TIES Inclusive Education Roadmap

Step 1D: Construct Initial Strategies for Developing Commitment to Inclusive Education

The importance of building commitment for inclusive education with all stakeholders cannot be over-emphasized. It is an area that is often skipped when planning or given less attention than is needed. Building commitment is not a single event. There is a continual need to champion the work of inclusive education, particularly as it relates to students with significant cognitive disabilities, because inclusive education is counter-cultural for most educational systems.

Building commitment focuses on increasing the understanding of the why, what, and how of equitable inclusive education and the process of systems change. While doing this is particularly important during Step 1: Getting Started, it is important to revisit it each time the organization introduces or scales up a new aspect of inclusive education or brings in new stakeholders. It is also essential to review regularly to sustain the commitment to why the state/region, district, or school is focusing on inclusive education.

Key Areas to Consider for Building Commitment for Inclusive Education

All students belong and are welcomed in the organization. All students are learners and can achieve high expectations. Diversity in the organization is a strength and all students can make valuable contributions. Beliefs related to an inclusive vision address why there is a need to change current practices to achieve these outcomes in inclusive classrooms and develop a plan that supports the implementation of effective inclusive practices. This is important because changes in teacher practice are linked to their beliefs about new ways of working collaboratively that will lead to improvements in teaching and learning for their students (Guskey, 2002b).

At the beginning of the change process, an organization will not have an action plan to share with others. If this is the situation, then sharing the next steps in the process (e.g., developing an equitable, inclusive leadership team, engaging multiple voices to create the action plan, and sharing the vision with multiple stakeholders) fills that temporary void and communicates that a thoughtful, systematic process is being developed.

  • Finally, staff, families, and students need to know how they will be supported and how their input into the process will be heard.

It is important to remember that adults take in and learn information in different ways. They may value different parts of the why that underlies inclusive education. Providing content through multiple means makes the information more accessible to all adults and helps them connect and challenge themselves with what is being shared with their own beliefs and experiences.

The key is sharing accurate information about inclusive education to support new knowledge, challenge assumptions, and build a commitment to inclusive education for all learners. This is accomplished by sharing a mix of:

    • research findings about inclusive education,
    • data about the impact of inclusive education on all students, both those with and without disabilities, and
    • stories from students, staff, and families and their journeys with inclusive education. All stories are valuable, but the closer a story is to your setting (e.g., state/region, district, school) the greater the potential impact.

Adults do not learn directly from experiences. They learn from reflecting on their experiences. Build-in opportunities for adults to process the new information and envision what the change will mean for the students, for themselves personally, and for the whole organization.

The TIES Center has multiple resources that support building inclusive systems of education that are inclusive of students with significant cognitive disabilities. To begin diving into the knowledge base, review the curated resource lists with links at the end of the IER Introduction and Step 1. At any time, you can search for other topics on the website.

When planning to meet with a group, consider:

  • What are the key messages that you want to share?
  • What information might this group want to understand about inclusive education and the organization's direction? (Remember, administrators, teachers, parents, instructional coaches, and students may be interested in different types of information because they have different roles and responsibilities in the system. Considering what questions a group might be interested in can help the EILT focus their messaging.)
  • How and when can this information best be shared?

During the Initial Implementation phase, education leaders have three primary tasks:

  • Support the continuing development of an inclusive mindset for educators and families
  • Monitor the implementation of new processes and practices, and
  • Supervise and support personnel as they develop and demonstrate inclusive educational practices

Example Support Strategies

Inclusive Mindset

  • Model inclusive language in meetings and discussions
  • Celebrate Inclusive Schools Week
  • Share individual teacher and student success stories frequently
  • Share research on the benefits of inclusive education in a way that will resonate with school personnel and families
  • Acknowledge examples of inclusive thinking in students and staff
  • Create a hallway bulletin board with photos of "Together We Are Better"
  • As part of a communication plan, the district includes inclusive messages and articles in its weekly newsletter

Inclusive Processes and Practices

  • Ensure that new processes and practices (e.g., changes to staffing models, special education services being provided in the general education classrooms) are clearly explained to all affected stakeholders, including families, prior to their implementation
  • Create the expectation for implementation of new processes and practices
  • Increase walkthroughs to check for fidelity of implementation of new processes
  • Develop continuous improvement cycles that engage the whole system with the work of the EILT

Support Personnel

  • Use the TIES Teacher Confidence Surveydownloads on a quarterly basis to gather feedback on staff confidence and efficacy
  • Attend secondary Professional Learning Communities (DuFour et al., 2016) once a month to give ongoing encouragement and gather feedback about how to best support the teams
  • Highlight teacher and student success in newsletters and other system-wide communications
  • Consider adopting the Concerns-Based Adoption Model

When thinking about the design, consider how the audience would best access the new information. Could a group read a short article or watch a video and then use it as the springboard for a more extensive discussion? Do some people need research to answer their questions while others need stories of the impact on children and families? Do some people want to hear from role-alike colleagues, such as a teacher sharing with other teachers or a parent sharing with other parents? Having a repertoire of resources and ways to share them helps to ground both the conversations related to building commitment to change and when the conversations go deeper into your organization’s core values, mission, and vision.

Equally important, design ways for the audience to be active partners in their learning. For example, include a Think-Pair-Share activity, individual journaling, rephrasing in their own words what a partner shared, or discussing how they could apply new information. All of these generate reflection and application to their individual contexts.

One of the roles of the EILT is to take a leadership role in building commitment and readiness throughout the organization. Members connect with others in the organization, share a common message, and bring back questions and feedback to the EILT. This feedback loop helps to understand what is needed to meet the diverse needs of the stakeholders.

The Reflecting on an Inclusive System of Education (RISE- IER Step 2), completing the Inclusive Education Action Plan (Step 4), and the continuous improvement cycles provide multiple opportunities for the EILT to revisit the vision for inclusive education and include multiple stakeholders in its implementation.

Real World Example

A suburban district's EILT realized that there were several key groups they wanted to focus on when building the commitment to create an inclusive system of education in their district. They wanted to make sure that families of students with and without significant disabilities had information on the benefits of inclusive education for their children. They needed to have information in multiple formats in both English and Spanish to reach all of the families. They also realized that increasing the principals' knowledge of the improved student outcomes and school climate benefits related to inclusive education would help them commit to the change process. They understood that because the district had a long history of placing students with significant disabilities in self-contained classrooms as well as a separate school, that it would be important to have open and ongoing communication and collaboration with the administrators, teachers, and families connected to those settings during the change process.

While the EILT was continually building its own knowledge about inclusive education, they reached out to schedule a presentation to the Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC), worked with the district elementary coordinator to routinely share more information at the principal meetings, planned for a larger book study on inclusive education for key district administrators, and held Question & Answer (Q&A) sessions with special education teachers who were currently teaching in self-contained classrooms to listen, learn and provide current information. Going forward, they planned to expand the Q&A sessions to more groups of employees (e.g., open sessions, parents, specialized services providers, etc.) as well as have other presentations.

What's Next?

  • Complete Step 1D in the IER Inclusive Education Action Plan by listing the initial strategies for developing a commitment to inclusive education. You will know that you are making progress with the work described in this section when the majority of questions, comments, and discussions begin to focus on the “how” of inclusive education rather than on the “why.”
  • The question is when do the components of Step 1 provide a “good enough” foundation to move onto Step 2? Organizations can feel confident about progressing to Step 2 when
    • the EILT is in place, organized, and fully representative (or close to representative) of the diversity of voices and positions needed to lead systems change,
    • the EILT members have developed a solid understanding of inclusive education, including students with significant cognitive disabilities, and feel they have the tools to explain inclusive education to their peers and other stakeholders, and
    • the outreach to multiple key stakeholders to build a commitment to inclusive education is actively ongoing.