The following is a transcript of a speech Mr. Klaus Puhlman gave to his staff in the Yellowhead School District. He said:
We are no longer at the stage of debating the educational value of integration but rather our focus is on developing, jointly with the schools, effective plans to achieve maximal integration of all special needs students into regular classrooms.
I would like to share my thoughts of what I envision to be a truly "Inclusive School"
The four principles (guidelines) that were articulated right from the beginning are clearly the foundations of an integrated school. They are necessary conditions or parameters. They are:
Given the direction of our school division on integration and these four underlying principles related to that direction, what can or should professional staff do?
This requires the building of a community -- a community that goes beyond such simple things as school dances and Christmas concerts, your school must become a place of bonding.
If you don't succeed in becoming such a community of staff, students and parents, then you will always be a community that depends on such things as mutual compatibility, acceptable moods, acceptable ability, etc.
Your survival as a community can not depend on such simple things as mutual compatibility or homogeneous grouping. The "glue" that unites or combines you must be more than a caretaker attitude - it must be a professional attitude.
Students, too, need a sense of belonging, because many of them feel today that they don't belong in school any more. This is even more true for Special Needs students. We must come to value Special Needs students as a gift to our schools because they bring out the best in the other students. Their presence allows values to come to surface and students take ownership of these values. We need to create environments in which values surface so that students take ownership of these values. This is the link that has been missing in education.
The more programs we introduce in our schools, the more we threaten our community. It is well documented that the categorization of special education has contributed to the disjointedness of education and our inability to meet the new morbidities: child depression, drug use, teen-age pregnancy, poor academics, motivation, and school absences. This categorization model allows these students and others to slip through.
It is not ironic that the more we are trying to specialize, categorize, stream, and systematize, the more we are threatening the existence of our community and ultimately our effectiveness with the students in all areas.
Integration, effective integration, demands building effective communities that provide a secure environment for its members and in which we feel we are all together.
We can no longer accept the view or the popular attitude among some teachers that separate special education programs be developed that serve the needs of students with a particular disability. If we accept the massive research and even our own observations, then it is clear that the goal of educational integration can be achieved.
What is required is a shift to an attitude that recognizes the necessity of modifying, expanding, and/or adjusting regular education to meet the needs of ALL students. We know that program modification is inherent in good teaching.
Also requiring change is the current prevailing attitude that it is somehow extraordinary, or special, to educate students with severe disabilities. Understandable? Perhaps "yes" because students with severe disabilities have been denied an education for many years.
It is quite clear then, that if this school or any other school is to become an inclusive school that embraces educational integration, a number of things need to happen.
Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, the time has come where each and everyone of you has to become committed to this concept and the direction. You can no longer sit on the sidelines and watch some of you play this game while others are merely passive or critically looking on. Remember, this game is for all of us to be played.
Remember also, that integration is not just for the child with the disability but for the rest of us.
A principal of an elementary school, Neil Robblee talks with educators and parents at a conference several years ago. He said:
"The important question for all of us in education is "Do our practices reflect our beliefs?" Our school district is guided by a set of principles for learning and instruction which reflects what we know about children's learning and instruction.
We say, "Each student is a unique individual."
Do we mean some children are too unique?
We say, "Students must experience challenging success."
Are we sometimes more concerned about the challenges that face us?
We say, "Learning allows the development of the individual."
Are we saying some children can not develop?
We say, "Learning is an active process."
Do we wish to deny the active involvement of some students?
We say, "Learning is an individual process."
Do we wish to leave out some individuals?
Surely, the most appropriate educational setting for our students is an integrated setting in our schools.
At my school we have a staff developed philosophy statement which I will share with some of you. The first part says we believe that our school provides a safe open environment where everyone is encouraged to progress along the curriculum continuum as full as each is able. I hope we don't mean that we have a safe open environment for only some of the students. We believe that the staff at our school are concerned about meeting the needs of each by caring, listening, being flexible, offering choices, extending and adapting programs and provide experiences as a foundation for learning. It's a laudable statement, I think, but I hope we don't mean try to meet the needs of only some of the children.
Again, do our practices reflect our beliefs? I hope they do at our school. If we find we are practical, we need to stop doing that. If we are being practical at the expense of our beliefs we need to stop and create ways of doing things that are consistent with our beliefs.
Here are a couple of tips for administrators when parents ask you to integrate their child into regular programming. First, don't make parents feel guilty for asking for educational services for their child. Second, to develop an appropriate program take cues from the child involved. Third, avoid thinking in terms of a child's deficits, think instead of his strengths and celebrate his progress.
In conclusion, I was at the lake a couple of weeks ago. Some new folks had moved in a couple of doors down and they have a child with Down Syndrome. We were chatting and talking about this little boy named Dan. I told Ian my son who attends my school that a few years ago Elliot (who also was born with Down Syndrome) wouldn't have likely come to our school. I asked him what he thought about that and he took a few moments and he said that would be dumb. Words of a seven-year-old. Thank you very much.
The following excerpt from H. Raymond's (1995) unpublished thesis illustrates a teacher's experience with including a child in a regular class.
In my role as a consultant, I tried to seek out opportunities to better understand inclusion and how to accommodate children with developmental disabilities in the regular classroom. I organized and presented many inservices on inclusion. I based my presentations on my readings, my experienceswith assisting students to be integrated and my observations of other teachers' practices. After three years I began to feel uncomfortable about the talk. I needed to understand inclusion in an applied way. To do this, I needed to be in the classroom, in a classroom with a diverse group of children. I knew that the only way I would find this was to return to the classroom as a regular education teacher, not as a special education teacher.
I needed to be back in the classroom. I needed to understand the struggles teachers experienced when they were asked to include a child with a developmental disability in their classroom. With this in mind I applied for a combined grade 1/2 class at a school in my district.
In my second year at this school, Brian, a new student arrived three weeks into the term. Brian had moved into a foster home in the community. In his previous school he had been in a segregated classroom for children labeled educably mentally handicapped. In our school he was placed in the regular grade 1/2 class.
On his first day, he was very withdrawn, not willing to participate in any activity especially if he needed to be with other children. I tried to give him as much support as possible. I made myself physically available to him (i.e., holding his hand, taking him to the next area during a transition). Brian appeared to feel more confident as the day went on. The children were wonderful. They seemed to sense that we needed to be kind and gentle with him. They constantly asked him to join them even though he refused every invitation.
As the week went on I remember being exhausted and close to tears at the end of many days. There were 29 children in the combined 1/2 class. The addition of Brian had really tipped the scale. He needed constant support to do everything. He refused to participate, he asked at least 25 times during the day to go to the washroom, he hit other children for no apparent reason, he destroyed property and he cried easily. Although I was feeling frustrated by Brian's actions I spoke only positively about him in the staff room. I felt that he belonged and I needed to support him in becoming a member of the classroom and the school. One way to do this was to present the positive parts of Brian's ability in as many places as I could.
But Why Do You Give Him So Much Attention?
One of the children in the classroom raised a concern that some children were getting extra support. She was referring to Brian. We talked about how different people needed different things to be successful. After I shared my feelings she said she understood. She then told me a way that she felt she had gotten extra help from me to be successful. I felt relieved that she could express examples of how she received support and of her willingness to see another perspective. It was touching and reassuring to see that she could understand the need to structure our class from an ethic of care (Nodding, 1984).
As The Weeks Turn ....
Brian continued to have great difficulty in the classroom. On some days he would spend the whole day refusing to try anything, rocking and banging his desk, moaning and making noises, hitting children around him, breaking things and the list goes on. But on other days we would have small breaks. He would be more willing to be part of the class.
I soon discovered that whenever the class routine changed, Brian reverted to negative behavior to avoid the unknown. On a scheduled trip to the local seniors' apartment building to sing, Brian indicated he was not going to join us by refusing to do any of the presented activities and by kicking and hitting his peers. Brian ended up staying behind with the classroom teacher assistant. I asked her to make the morning pleasant. He did not get to go; we didn't need to further punish him while he remained at school.
As the term progressed, Brian made progress. He was only refusing to do about 50% of school activities in comparison to the 100% refusal when he first arrived.
On another day Brian had lasted until 11:15 one morning before he needed to be asked to leave an area because he was refusing to follow class rules. He was slowly gaining control of himself, preferring to engage in positive interactions to gain attention.
Finding Ways To Include Brian
In math, I allowed Brian to choose the math tub he wanted to work with rather than assigning him to a tub. This opportunity for choice seemed to give him a sense of control over the situation. During group discussion, Brian was permitted to color while he listened. Having his hands engaged seemed to help him focus. Before every transition I would cue him five minutes before the change happened so he could be prepared for it. These were just a few of the adaptations made in the class to support Brian's inclusion.
Brian Reaches Out
In a class discussion the children were grouped together on the carpet. Brian was sitting beside a peer whose shoe laces were untied. He, along with another child, spent fifteen minutes trying to tie the boy's laces. Throughout the discussion, Brian added his personal ideas while he was trying to help his peer tie his shoe lace.
Peers Reach Out
During a game of Duck Duck Goose, I was concerned that Brian would not get chosen by his peers. He was still struggling with making friends. But I was proven wrong. One student picked Brian early in the game. I was proud and moved that this student reached out to Brian in such an important way in front of her peers. She reminded me that if I set the tone for acceptance, the children will follow my lead.
So What Do You Think About Brian Being Here?
In a quiet conversation with a child we were talking about having trouble remembering things. I had shared I had trouble remembering things too. I reminded her of an example when she had asked me for something and I was thinking about a hundred things and forgot what she wanted. She needed to follow me around the room and to pester me to remember what I said I would get for her. She then said to me, "It is like you're going all around the room must make you tired. Like when Brian doesn't do something." I took this opportunity to ask her what she thought about Brian. She said something to the effect that it was good because we were learning, that it was good this way, that we were learning to get along. There was this sense of caring for all of us as members of the community in her words.
A Colleague Questions
At the end of one day a colleague of mine dropped by my class. When she arrived I was cleaning up a mess that Brian had made in one of his disruptive moments. She asked me why I didn't have him do it. I said that I had just discovered some of it and I did not want to carry the problem over into the next day. I felt it necessary to help him have a fresh start to each day and not to bemoan the previous day's infractions. She asked me why I didn't send him to the office when he had a difficult moment. She felt that I was going to get parents upset because I allowed him to stay in the classroom. I struggled with these comments because, for me as a teacher, I had begun to live the story that all children had a right to be in the regular class and I was responsible to help him find a way to be part of it.
I shared with my colleague that Brian had been in our class for 6 weeks and in this short period of time he had made great progress. He had been in a segregated classroom before he had came to our class. I learned that Brian exhibited all the same behaviors in the segregated classroom as he demonstrated in our class at the beginning of the term. The progress he made in our class, I believed, was possible because we were trying to create an environment in which he felt welcomed and in which he felt a sense of belonging. Along with this he was with his age peers who demonstrated that they wanted him to be part of their lives.
But What About Help?
As time went on I had to admit to myself that I was feeling frustrated. I felt Brian should be in the class. However, the resources necessary to support him and myself were not in the classroom. I constantly struggled with not blaming the victim, Brian, for the lack of resources. It was not his fault that there was little additional adult support to assist me to help him become more successful. I knew his behavior would not change over night. It was going to be a long process but one worth enduring for, to me, the little changes already felt monumental for Brian.
A Telling Story
I often called Brian's foster mother to share with her how he was doing. I focused on positive examples of his behavior. One particular day I called with enthusiastic news about something he had done. She responded by saying something to the effect of, "You must be a level headed teacher to tolerate the type of things Brian does in your class. You always call to tell me the positive things about what Brian is doing rather than complaining about him." I wondered about this comment. Had her experience with other foster children been that the school called to express all the negative things the children had done? Brian's foster mother knew how difficult he was. She did not need me to call each day to add to her struggles with helping him to be more positive at home. It was the positive things she needed to hear. As his teacher I felt she needed to know how his behavior was improving, not to have me dwell on the negative.
A Short Stay
Brian was only with us for three months. He was moved to another foster home in another area in the city. I tried to make contact with his new teacher but was unsuccessful. I still wonder about Brian and the effect his peers and I had on his life in the three months we knew him. The children over the next few weeks commented that they missed Brian. I wonder if they, like me, had seen the progress he had made. I still wonder, if he had stayed with us, how much more progress he would have made.
Why Did I Persevere With Brian?
Why was I persistent in my desire to help Brian be part of our class in spite of the energy it took? As an educator, I had come to understand the parents of the children I taught wanted and needed me to care for their child, to see their child as a child first, a person that they loved and a member of their family and not someone to be dismissed, pushed to the side and taught in isolation. With this understanding, the issue of inclusion had become, for me, one of caring about every child equally. The child with a disability could and should be a member of my class no matter what their ability. I had begun to approach my teaching from an ethics of caring. Caring for all the children not a select group. To reflect this belief the important question guiding my teaching had become, "Do my practices reflect my beliefs?" I believed that Brian had a right to be in my class with his peers. Therefore, I needed to continuously explore ways to help him become a member of our class.
Some parents have shared that in their school districts, their children whom they are asking to be included are referred to as "push-ins". This language implies that the children are somehow different. The assumption is that teachers are being forced to take these children into their classroom and that their children are not welcomed as are other children who show up at school in September.
It is critical to remember that we are talking about another child, a child who is a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, a playmate and a friend to other children.
The following parent story helps us understand that the children we are talking about are just that, children, loved members of families wanting to be just one more child in your classroom.
I want to share with you how I obtained a fully integrated placement for my daughter Mary. Let me take you back a little to her preschool years so you can get a better picture of how we arrived at our present setting. Mary is the youngest of five children. She was born apparently normal - a chubby happy little girl. At five months of age we became concerned because she wasn't developing normally. After consulting with specialists, she was labeled developmentally delayed. Later she developed seizures, severe allergies and had fragile health - and her label became severely multiply handicapped. Consequently, there were a lot of specialists involved in our lives - social workers, therapists, medical doctors, intervention workers, psychologists, volunteers, counselors and support groups.
I am an open minded person, and I sought information. If I heard about something that might help my daughter - I would research and find out more about it and often tried it. So I was sometimes accused of being radical, not traditional and unrealistic. I believed I often didn't get support from the professionals because of this.
I've learned one simple truth through it all - its a cliché professionals say but don't believe - and that is that parents know their child better than anyone else! I do know my child best and be it intuition, the good lord in heaven or a gut feeling, I KNOW what is best for my child.
At two and a half Mary would enter a preschool program. I went to view the school and spent the whole afternoon in the classroom. It was a segregated program and the children had no contact with regular kids.
I came home and cried. I felt hopeless. I knew it was not what I wanted for my child. So this radical, unrealistic mom looked for alternatives. Mary attended a regular play school in our community with a teacher assistant.
Next, I had to think about kindergarten and elementary school - where would she go? I again wanted to know what our choices were. I began attending meetings and seeking information. I attended a meeting by Marsha Forest of the Center for Integrated Education in Toronto. I heard stories and saw slides of children who had been in segregated settings who were now successfully integrated. I heard how their lives changed, how it affected their families and how they were included in their school and community.
But most of all I saw the physical changes in these children's faces... they didn't look so different any more; some of them didn't even look handicapped any more. You know the old saying - a picture is worth a thousand words - well those pictures were powerful.
I left the meeting with a firmness of belief inside myself that "my daughter will NEVER be in a segregated setting."
I went to every meeting and every workshop I could about integration, because now that I knew what I wanted - I needed to know how to get it.
I went and interviewed principals and teachers in schools in our community and asked them their views on integration. I liked my neighbourhood school's philosophy and I met a principal who was warm and open minded. I decided to register my kids and I began subtly preparing the school for my daughter's arrival.
I was encouraged that the school had already accepted a visually impaired child into the regular classroom. But I didn't see it as challenging as it would be for Mary. This child could walk and talk and was exceptionally bright. I lived in fear that we would be turned down. You see Mary didn't qualify - she had a long list of "she can'ts", "she won'ts" and "she never wills". If she had to prove herself - she wouldn't pass the test.
Then our school welcomed another child with a disability and I was again encouraged and discouraged. Now my fear was that there were too many children with disabilities and Mary would not be allowed to attend. You see I carried some extra baggage from the past, fear, distrust and rejection. But I never gave up on my goal for Mary to be in the kindergarten program at our neighbourhood school, with her brothers and sisters.
When I had my official meeting with the principal concerning Mary's integration he was fully aware of my intentions. I bought a professional person with me who had the same dreams and goals for Mary as I did.
Well, we were accepted. Mary had a wonderful teacher in kindergarten, who openly admitted that she was not sure how to do this the "right way", but she was a sensitive, creative teacher who valued all children. She believed Mary belonged as much as any other child in her class did. The children were wonderful and included Mary so naturally. Mary surprised us and made gains in weeks that we expected would take months. Not everything ran smoothly but we realized it was a process of learning for all of us and we worked together at it. We talked a lot and shared ideas, we celebrated accomplishments and we shed tears together as well.
I started to trust again and began to feel safe. I felt like finally there were some people on my side and it wasn't me against them, but rather us working together as a team.
As the end of the year was approaching and we began to talk about grade one, I was pleased that the principal took the time to carefully consider who would be the best teacher for Mary. I felt overwhelmed when he told me one of the teachers had volunteered to take Mary into her classroom. She felt she had some students in her class who would really benefit by having Mary in the classroom.
I was a little concerned as Mary's brother Terry would also be in this class as a grade two student. Terry had a difficult time in the past dealing with his feelings about Mary. I certainly didn't want to make it any more difficult for him.
Terry came home one day with a puzzled, surprised look on his face and said, "Mom, the kids like Mary". From that day on he has seen his sister in a different light and he feels better about himself. Now he is complaining he never gets a turn to sit with her or push her wheelchair. Somebody is always there first. He feels proud to be Mary's brother.
I know integration is the right choice for my child and for my family. Mary is doing wonderfully. She's making continual gains, she's walking with her walker, she's having success with her toileting and best of all, she feels good about herself. She finally feels safe enough to come out of herself and interact with others. Where she used to shut out the world and everyone in it by closing her eyes, sucking her thumb and pulling her hair, she's now making eye contact and laughing and smiling with children as well as adults.
Best of all Mary has friends. People who care about her, people who visit her, people who want to help her (not people who are paid to help her). Mary has been invited to birthday parties and when her birthday arrived I had almost everyone in the class begging me "please can we come to Mary's party?". Her friends are excited when she does something new and when she has a bad day they do everything they can to make her feel better.
I know that not all teachers or all the parents believe my daughter should be in a classroom with regular kids. What about the other children? Do they suffer because Mary is there, or do they benefit from her presence? I see a little girl in Mary's class who has a low self esteem and great difficulty learning. The teacher has given her the responsibility and prestigious position of being Mary's 'teacher'. This student also receives extra help from the teacher's assistant assigned to help Mary. Another child has trouble following directions and following through on assignments. She works extra hard to earn the privilege of sitting with Mary and being her helper at story time.
Are we teaching these children more than academics? What are they learning about values? Are these children learning to respect the dignity and worth of others? Will they be more tolerant of others with differences when they are adults?
I have been fortunate, I haven't had to fight like some families in order to get an integrated placement for my daughter. I am so thankful for a school that values all children and for the fact that my daughter doesn't have to qualify or pass a test in order to be part of her community school.
We have been a broken family in the past. When one member suffers, we all suffer. When one is rejected we all feel rejected. Thanks to caring people our family is healing now, we feel supported and accepted. For the first time in six years, for lack of a better word, I feel normal again.
There is still fear, fear of losing what has been so good for all of us. I know if Mary couldn't be integrated and be with her friends she would lose her joy and withdraw into her own little world again. I would be devastated. Even when I just think about it I have a heaviness come over me. I have this awful feeling inside me similar to how you would feel if a loved one passed away. So I will do everything in my power to make sure that never happens because I do know my child better than anyone else. I know that integration is the best choice for Mary.
Janet South, a teacher's assistant, shares her story about the practical ways to support a young boy to go to camp with his classmates.
Dean had been integrated into his community school for the past two years. As part of the grade six outdoor education curriculum the students went on a camping trip. Questions around camp and Dean were beginning to be heard . What will he do for the week? Would the teacher assistant go or stay behind with Dean? Would he be able to take part if he did go? Would he cause trouble? The only question Dean and I had was, "When do we leave?"
The teacher was willing to take Dean, the teacher assistant was willing to go and Dean's parents wanted him to go. Most of all Dean wanted to go. The preparation started a few weeks before it was time to go. We talked to Dean about where we would go, what we would take, where he would sleep etc. A lot of this was done with pictures, diagrams and role playing. Dean was getting pretty excited.
Meetings were held between Dean's parents, teacher and teacher assistant to discuss ways to meet Dean's personal needs while at camp.
With nervous stomachs we were off to camp. As soon as possible the tents were put up and some time taken to make sure Dean had his sleeping bag and belongings arranged in his tent with boys he felt comfortable with. It was pointed out to one of his friends that they come and get an adult, if needed, at any time. Dean was assured we would be near by. The first night we were not sure if he would stay in the tent or if he would stay warm. Dean not only stayed in the tent, but slept soundly every night with his group.
During the day he was very busy with many activities. If he could not take part, other activities were planned. An example of this was getting someone to throw a soft ball so he could hit it with the bat. With the extra practice he was able to play ball with the other kids. When the pace was too fast and he needed time to rest, he stayed in camp and was encouraged to communicate with the cook.
The best thing that came out of all this was the interaction of the parent helpers with Dean. One parent was teaching archery and took the time to help Dean become successful at hitting the target with a few arrows. What joy on Dean's face as well as the parents. There was no end to the cheering, teasing and laughing.
The highlight of the camp, came the last night, when all were around the camp fire, drinking hot chocolate and telling spooky stories. Dean watched and listened as everyone told a story. The teacher finally asked for one more story before bed time. Dean suddenly jumped up and gave his version of a story. It didn't seem to matter that we didn't understand all the words, because his body language and voice inflections said it all. When he finished everyone clapped and cheered. Dean was beaming when he sat down. He had really been part of his peer group that night.
This letter was written to a school district to encourage them to accept a student with a developmental disability into their high school.
Dear School District,
My name is Marie Claire and I am writing to you regarding Richard. I have just graduated from High School after three years of involvement in Keith's support group. I am writing to tell you of the enormous progress Keith has made in three years of being immersed with his peers, and hope that you will see why Richard, too, should go to school with kids his own age.
When Keith came to high school in 1987 after being in elementary school for years, most people thought the experience would cause him to move further into his shell. At first, he never spoke, walked with his head down, and never smiled. However, the reason Keith was put into high school was so that he could be immersed with his peers and feel better about himself. Doctors had told us that Keith's maturity was about that of a four-year-old and that he would never be able to do Math or Biology. However, that made no difference because there were many other courses he could take. A support group of kids was formed; kids who would simply say hello to Keith in the hallways and ask him how he was doing so he would feel like he was just like the other students. Eventually, we started going bowling, having parties, or going out to dinner.
Throughout the three years, the change in Keith has been enormous. Not only has he taken typing, gym, cooking, and work experience with other high school kids, but he has become a confident, much more independent person, He walks purposefully, with head up, and says hi to me in the hallways. Even from looking at his grade ten picture, one can see the incredible change in Keith's attitude and appearance.
This is why I think it is important for you to consider Richard for the school system. I think being involved with peers would make him much happier and if Keith can do it, obviously Richard can too. If you can, try to see Keith's school pictures. The difference is amazing. I hope this letter has not been too long, but I think it is extremely important to let kids like Richard and Keith have an equal chance to meet kids their own age. As someone who has witnessed the changes in Keith over three years first hand, I felt it was important to write to you. I hope my efforts have the right impact.
Sincerely, Marie Claire
The following is from a presentation Klaus Puhlman gave at The Yellowhead Academy in the summer of 1991.
In my opinion, it is quite clear that if schools are to become inclusive schools a number of things need to happen: