In This Episode of School of Talk
If you’re an educator, you are likely used to teaching a diverse group of learners. You probably have students with different backgrounds, interests, talents, and skillsets. You also likely have students with varying physical, developmental, emotional, and sensory needs.
But how can one teacher support a large group of learners? How can we ensure we’re meeting each student’s needs and creating an inclusive space where all students have the opportunity to learn? How do we do all of this without working astronomically long hours to create multiple activities?
Well, today’s episode features Educational Inclusion Specialist, Shelley Moore. Shelley is a highly sought-after teacher, storyteller, researcher, and consultant. She has worked with school districts and community organizations throughout both Canada and the United States. You may know her from her Ted Talk, Under the Table – The Importance of Presuming Competence, or her video series, 5 Moore Minutes, which offers resources, research, professional development activities, and inspiration in 5-minute chunks!
Shelley’s research and work have been featured at national and international conferences and are constructed based on theory and effective practices of inclusion, special education, curriculum, and teacher professional development.
Today, Shelley joined the School of Talk podcast to discuss inclusive education and teaching to all learners.
What Does It Mean To Be In An Inclusive Classroom?
In today’s episode, you’ll learn…
- The most important thing educators need to know about inclusive education.
- The greatest barrier facing inclusive education and how to reframe your thinking to overcome this barrier.
- How to adapt lessons for all learners, without getting burnt out.
- What an inclusive lesson looks like in practice, and how it benefits all learners (from a real Grade 9 English classroom!)
- How school leaders can work to create more inclusive learning environments by incorporating collaborative learning, planning, or teaching opportunities into the fabric of the school
THANK YOU TO OUR SCHOOL OF TALK SPONSOR!
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Michelle: If you’re an educator, you’re likely used to teaching a diverse group of learners. You probably have students with different backgrounds, interests, talents, and skill sets. You also likely have students with varying physical, developmental, emotional and sensory needs. But how can one teacher support such a large group of learners? How can we ensure we’re meeting each student’s needs and creating an inclusive space where all students have the opportunity to learn? How do we do all of this without working astronomically long hours to create multiple activities? Well, today’s episode features educational inclusion specialist Shelley Moore.
Shelly is a highly sought after teacher, storyteller, researcher and consultant. She has worked with school districts and community organizations throughout both Canada and the US. Today, Shelley joined the School of Talk podcast to discuss inclusive education and teaching for all learners.
Thank you so much for being here with me today. Shelley, I’m so excited to talk to you. I have actually followed your social platforms for quite some time. So I’m fangirling? A little bit.
Shelley: No, I’m so happy to be here. This is awesome.
Michelle: Thank you for all you do. I was wondering if we could just start off with a little bit about you. Maybe you could tell me a little bit about how you got into teaching. Why you became a teacher? Just a little bit about your background?
Shelley: So I grew up in Alberta, Canada. And I just like, didn’t have a really great schooling experience. I mean, there was like pockets of good years. But just overall, it was never really a place that I felt super successful. And so I just kind of, you know, trials and tribulations.
When I was trying to figure out what to do with myself as an adult, I’m just like, I’m going to be a teacher and blow it up, blow education up, because it’s not working for enough kids. I was thinking about this yesterday. I’m almost like 20 years in, which does just feels wild to me, because I feel like I’m still 25. It goes really fast. And I’m currently working on my PhD. And kind of finished that calculation. We’re just working with schools and districts around the world trying to figure out this inclusion question, because it’s a big one.
Michelle: And that brings me to my next question for you. Inclusion, I know that that’s a topic that you’re particularly passionate about. Can you tell us a little bit about what is inclusive education?
Inclusion means everyone is with their peers all the time, like, I mean, there’s so many philosophical- but when you kind of get to the practical implications of inclusion, it can look very different from student to student and school to school.
My definition has evolved over time, if you were to ask me again, in a year, it might change. But today, what my definition of inclusion is, is that all students have opportunity to learn alongside their peers and community-based schools. But also understanding that sometimes the infrastructure isn’t in place for kids to be successful.
I think it’s a very careful balance of making sure everyone has opportunity, but also not forcing kids into places they don’t want to be. I always kind of, at the end of the day, think like, how are we increasing places where students feel like they belong, you know, and so if they feel successful in one place, let’s start there.
But we have to increase those places to as many as many different contexts as possible. And so, as an educator and as school systems, you know, we have to make sure those opportunities are there so that students and families have more choices around what education looks like for them without just them being forced around into these situations that are very frustrating for kids and for families where, you know, inclusion… The dream is there, but the reality it’s not. It’s not in place. And so I think, you know, depending on who you ask that, that question is very different. But at the end of this, honestly, I think it’s about every kid needs opportunities to learn and access curriculum with their peers every day.
Michelle: I think that is a very beautiful way of summarizing it in a simple way for all of us to understand and empathize with. We all deserve opportunities to learn and grow and develop. Where would you say a good place for teachers to start with inclusive education would be?
The most important thing educators need to know about inclusive education. How can teachers be more inclusive?
Shelley: I think the most important step for inclusive education is to believe that it’s possible. I think probably the biggest barrier that I come across in educators is the dreaded response I always get, it’s just, they’re not, they’re not going to get anything out of this right, talking about often kids with intellectual disabilities and exposing them and giving them opportunities for curriculum and this kind of belief that they can’t do it. It’s that sense of presuming competence, or potential, which is the easiest and the hardest barrier to overcome. It’s the easiest, because it’s cost nothing, it requires zero resources to believe that it’s possible, and to give students the benefit of the doubt that they’re going to learn something.
Um, but it’s the hardest because you can’t force someone to think that you can’t, you can’t force someone to believe that it’s possible. And, you know, I just, it’s, it’s, it’s very, it’s very hard. And so I think if you can believe that it’s possible, trust the process a little bit.
I’ve worked K to 12, in many, many academic courses, anything can be made accessible. And I think once we realize that, you realize that the barrier to inclusion is not kids’ capability levels, but it’s our inability to make things accessible.
The greatest barrier facing inclusive education and how to overcome it by reframing your thinking
Michelle: Wow, that’s incredible. I love that. And when you’re saying you’re talking about making things more accessible, does it mean that inclusive education is going to be more work for teachers? Does that mean that we have to do double the work to adjust things for every student?
Shelley: I think that I understand why people think that because all of us grew up in a system where the goal was to make everyone the same.
All of us said, right, we were taught we grew up in a system, we were taught to teach in a system, where everyone needs to learn the same thing in the same way in the same amount of time, with the same level of complexity.
But I think once we realize that, that’s no longer really the goal… I mean, I mean, standardization, will play a role depending on where you are. But there’s very, very few places where the heavy hammer of standardization is the only stake.
So if we can clearly balance and kind of shift from standardization to standard spaced learning, and standard based goals, you realize that that curricular goals are designed to be conceptual and accessible. And so it’s not necessarily doing more work. Because I mean, like, when I first started teaching, and I’m like, Look at all these students with disabilities, like, how are we going to meet their individual needs, but I always kind of think instead of looking at how do we design Individual Education Plans for every kid, which is impossible, it’s, you know, where can we all start? Where is a place where we can all start to be successful?
The barrier to inclusion is not kids’ capability levels, it’s our inability to make things accessible.
It’s so much easier to add on complexity than it is to take it away. And so you know, thinking about teaching on a continuum instead of on a benchmark and thinking, Okay, so where do I need to start where everyone is successful. And often, if you think about that one student who needs the most support, they’re not the only one that need the access. And so you end up catching more kids. And that’s kind of the heart of Universal Design for Learning. Right.
So like, I understand why people think it’s more work. But when you learn how to do it, and you see what’s possible, you realize it’s actually, I think it’s easier. It’s different work than we know. And so, that’s my slogan, it’s not more work, it’s different work! But you know, and I think it’s okay that people don’t know what to do. But it’s, it’s no longer it’s no longer okay to not do anything about it, I think is the place where we’re at in a lot of in a lot of equity conversations. It’s okay to not know, but it’s time to shift. It’s time to move.
Michelle: Right? And I think that’s what I’m hearing from you is a little bit of shifting, first shifting your mindset. Then it’s shifting how we look at things. It’s like flipping this idea of how we plan and how we prepare our lessons. So instead of starting with, this is the activity and this is how I’m going to change it for this child and this child. It’s this is like the concept that we’re trying to grasp, where can we all enter? And then how can I layer it to make it more challenging in different ways for different students.
Shelley: Michelle, that’s it. You got it. Perfect.
How do you promote an inclusive environment in the classroom?
Michelle: Do you have an example maybe of a teacher or an activity that you’ve seen that was done like really well in this way?
Shelley: I know exactly what to share with you.
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Shelley: I was observing a classroom, grade nine English where people say it’s not possible I’m gonna tell you what happened. So this, the lesson that I was observing was this teacher was kicking off a unit around memoir writing, students had to like really like dig into a memory and, and write about it. And they were having a hard time thinking about memories, because they’re teenagers, you know, teenagers are just like, I’m hungry. And there’s, there was a little guy in this class, who has autism, and communicates with an augmentative communication device. And so you can you can sit here and say, Oh, well, he can’t do this. He can’t write. He can’t talk. All the things he can’t do. But what the teacher did that was different. Was she asked the other question, what can he do? And this, this student could do a lot.
So what she did was, she took this idea of memoir writing, and she’s the key, what’s the essence here with the concept? What do I want all the kids to be able to do? And what she realized was that, you know, memories are really evoked by our senses. And so she created something called memory lane, as this kickoff to this unit, which was she Googled things that were popular in like the first five years of these kids’ life.
So like, TV or cartoons that they that they would have watched, when they were young, fashion, music, all of these things. And so the kids went through all the kids went through all of these different sensory stations, she brought in cinnamon to evoke memories of food and baking, it was incredible.
So like, so all these kids are walking through and they’re having a blast, right? Because everything is based on sights and sounds and movement and, and, and sense of smell and touch.
She had like flannel, like a flannel baby blanket for them to hold. And it just was it was incredible. And I asked the students afterwards just typical like students with and without disabilities, like how, how was that lesson for you?
And they’re like, one student was just like, that was a lesson I thought we were playing a game. And I’m like, Well, why do you say that? They’re like, well, because it was fun. It wasn’t hard. And I’m like, Well, did it help you is my question, you know, because you had to come up with a memory.
He’s like, Oh, yeah, no, I had like, five memories after going through that sensory, sensory walk. And then the student with autism, was able to participate in all of that completely independently, right? Because those are the things that he had strengths and he can, he can see, he could smell, he can feel, he can listen. He loved the music station because those were those would have been his, his childhood memories as well. But because he was able to independently, he was able to do that with his peers, and then his peers started interacting with him and asking him about his memories and we had contacted his family had a time to come up with a memory that we knew he was he really loved it. And so at the end of the sensory station, he had a couple of choices in terms of memories in his life, and he picked a family vacation to Hawaii. Because the teacher had the scent of kids sunscreen.
Like, you know, these kids are in grade nine. And you know, a lot of people are just like, oh, well, you know, you don’t want to simplify it too much. And I’m like, You know what, that wasn’t simple. That was, it was it was bigger. It was, they were big ideas.
They were connecting to that concept of what what, what is a memory? And why is that? Why would you want to write about that not just, here’s a task, pick a memory, right? Like, it just made it really real for all of the kids. But you know that lesson was, was like explicitly designed for that student with autism. And everyone started there, it wasn’t an adaptation, it wasn’t modification, like everyone started there and actually helped everyone. And that he was a part of sharing a memory, just like everybody else.
He used his communication device, but he talked about senses, which is what she was trying to get all of the students to do.
And so I just like, I remember, just watching that lesson and being like this, it’s it’s masterful, like it’s, it’s art, when you see it, and you see it, you can’t unsee it, you can see the possibility of that. And she wasn’t trying to change who he was as a person, wasn’t trying to fix some deficit area, it was building on what he could do.
Michelle: I love that. And, you know, I’m also hearing this as a place where every student was engaged. It sounds like there was probably no classroom management, you know, needed because these kids were loving it. They didn’t even know that they were doing a lesson.
Shelley: Yeah, exactly. They managed each other. They were up out of their desks, they were moving around, they were able to connect. And, you know, we think about like the strengths of adolescence, like that’s what it is movement, and community and connection. And so, you know, it wasn’t just what this student with autism could do. It was all of their strengths. And interests were harnessed in that lesson. It just was like this is it. This is what we’re trying to do.
What an inclusive lesson looks like in practice, and how it benefits all learners (from a real Grade 9 English classroom!)
Michelle: Thank you for sharing that that’s a perfectly it gives me such a good grasp on, you know, what does this look like in practice?
What would you say that school leaders should know about inclusive education? Like how do we make our schools more inclusive from the top?
Shelley: I think that’s a really good question. I think that there’s a misunderstanding that teachers can do this by themselves. Inclusion is not an I model. It’s a we model. It relies on collaborative expertise of multiple perspectives. And like there’s I’ve never met a teacher who knows everything, who has the expertise of every need, and her in their classroom, his or her, or their classroom.
As an administrator, or an inclusive leader, I think it’s really, really important that if we want this to happen, we have to make it look easier than what’s already happening, which means we have to great opportunities as a part of the culture of the school, where teachers work together, where support teachers and classroom teachers come together during the day, not on their lunchtime, not after school, where, you know, it’s part of the structure of the building, where they have opportunities to connect over time, to anticipate needs to be able to plan lessons on the go.
“We’re working in a system that wasn’t designed to be inclusive.”
And also giving teachers choice in terms of what collaboration looks like, not all teachers want to co-teach. Some teachers want to co-plan. Some teachers want some co-reflection and some consultation. So I always kind of think, you know, as a support teacher, one of the probably the most powerful advice that I was given was just like kids, you want to meet teachers where they’re at as well. And so giving classroom teachers an option of, what does support look like for you? Does it look like you know, you know, and some teachers will choose co-teaching, and some teachers will choose co-planning and some teachers will choose station teaching and understanding that there’s, there’s different ways to do this.
The more that we give teachers choice, just like kids, the more they’re going to engage as well.
The other thing that I think is important for school leaders to know is that as a special education teacher, it was important that I was free. Like I didn’t, I wasn’t enrolling, I didn’t have students in my classroom for the whole day. And so like there was still a time where I had students but like of our seven blocks, I had students enrolled in a class for one of those and the rest I was out in the building and so a lot of trust, a lot of trust for teachers to connect and use times in different ways to the space to be innovative, right, like we’re working in a system that wasn’t designed to be inclusive.
So we’re gonna have to have space for creativity and innovation and, and trust to use that time in meaningful ways depending on who we’re working with.
Michelle: Yeah, that’s a common message that I hear from teachers. It’s, you know, asking for that, that trust to be able to share I’d like from our experiences what we need, with, you know, the decision makers.
Shelley: Oh, it’s huge. Yeah, it’s huge. And, you know, I always think when if there’s ever pushback from an educator, it’s, I think, you know, it’s same as kids, right?
Like, people push back when they don’t know what to do. And they push back when they don’t feel like they have a voice or a stake in the conversation and they push back when they’re, when they don’t understand.
And so I think it took me a long time to realize that I thought for a long time, teachers were staging a coup against inclusion, that they just didn’t believe it. But you know, over time, I’m like, if I could give myself go back in time, 20 years, and give myself advice. And it’s like, you know, it’s very rare that people don’t believe in this philosophically, it’s how do we support them practically, which is really where the conversation is, is needed.
Michelle: I love that. Thank you for sharing. And just to be mindful of your time, I know we’re almost out of time here. Is there a message or an idea or recommendation that you could leave us with?
Shelley: Yes, this one, I always get in trouble because I get into Twitter fights about this one.
How school leaders can work to create more inclusive learning environments by weaving collaborative learning, planning, or teaching opportunities into the fabric of the school
I think, I think and I and again, like I understand why this happens. But I think we talked a little bit about the misunderstanding around like that educators, classroom teachers have to do this by themselves. Like that’s something that needs to be like debunked.
I think the other one that we really need to talk about is the use of resources. There’s a I mean, of course, inclusion needs resources, like without a doubt. And when I say resources, I mean, people funding in time. Right, like, we need resources, for sure.
But I think that in most places that I’ve that I’ve visited and worked with, there’s also a lot of resources that are being used to counteract inclusive efforts. And so I think if we kind of really look at how to use resources in optimal ways to say how do we support inclusion at every kind of like, infrastructural level, whether that’s the student, the classroom, the school, the district, the, you know, the jurisdiction, say, Okay, what resources are not being used to support inclusion, and how do we reallocate, redistribute and support some of those, some of those contexts to shift.
At the other side, I also think that one of the number one requests I hear for inclusion to be possible is that I need an EA or I need a para. Absolutely, we need EAs and paras, but often they’re seen as the solution to the inclusion problem.
I’ll walk into a classroom that has four EAs, and four kids with disabilities, and that’s actually not … our educational system actually is counteracting the goals of inclusion. And so as much as I think, you know, EAs are such a critical part of the conversation of inclusion, they themselves are not the support, they’re a resource.
So people are only going to be as useful as the plan that’s put into place. And if we start looking at our support staff, as plans for the community, instead of a plan for one kid, I think that we’re going to reduce a lot of the barriers that kids are having in terms of anxiety in terms of challenging behavior, as to be just working with an adult on the side is very isolating, as opposed to, how do I work with and be a part of this community that absolutely has an EA, but you know, that EA is not assigned to a student in that one to one way and so in, especially parents, because they’ve been taught that’s what to advocate for is an EA. It’s actually detrimental to students.
And so I think, you know, if I were just to give a piece of advice, it would be if you have if you have a child, or a student in your class with a disability, advocate for the class, you know, what you would ask for one person, ask for the whole class.
So if you have if you want an EA, so how do I get my class to have an EA not? How do I get the student to have any EA, because it becomes more of a parenting model instead of a dividing and conquering model. Because students do not feel included when it’s a divide and conquer model. And so using resources in ways that support community instead of supporting individual needs, because it’s just it’s not good for kids.
Michelle: Thank you. That is such an important shift and one that I myself I’ll admit, like never considered, you know, being a teacher I had EAs in my class and you know, there was-
Shelley: You don’t need them as understanding we need them. But I think we put them in really unfair situations sometimes-
Michelle: -focusing on the one child rather than how can we as a team, support this class?
Shelley: Exactly. You got it, Michelle.
Michelle: Thank you again to Shelley Moore for joining us on the podcast today. If you’d like to know more about Shelley or grab some of her free resources, we will include all of her links in the show notes of today’s episode.
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