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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Chapter 7: A. Developing Inclusive Classrooms: Critical Dimensions

April 19, 2005


Many teachers have asked, "What does an inclusive classroom look like?" We have spent the last five years visiting classes, observing teachers and working with them to gain a better understanding of how exceptional students have been made to feel welcome and safe - and to succeed academically. In our study, we have never come across any two classes that were exactly alike, but as we had suspected, the teachers in each successful, inclusive class shared specific values that were realized in practice. In each case, learning was perceived as the construction of knowledge and teachers saw as part of their responsibility the orchestration of the learning environment to provide opportunities for students to make connections. While each of these teachers was well-versed in content area knowledge, they perceived themselves as partners in the learning process rather than as the authoritative sources of knowledge.

The role of the teacher as the primary architect in the learning environment is key: the teacher's preparation, organization, expectations and attitude all influence the learning outcomes of individual members of the class.

Teacher preparation for inclusion presupposes a thorough grounding in the curriculum and in instructional pedagogy. To make teaching and learning effective, "we have to know where we want to end up before we start out - and plan to get there (Tomlinson, 1999, p. 13)." Although self-evident, it is worth reiterating that we need to know what concepts and skills students - all students, but particularly exceptional students - need to gain in order to figure out how to get them there. For specialists at all levels, this also means a thorough preparation in the field of specialization, whether it is in LD, ESL or HC. And because of the temporary nature of knowledge, it is a responsibility, although not always an easy one for teachers in international schools, to remain current with developments in their fields. We also cannot over-emphasize the importance of keeping up with new developments in education, particularly with regard to research on learning.

Therefore, an openness to learning, including a willingness to take risks, is an important characteristic in teaching for inclusion. Being able to draw on the strengths and skills of other teachers in a collaborative relationship serves to broaden every teacher's repertoire and goes a long way in helping each child succeed.

Aside from content area preparation and a "can do" willingness to learn, we have identified four other dimensions necessary for successful inclusion. Teachers may explore and develop their skills in each of these dimensions separately or simultaneously to allow exceptional students greater access to achieving in class.

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