Becoming a Great Inclusive Educator

by Scot Danforth (Volume editor)
©2014 Textbook VIII, 346 Pages
Series: Disability Studies in Education, Volume 16


Inclusive education continues to grow in popularity and acceptance in the United States. However, most teachers – general and special educators – are poorly prepared to be successful in inclusive classrooms and schools. Undoubtedly, the challenge to professionals involves the acquisition of new knowledge and skills. But inclusion requires far more. It calls upon educators to trouble everything they think they know about disability, to question their deepest ethical commitments, to take up the work of the Disability Rights Movement in the public schools, and to leap headlong into the deepest waters of the rich craft tradition of inclusive teaching. This book offers educators the guidance and resources to become great inclusive educators by engaging in a powerful process of personal and professional transformation.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Chapter 1: Introduction: Transformation
  • Then It All Changed
  • Inclusion Rising
  • A Wholly Different Expertise?
  • Teaching Against the Grain
  • Transformation
  • Becoming a Successful Inclusive Educator
  • Beginning with Deep Humility
  • Understanding the Purpose of Inclusion
  • Cultivating the Ethical Commitments of Inclusion
  • Steeping Yourself in the Tradition of Inclusive Practice
  • Part One: Foundations of Successful Inclusion
  • Chapter 2: Knowing Disability
  • A Cup of Coffee
  • The Politics of Access
  • A Sign in the Window
  • A Magnificent Urban School
  • Another Magnificent Urban School
  • A Magnificent Border Town School
  • Contradictions
  • Knowing What We Don’t Know
  • Ideology of Ability
  • Disability Lessons
  • Chapter 3: Teaching for the Disability Rights Movement
  • Teaching for a Just Society
  • Contributing to the Collective Consciousness
  • Before the Disability Rights Movement: The League of the Physically Handicapped
  • Deinstitutionalization of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities
  • Winning the Greatest Law: Section 504
  • “Charting a new way of life”: Independent Living Movement
  • Winning the Greatest Law, Part 2: The Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Work to Be Done
  • Note
  • Chapter 4: What Is Best in the American Dream
  • Against the Grain of Inequality
  • John Dewey’s Vision of a Democratic Community
  • John Dewey’s Concept of Moral Equality
  • The Social Model of Disability
  • Nel Nodding’s Ethic of Caring
  • Let the Prunes Sing
  • Part Two: The Living Tradition of Inclusive Education Practice
  • The Heart of Successful Inclusive Teaching
  • Chapter 5: Collaboration and Co-teaching
  • One Teach, One Observe
  • One Teach, One Drift
  • Parallel Teaching
  • Station Teaching
  • Alternative Teaching
  • Team Teaching
  • Suggestions and Advice
  • Chapter 6: Friendships in the Classroom
  • Suggestions and Advice
  • Chapter 7: Partnerships with Parents and Families
  • Suggestions and Advice
  • Chapter 8: Encouraging Positive Behavior
  • Suggestions and Advice
  • Classroom Meeting Basics
  • Structured Meeting Process
  • Check in-Check out Basics
  • Sample Check in-Check Out Behavior Rating Sheet
  • Collaborative Problem Solving
  • Chapter 9: Differentiated Instruction
  • Mistaken Ideas
  • Corrected Ideas
  • Chapter 10: School Reform
  • Part Three: Narratives of Inclusive Education Struggle and Success
  • Chapter 11: A Journey into Inclusive Education
  • The Medical Journey
  • Separate Is Not Equal
  • Decision Making
  • The Turning Point
  • Gabby’s Success
  • What It Means to Be Human
  • Chapter 12: It Takes a Whole School
  • Chapter 13: Using Numbers and Narrative to Support Inclusive Schooling
  • The School
  • Year 1
  • Creating “Buy-in”
  • Inclusion Is Great … and, Oh Yeah, It’s the Law!
  • Summer Between Year 1 and Year 2
  • Year 2 and Beyond
  • State Test Scores and “Getting Out” of Program Improvement
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • Chapter 14: “It’s always about the kids, not us”: Successful Elementary Co-teaching
  • Co-teaching
  • A Model of Inclusive Co-teaching
  • “Surprisingly, we did not have any difficulties”
  • “We approached the job with openness and interest”
  • “They were all our students”
  • Including Crosby: A Success Story
  • Reflections on Successful Co-teaching
  • Note
  • Chapter 15: Spilt Milk Counts: Belonging and Moving on Down the Hall
  • Chapter 16: Inclusive Education: A Messy and Liberating Venture
  • A Commitment to the Messiness of Inclusive Schooling
  • A Reliance on a Capacity-Building Perspective
  • A Belief in the Human Contribution of Each Individual
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 17: “I don’t have a special world for her to live in. She has to adapt to this one.” On Becoming a Renaissance Middle Schooler
  • Introducing Kim: A Renaissance Middle Schooler
  • “I don’t have a special world for her to live in. She has to adapt to this one.”
  • Inclusive Pedagogies and Rigorous Curriculum
  • Discussion: The Role of Social Class in Cultivating a Renaissance Middle Schooler
  • Notes
  • Chapter 18: Including Talia: A Mother’s Tale
  • Chapter 19: Respecting and Reaching All Learners in English Language Arts Classes: A Glimpse into a New York City High School
  • Introduction: Contextualizing Inclusion in New York City
  • Fran and Her Class
  • Ten Effective Practices to Support Inclusion
  • Spotlight on Steven
  • Sarah and Her Class
  • Good Practices
  • Spotlight on a Student: Miguel
  • Concluding Thoughts
  • Chapter 20: What 20+ Years of Secondary Inclusion Has Taught Us
  • Chapter 21: “Now, I’m part of the family … well, almost!”: Family Matters for Schooling Success
  • John
  • Kala
  • John
  • Kala
  • John
  • Kala
  • John and Kala
  • Chapter 22: Conclusion: Work Hard and Wonderful
  • Teaching for the Graphs
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
  • No Child Left Behind
  • What Is Technocracy?
  • The Deer in the Works
  • Inclusion in the Works
  • Learning from Stories of Successful Inclusion
  • Vigilant Advocacy
  • Open-mindedness
  • Powerful Human Connection
  • Pedagogical Competence
  • Bibliography
  • Series index

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Guiding Questions

• What kind of personal and professional transformation is experienced by many of the best inclusive teachers?

• How can you grow and develop into a great inclusive educator?

Neither society nor the public schools stand still. Social norms of attitude and action shift like enormous tectonic plates, often barely noticed in silent motion, sometimes smashing dramatically together to shake the ground beneath our feet. We are moved, as individuals and communities, and we begin to think, feel, and behave in new ways.

Inclusive education is a profound transformation of public schooling that has gained acceptance and widespread practice in the United States over the past two decades. Increasing numbers of students with disabilities are educated now in general classrooms. The ground beneath concepts of disability and diversity in the schools has undoubtedly shifted in a positive direction, moving toward the acceptance of many forms of humanity into the common community.

But the public schools and general and special educators are often poorly prepared to be successful in the new configuration. Many teachers, veterans and rookies alike, are simply not ready to do inclusion well. In response to inclusion as the current challenge and opportunity for public school teachers, the most obvious question is also the most ambitious and hopeful: ← 1 | 2 → How can you be part of a positive transformation, both within yourself and within your school? How can you develop yourself into a great inclusive teacher?

Then It All Changed

“I spent thirty eight years working for the Company. It was a great place to work.” The smile left Ida’s face. She looked away and sighed at the window. “But then it all changed.”

It was late August 1983. I was on an Amtrak train traveling down the Atlantic Coast of the United States toward Virginia. I struck up a conversation with Ida, the elderly woman seated next to me. We had something in common. She had worked for many years for the Foxboro Company, a large manufacturer of industrial control systems located in my hometown in Massachusetts.

“What happened at the Company?” I hesitated to ask. It was evident that her emotions were still quite raw. But she seemed to want to talk about it.

“One Friday, I left the office just the way it was.” Her face quivered as she spoke. “When I returned at my desk on Monday morning, they had taken my typewriter away. My IBM Selectric, a beautiful machine. They brought in computers … computer screens on every desk.” Her voice trailed off.

I waited for her to continue. But she was silent. Her story was over. The day her employer replaced the typewriters with a computer system, she retired. She had worked very happily in a predigital office environment for her entire adult life. The onset of advanced technology, from her perspective, ruined everything that she knew and loved about her job. It wasn’t just an exchange of office tools, a desktop monitor replacing an electric typewriter, that flipped her world upside down. It wasn’t just that old tasks would be carried out in a new way. It was a complete change in the very nature of the work. As far as Ida was concerned, her beloved job had ended.

From our historical vantage point, we can look at Ida’s situation and realize that she was confronted by the dramatic cultural shift that has been called the computer revolution (Berkeley, 1962) or the digital revolution (Collins & Halverson, 2009). Scholars have described this massive social change as matching the significance and impact of the Industrial Revolution. It wasn’t a matter of a single company buying some computers for their offices. The growth of computer technologies transformed all aspects of society, including communications, education, recreation, and commerce. Our way of life was effectively reprogrammed.

Ida didn’t know how to change herself to fit the demands of the new computer world. She didn’t know how to live this new way of life.

← 2 | 3 →

Increasingly, American teachers find themselves in Ida-like shoes, overwhelmed by the educational changes brought about by what Ben Mattlin (2012) has called the “disability rights revolution.” Since the 1960s, the United States has gone through a dramatic social transformation, bringing disabled persons out of the shadows, offering them increasing measures of equality and dignity. Society is undergoing comprehensive redefinition. Our communities are inching toward a new normal whereby persons of many abilities and appearances share common spaces, activities, and interactions. The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, a broad antidiscrimination law guaranteeing disabled persons equality and access to all strands of community life, is just one indication of the profound social change that has occurred and is still occurring.

Changes have taken place in the status of disabled Americans very gradually over many decades of hard-fought activism and advocacy. For citizens with disabilities, the revolution has been painfully slow. But many public school teachers have felt the cultural shift with the abruptness of Ida’s return to work on Monday morning. Suddenly, they find that their classroom, their school, and their job have been altered by the presence of students with disabilities. Seemingly out of nowhere, inclusive education descended and turned traditional classrooms upside down and inside out. Although the movement in the United States espousing inclusion arguably began with a 1985 speech made by Madeleine Will, assistant secretary of the federal Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, many teachers experience inclusion as a change that hit their classrooms overnight.

Over the past two decades, as I have worked with hundreds of general and special educators in many different cities and states, they have often told me an inclusive education version of Ida’s tale. Some teachers related a similar story of lament and loss, of how schools took a wrong turn toward inclusion, how their work life was made difficult by the diversity of students in their classrooms. Other teachers told a story of excitement and opportunity, of schools finally fulfilling the promise of a democratic society, of working closely with colleagues to meet the needs of all students.

Virtually all these educators, regardless of how they viewed the initiation of inclusion in their classroom, spoke of feeling unprepared for teaching successfully in the new inclusive classrooms and schools. Like it or not, pro-inclusion, anti- inclusion, or somewhere in-between, they felt poorly prepared. “New times”—as inclusive education researcher Roger Slee (1998, p. 440) has neatly called them—are here. But most teachers are simply not ready.

Weak preparation for inclusion takes on many faces.

A special education teacher told me about her principal calling her into his office on the first day of school to tell her that she was now the building’s designated “inclusion teacher,” responsible for a school-wide effort to move students with ← 3 | 4 → disabilities into mainstream classes. She walked out into the hallway and sat down on the floor. She wanted to do inclusion, but she didn’t know where to begin.

A ninth grade teacher explained to me that her principal selected her Introduction to Spanish class as the ideal foreign language course for disabled students to take. She felt exhilarated at the chance to improve her teaching and get more kids involved in a second language. But she was hesitant to work with the special education teacher who was assigned to co-teach in her classroom. The special educator did not speak, read, or write Spanish.

Sometimes the lack of readiness is shared by a group of educators. A middle school teacher asked me to attend an end-of-school-year meeting with her seventh grade team and building principal. The principal told the group of general and special educators that they would start doing inclusive education in September. The mandate from the district central office proclaimed that students with disabilities would be educated in the general classrooms. My challenge was to explain to the principal and the team that doing inclusion well would require extensive preparation on their part. They would need to read articles and books, develop a new set of professional skills, examine their deepest ethical beliefs about ability and community, and find time for general and special educators to plan lessons and solve problems together. I offered my services as a free consultant to support their learning and growth. I explained that this was an important undertaking that would require substantial professional growth over years.

When I finished my little three-minute speech about the intensive work and preparation required to do inclusion well, the principal looked at her watch and said, “OK, then, Dr. Danforth. We have a very full agenda today. But you can have ten more minutes.” I looked around at the faces of the seventh grade team. Some of the teachers had expressed excitement about changing to an inclusive model of instruction. Some had expressed reluctance and anxiety about doing something they really didn’t understand very well. All of them had me for ten whole minutes of preparation.

No wonder Ida retired.

Inclusion Rising

American public schools are educating more and more students with disabilities in general education classrooms. Inclusive education has been gaining sheer quantitative ground for at least the last twenty years.

The U.S. Department of Education keeps tabs on where students with disabilities spend their school day by tallying the hours spent in general classrooms with nondisabled peers and the hours of segregated programming spent only ← 4 | 5 → with disabled classmates. They release annual data showing how many students with disabilities spend over 80% of their public school time in general education. I describe these students as highly included, for the most part receiving an inclusive education, learning the general curriculum side-by-side with nondisabled learners.

Over the past two decades, there has been a steady, unrelenting increase in the number of students with disabilities in the United States included in general education classrooms. In 1992, the first year of available federal data on inclusion, only 39% of all students with disabilities were highly included. By 2011, over 61% of all students with disabilities were highly included (see figure 1.1). This gradual, stable trend constitutes a more than 53% increase in the participation of disabled students in general education (Individuals with Disabilities Act Data, 2012; U.S. Department of Education, 2004).


Figure 1.1. Percentage of all students with disabilities, ages 6–21, who spent more than 80% of time in general education classrooms, 1992–2011

Think about it this way. The primary way the American public schools provide special education is now through general education. The main (not sole!) responsibility for the education of most students with disabilities has shifted from special educators to general educators. Wayne Sailor and Blair Roger (2005, p. 506) succinctly explain that “all students are considered general education students” and “general education teachers are responsible for all students.” The variability of students’ abilities is no longer good reason to create segregated classrooms and schools. It is now a rationale for more creative and effective teaching in the general classroom.

The professional work of special education teachers and paraprofessionals has gone through a corresponding change. Rather than teaching small groups of students with disabilities in separate classrooms and schools, many special educators now work in support of inclusive education. They co-teach with general education ← 5 | 6 → teachers in mainstream classrooms and provide instructional and behavioral expertise in the form of consultation. They work closely with general educators on the modification and differentiation of lessons. In many instances, they have become experts on creating multiple forms of access to academic content knowledge for students with a variety of learning styles and needs.

A Wholly Different Expertise?

In the midst of all this dramatic change, a widespread problem exists. Although the public schools have marched steadily toward greater levels of inclusion, surprisingly few teachers—general or special—are ready to succeed in this new instructional configuration.

• Most teachers have received very little formal education to prepare them to teach in an inclusive classroom. Neither their university teacher preparation programs nor the continuing professional development provided by their school districts has been adequate (Avramidis, Bayliss, & Burden, 2000; Burke & Sutherland, 2004; Kamens, Loprete, & Slostad, 2000; Stanovich & Jordan, 2002).

• Many teachers hold negative attitudes about students with disabilities, experience emotional discomfort with disabled persons, or simply oppose the inclusion of students with disabilities in general classrooms. Damaging cultural stereotypes and old-fashioned habits of disability stigmatization continue to dominate the thoughts and feelings of many educators (Daane & Latham, 2000; de Boer, Pijl, & Minnaert, 2011; DeSimone & Parmar, 2006a; Kochhar, West, & Taymans, 2000; Lohrmann & Bambara, 2006; Orr, 2009).

• Many teachers, chiefly due to inexperience and poor professional preparation, lack confidence and skill in working with students with disabilities. They are confused, overwhelmed, and ill prepared to work effectively in inclusive classrooms and schools (Embury & Kroeger, 2012; Janko, Schwartz, Sandall, Anderson, & Cottam, 1997; Janney, Snell, Beers, & Raynes, 1995; Jobling & Moni, 2004; McLeskey, Waldron, So, Swanson, & Loveland, 2001; Orr, 2009; Sadler, 2005; Sims, 2008).

• New teacher candidates, even when provided with coursework and a practicum devoted to inclusive education, do not necessarily feel more confident or comfortable teaching in inclusive classrooms. Initial teacher preparation is frequently insufficient to prepare new teachers to be competent and accepting inclusive educators (Gao & Mager, 2011; Mitchell & Hegde, 2007; Woodcock, Hemmings, & Kay, 2012).

← 6 | 7 →

After spending her first year as a high school English teacher co-teaching in inclusive classrooms, Emily Sims (2008) stated bluntly, “I didn’t know anything…. I had no idea how co-teaching was supposed to work, and neither did my collaborating teachers” (p. 58). Inclusive education researchers DeSimone and Parmar (2006b) aptly capture the situation by describing American teachers as “grossly under-prepared … for the realities of inclusion teaching” (p. 338).

When noted special education researcher Michael Gerber (2012) analyzed the current state of inclusive education teacher preparation, he corroborated the findings of other researchers by writing that “there is little evidence that general education teachers, or special education teachers, for that matter, receive sufficient training in a number of critical teaching skills, e.g. systematic instruction, behavior management, and design and evaluation of instruction” (p. 71).

But Gerber’s thinking on the subject travels a half step further. He wonders if inclusion might, in some way, be unlike other best practices that university teacher education programs typically teach and public school teachers usually learn pretty well. Even when general and special education teachers gain the crucial inclusion research knowledge and practical skills at the university, they often do not employ the best inclusive practices in the classroom. Gerber concludes that “the observable divide between ‘best’ and ‘actual’ practices … can no longer be dismissed as a result only of inadequate professional preparation…. The skills needed to establish and maintain meaningful and productive inclusion of students with disabilities may represent a wholly different kind of expertise than has been presumed” (2012, p. 71, emphasis added).


VIII, 346
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (January)
new knowledge disability guidance professional transformation
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 346 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Scot Danforth (Volume editor)

Scot Danforth is Professor and Director of the School of Teacher Education at San Diego State University. He is a leading scholar in the fields of disability studies in education and inclusive education. His previous books include The Incomplete Child: An Intellectual History of Learning Disabilities, Vital Questions Facing Disability Studies in Education (with Susan Gabel), and Disability and the Politics of Education: An International Reader (with Susan Gabel).


Title: Becoming a Great Inclusive Educator
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