What are the agents of change that invoke inclusive education?
This is the question explored in Mel Ainscow (2005) in his article "Developing Inclusive Education Systems: What are the Levers for Change?" and Ainscow & Sandill's (2008) article "Developing inclusive education systems: the role of organizational cultures and leadership. It is evident that Ainscow drew together learning's from his 2005 article to develop the direction of the 2008 article.
I also admire Ainscow's (1999) approach to research in seeking out a collaborative relationship with the key stakeholders as they work together for practical solutions to the issues they face. To have validity researchers into inclusive education must first understand the systems in place before they can be agents for change.
Change is at the core of many approaches towards inclusive education. Ainscow (2005) uses Senge (1989) to outline the concept of 'levers', a lever being a process that applies a force. Senge (1989) argues that in order to bring about change it is important to identify what the 'levers' of change are. He outlines that too often individuals engage in low leverage activities such as writing policies, attending conferences and engaging in professional development days that raise awareness but fail to bring about change.
So what are the key lever's for change in inclusive education?
- Developing inclusive practice is not about adopting new technologies, it is about managing social processes within the setting that influence people's actions and the thinking that form these actions.
- Understanding the creation of practices is key to understanding how staff approach the challenge of inclusive education. Practices, according to Ainscow, are those things that individuals in a community do. drawing on resources, to further a set of shared goals (p.113) For example, Ainscow (2005) saw that the many hours of meetings and shared discussions over 'hurried lunches' created 'shared meanings' that helped to define teaching experience. So a strategy could be developing a set of practices for assisting the inclusion of students with disability, working alongside teachers to implement them and following it up with a professional discussion cementing in place the professional learning. Social processes of learning are powerful levers for change and as staff become comfortable with the practice and they tell other staff members the practice evolves and becomes part of the culture of the education setting.
- In support of this a common language is important so staff can talk to one another about their practice. Ainscow (2005) outlines that without such a language teachers find it difficult to experiment. When research observations of inclusive practice has been described to teachers they were surprised as many practices are carried out by teachers intuitively drawing on knowledge learned through practice or discussions with mentors or colleagues. Encouraging dialogue between staff can assist create language and discourses. Approaches include:
- Surveys of staff,
- Mutual observations of classrooms followed by structured discussions of what happened
- Group discussions of a video of a colleague teaching
- Discussions of statistical evidence from test results
- Data from interviews with students
- School to school cooperation (p116)
- Deeply held assumptions around student deficiencies can block productive practice and discussions around inclusive education. The focus on deficiency can colour teachers appraoch towards their class and can set the climate for their classrooms. Ainscow (2005) provides a classic example where when questioned about the lack of participation amongst many of the students in the class the teacher pointed to the roll and pointed out that the class had many students on the school's special education register. The strategies teachers use in the classroom arise out of beliefs they hold about their learners. If teachers hold the belief that some students are in need of fixing or beyond fixing then even the most advanced pedagogical practices are doomed to fail with these students.
- In developing policies that support inclusive education the following four elements have been identified as key to definitions:
- Inclusion is a process, it is a never ending search for better ways of responding to diversity
- Inclusion is concerned with the removal of barriers
- Inclusion is about the presence, participation and achievement of all students
- Inclusion involves those groups at risk of marginalization. (p.119)