It’s not made on IQ or disability or placement. We don’t do “these things” for student in wheelchairs or for students with Down Syndrome. I do what Landree needs or what Levi needs. It’s made on whats appropriate, whats most fun, and what each student deserves for us to make happen, no matter what. Sometimes that requires additional staffing, or support from the office, or extra $$$ to support funds and ideas. I am the voice that says YES, how can we instead of YES, but how even could we…this all starts with the principal, or someone asking the principal. 🙂
Making sure I have open lines of communication with my families, ALL my families, means they reach out when they see something that they feel could be handled in a more inclusive and positive manner. It’s always done with respect and the best interest of our Wolves. That can be attributed, I hope, to the fact that I listen when they talk. I don’t take umbrage to the fact that I have been doing something WRONG or that albeit, unintentionally, has left their wolf out. These convos can HURT, but I am always a better leader (and person.) afterwards. All of the things above, that we now do as a norm, are a direct result of mommas (and daddies!) who make me do better, who hold me accountable for doing everything I can to make sure ALL students are Whitt Wolves, to the fullest extent possibly.
Even if they don’t directly apply to the students you have now, I hope you see something that resonates and could make your whole campus feel more included.