When many people imagine special education, they think of a separate classroom containing all manner of students who struggle to learn in a traditional setting. Yet, research has found that segregating students with special needs into their own learning space is actually detrimental for their social, emotional and intellectual development. Most education experts strongly advocate for inclusive learning, which means combining general students and students with disabilities in the same room.
Fortunately, inclusive learning is increasing in popularity across school districts. According to the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics, 60 percent of students with disabilities spend 80 percent of their school day in general education classrooms. Yet, as the need for special education classrooms begins to decline, how should special educators respond to their new roles in inclusive classrooms?
Work With General Education Instructors
Inclusive classrooms are not only novel and challenging for special educators; general educators are also typically uncertain how to seamlessly integrate students with special needs and special education instructors into their classes without causing significant disruption. SpEd and GenEd teachers need to work together to create a learning environment that is beneficial to all students, which means sharing information about students, sharing classroom resources and functioning as a team when working with school administrators. It might be useful for SpEd and GenEd instructors to meet often for discussions regarding lesson plans, student progress and more. As inclusive classrooms become more commonplace, GenEd teachers might consider pursuing a Master’s in Special Education to ensure they are properly addressing the needs of all their students.
Design Inclusive Classroom Curriculum
In inclusive classrooms, the curricula must address the needs of both general education and special education students. Unfortunately, most inclusive classrooms have curricula designed by GenEd teachers for GenEd students, which can cause students with disabilities to struggle. SpEd teachers should be responsible for reviewing proposed curricula and making modifications that will improve outcomes for students with special needs. SpEd teachers can also work with GenEd instructors to develop lesson plans and introduce supplemental materials that will help students with disabilities succeed.
Assist With Classroom Instruction
There are two models for inclusive classrooms: the co-teaching model and the push-in model. The co-teaching model requires all classrooms to have two instructors present, a GenEd teacher and a SpEd teacher, all day every day. Meanwhile, the push-in model allows SpEd teachers to provide lessons at certain times throughout the day, sometimes to students with special needs only and sometimes to the entire inclusive classroom. In either case, special educators will be intensely involved with their students, sitting with them, providing special instructions and monitoring their progress.
Conduct Learning Assessments of SpEd Students
Research has shown that inclusive classrooms tend to offer better outcomes for students with disabilities — but only if SpEd teachers are working hard to evaluate student progress and provide the instruction students need to excel. Special educators should use tools to assess different factors that can impact student performance, from typical academic grades to surveys to individual IEP meetings with students, family and fellow staff members. In particular, SpEd instructors should be concerned with student confidence as well as the degree of support students experience in the inclusive environment. Students who continue to struggle in inclusive classrooms might require more attention from instructors and paraprofessionals inside and outside the classroom.
Advocate for SpEd Students in Administration
Perhaps the most important role for special education instructors — in inclusive classrooms or not — is to serve as advocates for their students. Students with disabilities desperately need advocates who are able to competently and passionately support them within the education system. Special educators must work to ensure that school administrators understand the value of including students with special needs in general education classrooms, and they might pursue inclusion-focused professional development activities for the rest of the teaching staff. Additionally, SpEd teachers must advocate for students with their parents, helping families create home environment advantageous to health and growth.
Not many special educators working today entered the field expecting to spend most of their time in general education classrooms, so the rise of inclusive classrooms has many experienced SpEd instructors uncertain how to proceed. By working closely with general educators and focusing on the wellness and performance of their students, SpEd teachers can thrive in inclusive classrooms.