How education policies are a bit like wallpaper
You know those home makeover shows? Especially some of the British ones, they use wallpaper to cover one wall and do it all in about an hour. Measure, apply, finish. They make wallpapering look so easy! So, my husband and I decided to have a go – after all if they can do 2 or 3 walls in an hour, how hard can it be right? Well, we were in for a surprise.
We chose to wallpaper because the wall in question was very badly damaged. The previous owners had stuck, literally glued on, a cupboard and a coat rack. So, when we took them off, you guessed it, the plaster came away with it. We patched it up, but it is never quite as smooth. Watching that guy one night, I thought, yes! That’s what we will do on this wall. We’ll wallpaper it, it will hide all the problems.
We picked up a really classy wallpaper at a bargain price. But, as we discovered, it was not so easy. Reading the instructions, we learned we had to prep the wall, measure it all carefully, pattern match! And then came glue and hang. Phew, that first wall took us a couple of weeks. And whilst it wasn’t bad, we did make a few errors! We had decided to do a second wall, and it only took us a weekend. The results were much nicer. I guess if we do more, we will get even better. That guy on the show? He does it all the time, no wonder he can do it in under an hour. But I don’t think I have enough walls in my house, for me to get that good!
Now, I know you are asking, what has this to do with education policy! Well, hang in there, I am getting to it. The truth is governments often treat policies a bit like wallpaper. They perceive a problem, and know they need to do something to ‘fix’ it, or at least manage it. So, they develop a policy – some direction for action. They don’t often resolve the issue, let’s face it, the problem may be too big. But at least, for a time, we have a way forward. Education policies are often like that. After all, education problems are never small. They are almost always big issues, that require big solutions. Or, in inclusive education, lots of little small steps along the way, a direction for action.
The patchy wall
We need to create an inclusive environment in our classrooms. As Mel Ainscow said, to “create a school culture that encourages a preoccupation with the development of ways of working that attempt to reduce barriers to learner participation”. Wow. That’s a big issue! Why do we have to do this? Because over time we have come to recognise that our classrooms are not homogenous. Research tells us that as many as 8% of children and teens under 15 have some form of disability. Of these 30% have some form of intellectual disorder or developmental delay, 21% have a hearing or speech impediment. You will have students in your class who may have a specific learning disability, be delayed in reading, writing, reasoning or math, or are simply underachieving. Up to 3% are severely affected, and at the other end, about 18% fall under the category of gifted and talented – from mild to profoundly. The truth is, in your classroom, you will have students with a special learning need focused on their learning ability. And then there are all the others!
You will have students with multicultural differences, from low social economic circumstances, with ethnic and racial differences, students from non-English speaking backgrounds. Government or education department policies, whilst they may not help us necessarily with the how to teach, can give us some clear direction for action.
The Disability Standards for Education (2005), is such a document, it is our wallpaper. It sets the direction for education of students with disabilities in our schools and classrooms. The implementation of it over the last 12 years, has helped us create classrooms that are moving towards inclusion. And I say towards inclusion deliberately, as I don’t think we have got there yet. It’s a bit like my efforts at wallpapering, not really expert. Definitely room for improvement!
But we have a direction, and we know what it can look like. We know that as teachers we must “take reasonable steps to ensure that the curriculum is designed in such a way that any student with a disability is able to participate in the learning experiences of the curriculum on the same basis as a student without a disability, and without experiencing discrimination” (s6.2(1)). And the policy sets out some intentions and directions for enrolments, participation, curriculum delivery, support services and so on.
Ready to hang?
Here is my step-by-step approach to moving towards inclusion in your classroom:
- Understand the needs! You will have identified the students in your classroom who need additional help. Students with disabilities, additional learning needs, and all the others. If you are still unsure, make sure you seek some help. But just remember you can begin with small steps.
- Read the instructions – you should become familiar with the Disability Standards in Education. You can find them here.
- Measure the space – your capacity to do the work, begin by making the intellectual and emotional commitment to help all your students to succeed (you can read more about that here!). This is an essential step if you are to succeed. You need to know your capacity to begin with. This will grow over time, so give yourself the understanding of where you are. The in time you will recognise how much you have grown!
- Prep the wall – get your classroom ready. Yes, you need to consider the environment. Universal Design for learning can help you to think about what that might look like. (Coming on this blog soon)
- Pattern Match – or in this case, match the right curriculum framework to the needs of your student. Not all curriculum frameworks are suitable for all students. Read more in this blog post about how you can use curriculum frameworks to plan for successful learning of all your students.
And you are ready! Now, remember, you are not going to be an expert from day one. It takes practice, perseverance and lots of walls, err I mean students!