TIES Inclusive Education Roadmap
It is impossible to make meaningful change in any system without having engaged and supportive leaders (Howley & Telfer, 2021; Tian & Huber, 2019). Supportive inclusive leaders are change agents. They are actively engaged in the change process, lead by example and are the early adopters of the change goals. They provide clear and consistent messaging and expectations about the change efforts while also acknowledging the challenges that are a part of any change processes. Supportive leaders consistently listen to the needs of the people “on the ground” who are responsible for implementing the changes in their practice and engage in collaborative problem solving to identify and eliminate barriers to implementation.
Purposeful and systematic change driven by the values of equity and inclusion leads to increased educational opportunities for all students, including students with significant cognitive disabilities. Inclusive leaders focus on implementing effective instructional practices for all students, nurture and sustain a collaborative culture (e.g. trust, openness, inquiry), and build the capacity of all staff and families to meet individual student needs and the needs of the system. They also emphasize accountability and continuous learning as they move their systems forward (Telfer & Howley, 2020).
Supportive leaders for inclusive education:
- Demonstrate a commitment to inclusive education through their actions and words
- View inclusive education for students with significant cognitive disabilities as an equity issue that must be actively addressed
- Communicate their expectations for all students clearly and frequently
- Are aware of the research describing the improved outcomes that inclusive education brings to all students in the system
- Provide school personnel with the knowledge and skills they need to effectively meet the needs of all students in general education classrooms
- Engage in ongoing honest discussions with teachers, staff, families, and students to ensure that inclusive education is working for everyone
Building a sustainable inclusive education system is complex. This necessitates the use of a wide variety of leadership skills and talents. Leaders committed to systems change for inclusive education use a combination of technical and adaptive leadership skills (Heifetz & Laurie, 1997). Technical challenges are relatively straightforward and one-dimensional. What to do to solve these challenges have reasonably clear steps. Leaders with technical challenges can engage in the typical problem-solving processes, resources, and administrative structures that are already in place in the system. Adaptive challenges are more complex. They include concerns that have not previously been raised and/or solved in the system and usually have more complex solutions. They are not solved with what is currently known or practiced. Adaptive challenges need a deeper level of reflection and consensus-building as possible solutions emerge. Adaptive challenges are solved through continual learning, collaboration, problem solving and even trying to do things in ways that have never been done before. They are inclusive of more voices, including educators, families and students (Bal et al., 2014).
Developing a sustainable, inclusive system of education requires adaptive leadership. The process is complex. It requires planning that breaks the process down into doable steps, robust implementation, and continual learning cycles. What do technical and adaptive challenges look like in an inclusive system of education? Here are some examples:
Inclusive Education Examples
Supportive leadership is essential to all stages of implementation of inclusive practices. Both technical and adaptive leadership skills are needed to support organizations throughout the change processes. It is impossible to make change at a systemic level without engaged and supportive leaders (Tian & Huber, 2019).