Ontario Coalition for Inclusive Education
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Building Inclusive Schools Project


Building Inclusive Schools:
Consistent Themes and Ideas (1996)

Teachers might say about professional development: "Give me something I can use with the students in my class tomorrow."

But we ask people to think and reflect :

  • sometimes about themselves - as students, parents, professionals, people
  • about yesterday, today and tomorrow
  • about students as individuals - there is no "kit" that "works"
  • about classrooms, schools and communities

Inclusive Education must be carefully defined as

  • support for ALL students to learn
  • as members of a regular class (age appropriate)
  • participating fully in their own neighbourhood school
    that is, the school they would attend if they did not have an exceptionality
    • the school attended by brothers and sisters
    • the school attended by other students who live nearby

Unfortunately, people sometimes use the words INCLUSION  and INTEGRATION very loosely to mean much less.

Children understand "inclusion" better than "integration"; we can all remember how badly we felt when we were excluded from a game, a party, etc.

It is all about RELATIONSHIPS.

The meaning of inclusion goes beyond disability - in fact it must be "all-inclusive"! Maslow taught us that we cannot achieve until after our basic and safety needs are met, and until we belong.


Traditional special education approaches get this backwards; they measure and label some students' differences and deficits, take them out of regular classrooms and neighbourhood schools, group them, and expect them to become more capable before earning the opportunity to return. What is forgotten is that all people are motivated by attention to our strengths. People learn from the company they keep; peer pressure is powerful for good and ill. A system that removes those perceived as different is less likely to deal flexibly with the individuals that remain. Supports created for some students will often benefit others.

The Building Inclusive Schools Project assists school communities with those elements empirically identified to be necessary in school restructuring efforts:

  • creating a common vision
  • building collaboration
  • dealing with change
  • knowledge of effective instructional strategies for diverse classrooms.

We wish it was no longer necessary to talk about WHY schools must become truly inclusive:

  • LEGAL PRECEDENT existed in Ontario regarding Emily Eaton, until the recent Canadian Supreme Court decision. However, the Ontario government testified in Supreme Court that Ontario has a policy of regular classroom as first choice. We are waiting for that to be clarified by law and regulations. Until Regulation 305 is changed, as was promised in 1994, placement decisions will not reflect student needs and parental wishes.
  • COST EFFECTIVENESS can be shown. The Hamilton Board of Education, which segregates a higher proportion of students than the provincial average, found that regular class costs $5300 for each non-exceptional student as opposed to $8500 for each exceptional student, while segregated class costs $15000 for each exceptional student. They have no proof that this expenditure benefits students, especially acknowledging the social cost of removing students from their home schools. We can show that many more students can receive support in regular classrooms for the same expenditure.
  • PEDAGOGICAL MERIT has been demonstrated through well-founded research and examples from schools, boards, and the whole province of New Brunswick - where energy and resources are only put into ensuring that regular classrooms welcome and teach all students. And Emily Eaton moved to another school board where she learns as a member of a regular class.

In the past year, the many people working with the Project have been demonstrating HOW  inclusive education works. We say that there is no "recipe" for inclusion that will suit every situation. However there is now a "well-stocked pantry" of ingredients that can be combined in many ways. We know about avoiding "allergies" and suiting individual "tastes". The following issues are some of those ingredients that constitute a framework for  discussions and explorations about inclusive education:


  • each class is a community
  • kindergarten teachers help introduce and welcome parents to their school
  • Co-operative Learning is a goal for all; we know a lot about what works in classrooms, families and society to minimize competition and promote co-operation
  • everyone can contribute
  • we all need circles of friends
  • schools and families need to ask for help sometimes
  • schools, classrooms and families can respond to students best as individuals


  • Multiple Intelligences - not "how smart are you?" but "how are you smart?"
  • McGill Action Planning System (MAPS) helps gear program to maximize strengths
  • fellow students see the learning that occurs in regular class,  not resource room


  • teachers reach all of the students some of the time
  • Multi-level Instruction provides a framework for adaptation in concepts, presentation, practice and evaluation
  • partial participation keeps students of varying abilities working in common
  • Family Groupings encourage a variety of approaches and expectations
  • whatever happens in that little room down the hall can also happen in a regular classroom
  • Bloom's taxonomy: adaptations enrich opportunities

4. ACCOMMODATIONS can help everyone, and prevent the need for curriculum modifications - wheelchair access, large print, visual aids


  • various ways to adapt curriculum - based on strengths and interests
  • individual goals are set in the context of the group experience
  • alternate assessment methods
  • portfolios
  • "credit" all learning and all teaching
  • can be planned in advance with the help of support staff
  • can be created by other students, understanding each other's needs
  • can enrich the curriculum


  • "circles" are for anyone and must not be artificial or charitable
  • acknowledge the contributions of all - how helping you helps me
  • show me; tell me; involve me
  • adults may need to help students to support one another
  • YIO can address school change issues
  • teachers and families need support too


  • are only one of the many means to support inclusive classrooms
  • must not be "joined at the hip", "velchro" - can be a barrier to inclusion
  • must assist with interaction among students can promote smaller group work
  • can assist anyone who needs additional time, prepare materials and adaptations


  • is better than a "resource withdrawal" model
  • Resource teachers become agents of professional development
  • encourages teamwork
  • time out of class is spontaneous and flexible
  • learning takes place wherever the class  may be

9. COMMUNICATION strategies

  • alternatives to written and spoken language
  • behaviour is communication
  • augmentative methods - symbols, signs, computer systems


  • Antecedents are important
  • Behaviour has meaning that cannot be ignored - be an anthropologist not a missionary
  • Consequences are overused and cannot be the same for all

11. TRANSITIONS call for additional planning:

  • schools work for families and communities
  • community agencies are a readily available source of assistance
  • pre-school resource people can help with kindergarten inclusion
  • secondary schools have recently found more ways to ease transition to grade 9 - for everyone?
  • it is most important for students to go to grade 9 with friends from grade 8
  • high school students need friends, not more adults in their lives. Students with disabilities experience little peer pressure, while other students have too much. It is important for links to be made and experiences lived in high school so that adults with disabilities are less dependent on our very tenuous service system.
  • "life skills" programs are artificial and unnecessary
  • students with disabilities need to become prepared for real work for real pay
  • educators and administrators need to advocate to improve opportunities
  • co-operative education programs give credit for on-the-job training and "real life" that is needed and useful for all students
  • inclusive education can be promoted in colleges and universities too
  • students must be heard


  • merging the roles of regular and special educators. Everyone is "included".
  • students don't want to be "special" - regular educators have primary responsibility
  • the role of educational assistants is determined by individual needs and context. They work with groups, building interdependence.
  • teachers, support staff, administrators are all people who are also parents, friends, and neighbours - it is not a "them" and "us" situation. All must sometimes be advocates for a better future.
  • school communities rely on the contributions of all - we don't need charity, but mutual respect
  • "M and R"- "R"esource teachers help with "M"ethods not "W"ithdrawal
  • Resource people - freed from segregated situations - must be well-trained regarding strategies and advocacy for inclusion. They can offer innovative assistance, such as promoting expression of the arts, encouraging relationships, etc.
  • physical access helps everyone and is less of an issue than attitude
  • ask students' and families' advice before making building modifications
  • students need to share facilities - use the same door, access the same washroom - wherever possible

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