Leadership magazine logo.
Association of California School Administrators
Association of California School Administrators
Authentic models of inclusion
Investing in inclusion needs as our default setting
By Kristin Vogel-Campbell | May | June 2023
To work towards developing positive and trusting relationships with our students and parents, as well as ensuring that families from diverse and marginalized backgrounds have equitable access to participate in their child’s Special Education program, we need our schools to be true, authentic models of inclusion. An inclusive environment is one where differences are honored and celebrated. If a classroom entrance has a slight rise or lip to it, the maintenance department must come and install a threshold ramp so that persons who utilize wheelchairs or walkers can safely enter the room. Students whose needs do not require physical manipulation of the room deserve the same accommodations to make the learning environment accessible to them.
For students who receive Special Education services, their school experiences are often split into two. Schools reinforce this by providing the majority of Special Education services outside of the general education setting: pull-out for speech, pull-out for Resource Room or self-contained classrooms where students receive the majority of their daily instructional minutes. Special Education classrooms are one of the few instances of de jure segregation permitted in our county. Pre-COVID, these classrooms have also been referred to as quarantined spaces. Educators are always reminded that Special Education is a service, not a location, but this adage does not carry weight when our students are relegated to back corners of buildings or portables towards the back of the school. As a result, general education teachers often do not have firsthand experience of working with Special Education teachers and their students at the same time. Students who receive Special Education services have a right to be educated alongside their general education peers in the least restrictive environment that can meet their needs.
For teachers to believe in their students and their abilities, they must be able to authentically believe in their own abilities as educators. The majority of general education teachers I have encountered in my professional career were not required to take a course in Special Education as part of their pre-service certification programs, and minimal official professional development as in-service educators. Difficulties that some students may have in learning are often considered as a problem for the individual or small group of students, as opposed to an issue with the content and instruction. Oftentimes, this puts a ceiling on the learning and achievement of the struggling students. Unknowingly, teachers, both general education and Special Education, may view their students through a deficit-/damage-centered mindset as opposed to an assets-based mindset. An educator’s frame of mind can be transformative, either in positive or destructive ways. In order to equip our teachers with the tools needed to serve a diverse group of students with unique learning needs, pre-service certification programs must strive to have Special Education represented more meaningfully in the content so that teachers can believe in their own skills. Additionally, all educators must be provided with professional development that is geared to meet the needs of a diverse range of learners.
We must move towards truly investing in Special Education as a service rather than a location. Changing the way we think about inclusion and Special Education students is vital to shifting the view from “most” and “some” to thinking about everybody. Teachers need the time and resources to spend planning lessons together for authentic co-teaching classrooms. In my experience, co-teaching has most often looked like either the Special Education teacher taking a small group to the back of the room, or acting in the role of a certificated classroom aide. Creating time and space for teachers to collaborate and plan, either through common prep periods or extended release time, is essential to implementing practices that support all students.
This shift in mindset, thinking and practice cannot move forward with fidelity without support and endorsement from school administrators. Earlier in my career in education, I was part of a group of educators that piloted a co-teaching model for a 6th grade math class at a middle school. Our site administrator agreed to collapse my 3rd period Special Education math class so I could push in as support for the students who had traditionally been in my self-contained class. However, we encountered barriers, as the administrator felt we didn’t need common planning time. Our prep periods were scheduled for different times of the day, but we met and planned outside our contracted work hours. When I moved onto a different position in a new district two years later, so did the co-teaching plan, as it had never been fully endorsed by our leaders. Training on inclusion for site administrators, and tying in aspects of Special Education law and current cases, is vital to moving towards authentic inclusive practices.
Changing the way we think about inclusion and Special Education students is vital to shifting the view from “most” and “some” to thinking about everybody.
One of the main principles of inclusive pedagogy is collaboration. Collaboration involves teachers giving up some control of their classroom assemblage, and stepping out of the individual silo mentality that is so easy to fall into once settled into a position and grade. Team dynamics, as well as student needs, will dictate the degree and type of collaboration that exists between general education and Special Education. Collaboration between educators can exist in both formal and informal ways. When I did not have common planning time with the general education math teacher I co-taught with, we often went to dinner and had common planning sessions over meals. This is not a sustainable method for long-lasting collaboration, and is dependent on the individual teacher, not a change in the system itself. The final link in collaboration is that between teachers and site administrators, who are often the linchpins to ensuring if transformative change is successful or not. Distributive leadership is a type of collaboration.
With shared responsibility comes shared investment in making sure that programs are best suited for students, and that all staff are working together. Together, we can work towards enacting the necessary shifts that our students deserve.
Annamma, S. A., Connor, D., & Ferri, B. (2013). Dis/ability critical race studies (DisCrit): Theorizing at the intersections of race and dis/ability. Race Ethnicity and Education, 16(1), 1-31.
Dematthews, D. E. (2015). Clearing a path for inclusion: Distributing leadership in a high performing elementary school. Journal of School Leadership, 25(6), 1000-1038.
Huberman, M., Navo, M., & Parrish, T. (2012). Effective practices in high performing districts serving students in special education. Journal of Special Education Leadership, 25(2), 59-71.
Jones, B. A. (2012). Fostering collaboration in inclusive settings: The special education students at a glance approach. Intervention in School and Clinic, 47(5), 297-306.
Lalvani, P. (2013). Privilege, compromise, or social justice: Teachers’ conceptualizations of inclusive education. Disability & Society, 28(1), 14-27.

Obiakor, F. E., Harris, M., Mutua, K., Rotatori, A., & Algozzine, B. (2012). Making inclusion work in general education classrooms. Education and Treatment of Children, 35(3), 477-490.
Pantić, N., & Florian, L. (2015). Developing teachers as agents of inclusion and social justice. Education Inquiry, 6(3), 333-351.
Sailor, W. (2015). Advances in schoolwide inclusive school reform. Remedial and Special Education, 36(2), 94-99.

Kristin Vogel-Campbell, Ed.D., is a coordinator of Special Education in the San Mateo Foster City School District.
Contact Us
© 2023 Association of California School Administrators