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Blog: Monday, June 15th, 2015

From Segregation to Diversity

By Abbotsford School District

This post comes from Leigh Howard, Director of Instruction, Learning Support Services Department.
~ Kevin Godden


When I began my career as a special education teacher in Tumbler Ridge, BC in 1983, self-contained programs that segregated cognitively and physically disabled students from abled peers were just being phased out. Students with learning disabilities attended their neighbourhood schools but often received their core instruction in pullout classes that were designed to instruct students at a lower and slower rate. Autism was hardly on the radar screen at the start of my teaching career and things such as Complex Developmental Behaviour Disorder (CDBC), ADHD, ODD were not even dreamed of.

Integration became the trend in the late 1980’s, which, in short, meant that students with disabilities had a right to be educated with their non-disabled peers whenever possible. As a result of the movement to integration, previously self-contained special-education programs were integrated into the regular education schools and into the regular education classrooms.

The social benefit that integration, and then inclusion, had for students with special needs was evident almost immediately. In the self-contained programs, the only social models available were other students with disabilities. Now the students had non-disabled peers as their role models and their social skills grew significantly. An ancillary benefit was that non-disabled peers developed a comfort and acceptance of their peers with disabilities.

Over my career special education has moved from the philosophy of integration to inclusion and now to diversity – the acceptance of all students into our classrooms. Students are no longer just included, they are accepted and welcomed by all. I hope that diversity will provide our school system with true equalization for all student regardless of ability, culture, gender or language.

In more and more classrooms through our district students who require adaptations are taught within the general education classroom alongside their regular education peers as a first placement consideration. The practice of teaching "lower and slower" has long been dismissed as best practice for teaching students with special needs, in favor of a model that reinforces the learning that occurs in the general education setting. It has been noted that we cannot expect students to work at grade level if they are not exposed to grade-level work.

We are moving towards a collaborative model where classroom teachers and learning support teachers co-teach and have a shared responsibility for the success of all the students. In this model of co-teaching students with significant cognitive and physical disabilities can often be found in the general education classroom receiving instruction with learning services support and program modifications.

At the start of my special education career general education teachers would dismiss their responsibility for students with special needs, thinking that special-education teachers are the only teachers equipped to work with these students. We know that this is not true. Every teacher has great things to offer all students. While this ‘siloed’ thinking is slower to change, more and more classroom teachers are embracing the joy of all students. More teachers truly understand that all students belong in the regular classroom – no matter how diverse their learning needs.

We have come a long way from segregated schools with low expectations and little hope for students to become the best they can be. Now, we need to move towards a diverse model where all kids can learn. Accept them all, value them all and teach them all. All kids are our kids.
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