An Intellectual Tool to Support developmental dialogues between mainstream and special schools.
The below outlined ’10 Habits of Inclusive Teachers’ is a work-in-progress, currently being refined through iteration. The vision for these ’10 Habits’ is to offer an intellectual tool for teachers and school leaders, to support developmental dialogues, observation, reflection, and planning.
The ’10 Habits’ intentionally avoid being yet another contribution to the “deluge of Do-It-Yourself manuals (which) entices educators to enshew analysis” (Slee, 2013: 896). They are instead a resource to enable analysis, and the level of reflection considered to be necessary to evaluating whether or not we are doing our very best for each pupil.
Rather than provide a set of strategies which “work” to meet particular needs in the classroom, or address particular diagnoses, the ’10 habits’ are based on a recognition that “what works” in each unique learning situation is very much contingent on a range of contextual variables: Quite often, the exact same approach can be “inclusive” or “exclusive” depending on where it is located, and the particular individuals involved. This was explored when putting together the first draft of the ’10 Habits’, with one contributor citing a lesson they had recently observed in a primary school where a pupil was working 1:1 with a teaching assistant, in a corner of the classroom, away from the rest of the class. Although this goes against working definitions of Inclusive Pedagogy and high profile UK-research into how teaching assistants can have an adverse impact if not deployed effectively (ref Blatchford et al, 2011) this was ironically the most “inclusive” part of the lesson as the pupil did have opportunities to feed his learning into what everyone was doing; In contrast, during a later part of the lesson, the same pupil appeared to be “included” in story time, sitting at the carpet with the rest of the learners, yet was in reality just “sat there”, disconnected and disengaged from what was going on. Sometimes what “looks” inclusive may in fact be the total opposite.
Habit One: They view ALL pupils as their responsibility
Across the literature, being an Inclusive Teacher seems to start with “owning” the professional responsibility for all pupils within a classroom. An Inclusive Teacher does not deny that it is their role to work with individual learners with complex and challenging needs or claim that they are unable to improve outcomes for a learner because they are “not the SENDCO”. Rather than insist that they have “not been trained” (for example) to have a learner with a particular medical condition in the class, they have an “inclusion ethic” and a desire to work with all.
Habit Two: They see the challenges that pupils present as a learning opportunity
Florian (2014) found that Inclusive Pedagogy in classrooms involves teachers having a “sense of efficacy”: a positive attitude and commitment to active problem solving, to enhance teaching and learning for all pupils. Inclusive teachers would avoid imagined notions of a “perfectly behaved and high attaining class” and associate them with professional apathy and stagnation: It is the actual reality of diverse classes, and all the dilemmas they bring, that make us better practitioners; The least inclusive teachers tend to be those that consider the behaviour and needs of some pupils as nuisances that are “stopping” them from doing their job. Inclusive teachers however, see working with any challenges that pupils present with as their job. In fact, Inclusive Teachers embrace the complexity within their classrooms, and the opportunities for personal and professional growth which they bring.
Habit Three: They situate themselves as a learner of their own pupils
In research into Inclusive Pedagogy, Florian and Beaton (2018) use Pryor and Crossouard’s (2008) distinction between ‘convergent’ assessment-for-learning and ‘divergent’ ‘assessment-for-learning’. Whereas “convergent” assessment-for-learning is usually very closed (eg: whole class, in a Science lesson, holding up mini-whiteboards saying what colour the solution turns if proteins are present) “divergent” assessment-for-learning is more open (eg: “think-pair-share” dialogues with learners in which they individually reflect on what would happen to the solution with the contents of their lunch, talk with a partner, and then feed back to the whole class).
When teachers use more “divergent” assessment-for-learning practices therefore, they encounter responses from pupils which they could not have possibly anticipated. Inclusive teachers tend to be those that reduce the degree of predictability in their classrooms and are open to unlocking new insights into their learners, that they did not know before. When planning lessons, Inclusive Teachers think beyond knowledge transfer. Multiple activities are explicitly planned to enable them to have a fuller knowledge and understanding of their pupils: what they understand and already know, where their motivation resides, what misunderstandings or preconceptions they hold, and their particular barriers to learning.
Habit Four: They avoid “most/some” planning
Florian and Linklater (2010) contrast Inclusive Pedagogy with an “additional needs” approach to teaching and learning. This “additional needs” approach assumes that “most” pupils in the classroom can access the same core activity and that differentiated tasks may be required for “some”. According to the seminal ‘Learning without Limits’ study (Hart, Dixon, Drummond & McIntyre, 2004)the most inclusive classroom practices are based on a rejection of this “bell curve view” of human ability: the view that most pupils are broadly within the same “mid” ability range, and that small numbers may be outside of this range, either because they are “low ability” or because they have been identified as “gifted and talented”. Inclusive Teachers therefore tend to avoid an over-reliance on learning outcomes to be identified for “some”, “most” and “all”. They view learners as individuals rather than as part of a perceived homogenous category. Teaching and learning activities are often open, and can
be responded to in a variety of ways, removing any ceiling on pupil achievement.
Habit Five: They have faith in their learners
Inclusive Teachers view children and young people in a positive way. They assume that all pupils are motivated to learn, and will learn, if the right conditions are in place for them to do so.
In a study by Florian and Linklater (2010) pupils are given a choice of three alternative tasks, allowing them to respond at a range of different levels. Teachers do not avoid giving pupils this “work choice” out of a fear that they would gravitate towards the task which they can do most easily and quickly. They believe that all pupils want to be the best they can be, and build a positive classroom culture accordingly.
Habit Six: They focus on teaching the child, rather than the curriculum/accreditation.
A shift in emphasis away from being a teacher of a subject, to a teacher of a child or young person may appear very subtle yet can potentially be very powerful. It frames the job of the teacher away from that of transferring a body of subject knowledge, to that of nurturing individuals to work confidently with both knowledge and skills. It also suggests that “work” in schools could be centred less around an abstract pre-preparation of learning materials, towards situated formative assessment processes through which teachers interact with reallife points of learning.
When “teaching the child rather than the curriculum” inclusive teachers (in my experience) may also feel more comfortable with having pupils following different courses and being on different study programmes all learning together in the same room. In explaining this, one of the two colleagues that I worked with on developing the ’10 Habits’ gave the example of a young man with a diagnosis of autism and with a passion for History; The multiple barriers to him accessing the GCSE History exam paper were insurmountable and an applied lifeskills programme taught by a Teaching Assistant was suggested as an alternative; A decision was then made for this pupil to be in the GCSE History group, to follow all the topics and complete the work, but be assessed through a more accessible qualification, and through opportunities to present his project work to the rest of the class; The pupil thrived in this environment, enjoyed a strong relationship with his teacher (with whom he had a shared love of History) and was able to enhance the learning of his peers. In this example, the History teacher was not seeing himself as merely a teacher of the GCSE, but as a teacher of young people. Similarly, in the special school where I currently work, pupils in Years 10 and 11 (14-16 years old) may be in the same sessions, working on the same projects, but formally assessed through a range of different certifications or qualifications. With this, the summative assessment (the qualification) is not dominating the learning process. Individual needs are instead dominant and the formal, summative assessment is there to capture the associated outcomes.
Habit Seven: They plan and prepare for surprise
Teaching that is not inclusive tends to assume a degree of predictability: Learning intentions are set, which pupils follow and “meet”. Tasks are devised to enable pupils to indicate that they have “met” these learning intentions. The teacher then moves on to teach the next lesson (and on it goes…) In my own professional experience, inclusive teaching and learning is an adventure in the unknown. Pupils respond in a multiplicity of unique and wonderful ways, including ways in which the teacher could not have possibly anticipated. In turn, the teacher is themselves a learner of their own pupils. Through effective formative assessment in the classroom, they
gain a deeper knowledge of the range of ways in which something can be understood and increase the range of approaches they have for securing quality learning outcomes for all.
Habit Eight: They view pupil behaviour developmentally
Any disruptive or challenging behaviours therefore, reflect priority needs to be addressed, rather than any disposition towards “laziness” or “defiance”. Inclusive Teachers also consider the developmental stage of learners when interpreting how learners behave: Getting upset when not winning a game, for example, may reflect that a pupil genuinely needs support to handle loosing; giggling during a lesson may reflect vulnerability to peer pressure, nervousness and/or difficulties with self-regulation.
Habit Nine: They are committed to continual professional learning
Whilst being open to specialist pedagogies, developed for pupils with particular special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), Inclusive Teachers are able to select and/or reject them in relation to the unique profiles of each individual. They may speak with a SENDCO for example, around strategies to support pupils on the autism spectrum, yet appreciate that there will be pupils without a diagnosis of autism who would also benefit from them and/or pupils with a diagnosis who need something more bespoke or nuanced. Inclusive Teachers are able to use their own professional judgement to personalise learning for all and are therefore committed to continual professional learning, through which this judgement can adapt to new situations and be refined. Inclusive Teachers will draw upon “experts” in SEND and engage with specialist approaches such as ‘Attention Autism’, yet interact with learner responses in the classroom, as the ultimate basis upon which to refine classroom strategies.
Under the UK SEND Code of Practice (UK Gov, 2014) the term ‘graduated approach’ refers to the successive cycles of assess/plan/do/review which underpin ‘quality first’ teaching. Each time the cycle is followed, effective strategies are established for meeting the needs of pupils identified as being ‘SEND Support’: having more moderate and lower incidence special educational needs and/or disabilities that are not seen to require an Education, Health and Care Plan. Through the ‘graduated approach’, teaching leads the development of individualised provision, rather than more abstract models related to particular conditions.
Habit Ten: They take risks
Logically, inclusive classroom practice is contingent on teachers who are brave enough to give things a try, without knowing what will happen. Rather than “play it safe” (for example, by keeping learners sat at their usual tables or completing familiar differentiated activities) an authentically inclusive teacher is required to take risks, and then learn from what happens as a result. By doing this, they are able to maximise the extent to which learners surprise them, rethink any assumptions they hold about an individual’s level of ability, and remove any ceilings to what can possibly be achieved by particular pupils. For this to happen, inclusive teachers need to think beyond daily classroom survival; They need to prepare for things to “go wrong” some of the time and feel comfortable with a degree of chaos and uncertainty. In a study by Florian and Linklater (2010) there are numerous rich examples of trainee teachers taking risks, in order to deliver inclusive pedagogy when on their school
placements. Despite being “nervous about taking it further” one trainee teacher for example, decided to only speak in French to pupils in her Modern Foreign Language lesson, even though they were all in their first year; Rather than alienate the pupils, they rose to this challenged (and showed great maturity when she used a French phrase which sounded like a rude word!); The trainee teacher reflected that it “is such a missed opportunity if you don’t try and do it, if you’re too scared”.