Teaching Children to be Inclusive


Our personal memories of exclusion can be our most powerful teachers of inclusion; Removing the Stumbling Block

A few days ago someone I follow on Facebook shared the following article: How to Teach Your Child to be an “Includer”. It’s an older article, so I found myself wondering if she was sharing this now because it felt particularly timely, or if it was more of an extension of her own consistent, personal commitment to inclusion. Either way, it resonated with me and had me immediately recalling a post that I wrote for this blog which was widely shared: Teach Your Children to Be Accepting of Disabilities. 

It’s easy to write blog posts and forget about them. We live in an age of immediacy. Often, if something doesn’t happen in the moment, it won’t happen at all. Instant gratification has become the norm, even when we know that delaying gratification and taking time to process and reflect can be critical. It’s why I pointed out the fact that the article shared a few days ago was written a few months ago. Life moves fast. So even when blog posts “do well” and people read and share widely, a week or two later those same pieces are forgotten; and citing something written a few months or even a year ago can seem outdated.

But in this case, I think the message bears repeating and re-sharing: We CAN teach our children to be accepting. We CAN teach our children to be “includers”. And, maybe most importantly, we CAN teach our children to be kind.

Children really will do what we do. We have the power to model for them each and every day. We have the power to teach, through our own actions, how to be kind, compassionate and inclusive.

Inclusive Teen Experiences



Creating Inclusive Teen Experiences; Removing the Stumbling Block

One of the highlights of my work is leading experiences with teens. I am passionate about adolescents and have relished each of my opportunities to teach, guide, mentor, counsel and support this age group for nearly twenty years.

Building an inclusive teen program can be challenging, especially if you don't personally embrace a philosophy of inclusion. Unless you truly believe that every experience can and should be inclusive, you are bound to get stuck in notions such as, "Having her there takes something away from the other teens," and, "They shouldn't always have to look out for him." Until teen educators embrace the value of inclusion and recognize that an inclusive community is a stronger community for everyone, such fallacies will persist. I am exceptionally proud of the unique model we have built in our congregation. We have created a structure that affords all students, regardless of ability or need, the opportunity to participate fully. Including overnight experiences. And it works.

Synagogues across North America lament a significant decrease in engagement with Jewish life post-bar and bat mitzvah, but by offering a fully inclusive post b’nei mitzvah program, we maximize our students’ opportunities to continue learning, growing and engaging with Jewish life experiences. Further, we are socially engineering relationships between teens every step of the way, maximizing their potential for developing strong Jewish friendships. 

Professor Steven M. Cohen of HUC-JIR states that, “Jewish educators should have an explicit mission to bestow Jewish friendship networks on children and adults who are increasingly unlikely to find them on their own.”

Our teens are entitled to every Jewish opportunity possible. An inclusive program benefits everyone.

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Celebrating Our Mistakes

Is this inclusive? Removing the Stumbling Block

One of the things I most often discuss when leading inclusion training sessions to be more inclusive is the importance of reframing. We discuss reframing attitudes and reframing language, notions that tend to be fairly easy to understand, even if challenging to consistently apply.

Somehow, for teachers, the place they most get stuck is when it comes to reframing their lesson plans. Even with the right intentions, many teachers find it difficult to consistently design lessons with an eye toward inclusion.

There is also a lot that good teachers take for granted, especially in successful classrooms. I am guilty of this, too. When we have activities and strategies that have been successful, why would we think about changing them? Because to be truly inclusive is to look at every lesson, every activity, every strategy and ask ourselves, "is this inclusive?"

Accommodation isn't inclusion illustrates this concept. It might be "fine" to adapt an activity or add a component to it to make it more successful for specific students, but it is truly inclusive when we reframe the entire activity in a way that makes this addition a seamless part of the whole.

Celebrating Our Mistakes 
With thanks to Michelle Steinhart of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, NY for this excellent idea!

As teachers set up classrooms - organizing, labeling and decorating - many are also thinking about systems of behavior management. Most are reading student files and will reach out to begin getting to know their students before the school year even begins. Teachers may learn that a particular student is a "perfectionist", one who struggles to let work go when she thinks she has possibly made a mistake or who will have a meltdown when she does something "wrong". A typical system of behavior management (I am NOT a fan! Read why.) would likely have this student earning tickets or stars each time she is able to hand in an assignment with only one revision.

Reframe the system:

Celebrating Our Mistakes; Removing the Stumbling Block


Begin with a classroom discussion of making mistakes and failing as a part of the learning process. Create a system where each student gets to put a marble in the jar when he or she has made a mistake. Just as in other, more traditional systems, the class will earn a reward when the jar is full.

What's different? 
  • First, students are taught that mistakes are a part of the process of learning and growing. 
  • Next, the student who struggles to let work go or has a meltdown when he has made a mistake is no longer singled out. Rather, he is celebrated and comes to learn that he has something valuable to contribute to the classroom community. 
  • Finally, this is a system that celebrates diversity rather than penalizing students for not conforming to an arbitrary set of ideals.

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Prove That Every Student Counts

Uniqueness; Removing the Stumbling Block



See the child. 

It should really be that simple, right?

I think that for so many in the field of education, this seems like an obvious statement. See the child. Of course; that’s what educators are charged with after all, isn’t it? And yet, is it really happening? How many teachers develop preconceived notions about a student before they even meet based on a classification, a file or a teacher-to-teacher report? How many times do we allow ourselves to judge one another based on stereotypes, misconceptions or assumptions?

Some thoughts from my own behavior and practice:

Do not allow for preconceived notions.

In our school, I ensure that teachers have the information necessary to keep our children safe when school opens, but I intentionally wait a few sessions before sharing specific strategies and teacher-to-teacher information about classified students. Why? Because first impressions matter. No student should be underestimated based on his struggles from the year before. We shouldn't expect a student to behave poorly simply because she has had behavior issues in the past. See the child; not her disability, not his limitations.

When you encounter a child with a disability, speak directly to the child.
When you speak to a child’s caregiver, you automatically imply that the child is invisible. If you say hello to a child and she does not answer, it is likely that her parent or caregiver will step in to help facilitate the conversation. But it is on their terms. Ever say hello to a shy toddler? When she grips an adult’s leg, the adult typically says, “she’s shy”. This is the same concept. See the child; not her disability, not his limitations.

Involve children in appropriate decisions.
Just as you would involve neurotypical children in their own decision-making when it becomes developmentally appropriate, do the same for children with disabilities. Ask them to be involved in increasingly more mature decisions such as what they might like to wear or eat, what interests them and what they believe their strengths and weaknesses might be. See the child; not her disability, not his limitations.

Avoid assumptions.
Children with disabilities are unique. All children are unique! A child may have a classification of autism, cerebral palsy, ADHD or a learning disability; but that doesn’t mean he will demonstrate the same behaviors and competencies as someone else with the same diagnosis. See the child; not her disability, not his limitations.

Every child counts. It really can be that simple.




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Ten Steps to Make Your Congregation Inclusive

Ten Steps to Make Your Congregation More Inclusive; Removing the Stumbling Block


Inclusion can seem overwhelming for a community that has not previously made accommodations or offered opportunities for individuals with disabilities. My advice? Start small, but start somewhere. And while this may help to make the task seem somewhat less daunting, I suspect that for many, it begs the question, "How do I begin?"

The Secret Key to Inclusion is Transparency

The Secret Key to Inclusion is Transparency; Removing the Stumbling Block

The new school year is upon us. And soon, the new Jewish year will be upon us, as well. The start of a new year can be the most ideal time to make sure that your community and your classrooms are as inclusive as they can be.

Here is a piece that I think is significant: Even if you cannot make every single change that you hope to make at once, being transparent about your efforts and helping your community know that inclusion is something you value will go a tremendous way.

All too often communities feel that they can’t use the language of inclusion if they aren’t “inclusive enough” (let’s not talk now about those who call themselves inclusive but really aren’t…that’s another challenge for another day).

It is ABSOLUTELY acceptable to say that you are making efforts to be as inclusive as possible as you work to make the necessary changes and shape the culture of your community. The key here is transparency.

Move From Intention to Action



In Judaism, intention (kavanah) is an essential component of meaningful action. Kavanah comes from the Hebrew root meaning to direct, intend, or focus. Living a meaningful Jewish life involves combining our actions with the intention we bring to those actions.
 
Removing the Stumbling Block intention action disability inclusionRabbi Yaakov Yitzhak of Pshi’scha, taught, “Good intentions alone, if not accompanied by action, are without value, as it is the action which makes the intentions so profound.” 

It is essential to back up our words with action to fully include individuals with disabilities. Each of us must move from intention to action.  

Some additional thoughts to get you started:

For your congregation - Ten Steps to Make Your Congregation More Inclusive

For your classroom - Teaching the Difference Between Fairness and Equality

For your family - Teach Your Children to be Accepting of Disabilities

For you -  Inclusion is NOT Social Action

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#BlogElul; Removing the Stumbling Block
This post is a part of #BlogElul. The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed.
 

 

The Disability Slur That Stopped Me in My Tracks


The Disability Slur That Stopped Me in My Tracks; Removing the Stumbling Block

I haven’t written in a while. I think the main reason is that with the slower days of summer I really appreciate the change of pace and relish the opportunity to get outside, exercise more, spend time with my kids, and I especially love having the time to read more. 


I read a mix of things in the summer. I tackle a few professional books, I read some young adult fiction, often my own kids’ summer reading assignments along with a few disability inclusion themed selections, and I read some good ole’ beach reads. I tend to gravitate toward light mysteries and popular fiction. 
 
So I picked up a freebie called “Sweets and a Stabbing” by Harper Lin and expected to finish it in a day or two at most. Except that I was barely into chapter one when I stumbled into this:

“Mr. O'Malley would never have confessed his infidelity at Gatto's Restaurant, causing the scene of Amelia blubbering and stammering away like someone suffering with Tourette syndrome.”

It stopped me in my tracks. 

Labels in Disability Inclusion - Are They Good or Bad?

I created and regularly add to a list of books for children and teens around disability inclusion. I invite you to discover some new books to add to your own lists. And, of course, if you have suggestions of books that I can add, please share them here in the comments.

For more about some of the books I find most notable read: Books That Teach Kids and Teens About Disabilities.

This post was sparked by my recent read of counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan.  
"Twelve-year-old Willow Chase lived with her adoptive parents in Bakersfield, California. There in the midst of the high desert, she grew a garden in her backyard, her sanctuary. She was excited about starting a new school, hoping this time she might fit in, might find a friend. Willow had been identified in preschool as highly gifted, most of the time causing confusion and feelings of ineptness in her teachers. Now at her new school she is accused of cheating because no one has ever finished the state proficiency test in just 17 minutes, let alone gotten a perfect score. Her reward is behavioral counseling with Dell Duke, an ineffectual counselor with organizational and social issues of his own. She does make a friend when Mai Nguyen brings her brother, Quang-ha, to his appointment, and their lives begin to intertwine when Willow's parents are killed in an auto accident."
There is a powerful excerpt that has stuck with me:
"I was taken to see an educational consultant that autumn and the woman did an evaluation. She sent my parents a letter.

I read it.

It said I was "highly gifted."

Are people "Lowly gifted"?

Or "medium gifted"?

Or just "gifted"? It's possible that all labels are curses. Unless they are on cleaning products.

Because in my opinion, it's not really a great idea to see people as one thing.

Every person has lots of ingredients to make them into what is always a one-of-a-kind creation.

We are all imperfect genetic stews."

Why is it that we rely on labels so much? 

I find myself wondering if there is an alternative. I don't think that there is. And are labels really all bad? I believe that there are also aspects of a label, classification or diagnosis that can be helpful - such as enabling one to receive specific accommodations, ensuring that one receives appropriate medical care, or even just in helping to understand one's strengths and challenges.

I think the greater issue is that "it's not really a great idea to see people as one thing." When we reduce someone to ONLY a label, when we can't see past a classification to appreciate one's gifts, when we pigeon-hole people into boxes based on those labels - this is when we tread on dangerous ground. This is what we need to seek to avoid and undo.

What do you think? Are labels completely problematic, or is there some positive value? 


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Debunking 4 Common Myths About Disability Inclusion

Debunking Myths in Disability Inclusion; Removing the Stumbling Block

If you look, you will find the word “inclusion” in the dictionary. But there is no universal definition of inclusion as it applies to educational settings.

To include is to make something fit as part of a whole, but real inclusion is so much more. It is working to ensure a true sense of belonging, and when our focus is on education, inclusion is ensuring that ALL students have equal access to curriculum and meaningful learning experiences.

Nevertheless, there is no blueprint for how to make this happen on a practical level in schools. As a result, each state, district, school, and even teacher may have a slightly different understanding of what an inclusive classroom is, let alone how to create one in practice.

There are so many myths and misconceptions that have become barriers to the widespread implementation of inclusive education. Below are four of the most common. 

Reforming Professional Development to Meet the Goals of Inclusion

We need everyone to advocate for inclusion; Removing the Stumbling Block


In secular education there is a cry for reform in the methodology of professional development for educators. Teachers are increasingly expected to reach their learners in authentic and meaningful ways through such practices as project-based learning and innovative uses of technology. Despite this, most professional development continues to be offered in a "one and done" fashion, with someone lecturing on a given topic and no follow-up offered. Tom Murray, in an article called professional-development reform: 8 steps to make it happen illustrates this point by writing, “Every year, school districts around the country waste a tremendous amount of time and money on ineffective professional development. The traditional model of “sit and get,” where a one-size-fits-all approach is utilized, yields abhorrent results…Professional development must undergo radical reform, from a model that’s outdated and ineffective to one that’s differentiated, meaningful and engaging.”  Differentiated, meaningful and engaging; that’s exactly the kind of education we want for our children, right? So why wouldn’t we want the same for those facilitating that education?

6 Summer Tips for Parents of Children with Disabilities

6 Summer Tips for Parents of Children with Disabilities; Removing the Stumbling Block

Our thoughts are beginning to turn from desks to lounge chairs, from carpools to lazy afternoons by the pool, and from early-morning alarms to long evenings spent making s’mores and catching fireflies.

We might assume that all families look forward to summer vacation, but sometimes it’s anxiety and not joy that accompanies the dismissal bell on that last day of school. Parents of children with a variety of disabilities and learning issues, for example, often notice that their kids tend to thrive on the structure and routine the academic year provides; the prospect of long stretches of unscheduled time can be overwhelming.

Acceptance: The True Measure of Inclusion

The gift of acceptance; Removing the Stumbling Block

Acceptance. 

The action or process of being received as adequate or suitable, typically to be admitted into a group.

It's what we all want, isn't it? 

No One is Perfect


One of the things I find most compelling about Judaism is the way in which we read Torah. Not just the pomp & circumstance of ritual surrounding it, although that is definitely awesome; but rather, the fact that we read the same words over and over, year in and year out. Each and every time we read a portion we can learn something new, glean some insight that we didn't catch before. 

We are different each and every time we encounter Torah; Removing the Stumbling Block

Why, you might wonder, could that be if the words never change? It is because we change. We are different each and every time we encounter Torah, and we bring our unique selves and our personal perspectives to the stories and messages in our ancient text. When successful, we merge the two to find wisdom and guidance for our modern lives.

Nevertheless, there are those portions that some try to avoid. They're the ones our kids hope they won’t draw for their b'nei mitzvah. Yes, of course, we know there is no “bad” parsha. But nonetheless, when we reach tazria-m’tzora, we find a parsha that speaks about ritual uncleanliness, skin disease and other such maladies. Woo hoo!

Attention Deficits and Gender - Continuing to Make Sense of Behavior


ADD Checklist for Girls; Removing the Stumbling Block

 

When I first came across this image illustrating attention deficit symptoms in girls, I immediately found myself thinking more about stereotypes than disabilities. It’s what led me to write: Making Sense of Behavior: Girls, Boys, Attention Deficits and Stereotypes. And yet, I still find myself far more concerned with the way that adults tolerate (or don’t tolerate!) such behaviors than about the differences themselves.

 

 

 

So when I discovered the counterpart to the original image, I went a little deeper.

 

Be the Change, Be Inclusive



Serenity Prayer - Removing the Stumbling Block

So much in our world is out of our control.

When we discuss the inclusion of individuals with disabilities, there are two directions we might go. One would be to focus on organizational change; the other, personal change. Both have value, both have their place.

Too often, organizations become overwhelmed by the scope of change, forgetting that it is a process. The task may seem insurmountable and so they won’t start, they won’t try. But you just have to start somewhere. 

And we must work hard to ensure that those of us acting as organizational change agents do the hard work of personal reflection. There is no room for hypocrisy. You can’t advocate for disability inclusion and then exclude a child with a disability from your daughter’s birthday party. You can’t be an advocate for inclusion and then rationalize parking in a handicapped spot.
Ghandi teaches us to “be the change we want to see in the world.” You can do it. You can practice what you preach. You must be inclusive as you work with those around you to do the same.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr 

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A Special College Acceptance


Have you seen this video?



It's had over a million hits and is being touted all over the internet as “heart-warming.”

Prom Inclusion - Is It Really Happening? How Often?


Prom inclusion; Removing the Stumbling Block

Prom season. Happens every year. And every year we see "feel good" stories like this. These stories make the rounds of the Internet and get shared by many, including respected disability inclusion advocates. They are sweet stories about friends going to the prom together. And everyone loves a feel good story, right? But these actually frustrate the heck out of me. Why? Because it's not news, or at least it shouldn't be. 


You see, a boy made a promise to a friend in fourth grade to take her to prom. And he followed it through. That should actually be the story, but it's not, at least it’s not the whole story: "It's just another boy-meets-girl story, right? Hang on: There's more to it than that. Mary has Down syndrome, and Ben is the quarterback of his high school's football team." So what? This should be all about a sweet promise made by a fourth grade boy, but this story's "hook" is that the young friend who was asked to prom has Down Syndrome and the boy is now the captain of the football team. 

What's the message here? That football players don't date people with Down Syndrome? Ugh. 

Sometimes Inclusion is Just About Listening


Sometimes inclusion is just about listening; Removing the Stumbling Block


There’s a young boy in our school who has been struggling this year. He likes coming to school and gets along with the other children, but he has a very tough time settling down, focusing, and he speaks inappropriately to the teacher, often demonstrating a great deal of disrespect.

Mom and I speak a lot. This is the younger of her two boys, and she has already gone through the process of having her older son diagnosed and supported in school. So this isn’t new for her and she is very open and willing to discuss the challenges. She is both sympathetic and supportive, recognizing that the teacher is doing her best to support her son.

The Power of Yet to Advance Inclusion



If you have done any reading or learning in the area of mindset, you know that the word “yet” can be a powerful game changer. It can help move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. 
The Power of Yet to Advance Inclusion; Removing the Stumbling Block
The concept is simple:

Help students change from saying and thinking “I can’t” to believing “I can’t yet.”

Shift them from “I don’t get it” to “I don’t get it yet.”

Push them from “I don’t know” to “I don’t know yet.”

And encourage them to abandon “This doesn’t work” for “This doesn’t work yet.”

How Do We Widen the Net of Inclusion?

How do we widen the net of inclusion? Removing the Stumbling Block


I had an interesting exchange with the social media/communications manager of an organization almost solely dedicated to the advancement of inclusion for individuals with disabilities in Jewish life.  He was pulling together a “best of” article to highlight posts from Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month. (Of course I was more than pleased to share a couple of my own). I commented that I was pleased to see that there so many articles written. His reply, “Yes, but they always seem to come from the same people and the same sources. How do we widen the net?”

Don't Use Inclusion as an Excuse for Bad Behavior


One of the things I do as a disability inclusion consultant is coach organizations and their staff as they work to become more inclusive. One of the most significant ways to accomplish this is to reframe both the way we think about certain situations and the language we use when talking about those situations.
Inclusion Is Not an Excuse for Bad Behavior; Removing the Stumbling Block

Here’s a perfect example:

An Inclusion Coordinator recently asked me the following question, “How do you explain to a parent that their kid was hit, bit, touched by a kid with a disability and explain why we let them [the child with a disability] attend camp? Also, do we explain to parents, before camp starts, that we are an inclusion camp (says this on our brochure) and behaviors may occur? Specifically we have kids with shadows who are included and as great and trained as those shadows are, there is the unexpected behavior.”

How Will You Move Inclusion Forward?

Faith is taking the first step, MLK; Removing the Stumbling Block

We have reached the end of another Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month. 

I always find myself thinking that true inclusion is the work of every day, not the work of one month. Opening the doors to ALL is not something we do once in a while. It must be the very fabric of who we are every day.

Max and Wayne: Reflections of Shabbat

With commitment, anything is possible; Removing the Stumbling Block

I was recently reminded of the value of sharing stories to help inspire and encourage others to take steps toward living their inclusive values. Each of us is a work in progress and I appreciate opportunities to reflect on my own growth as an inclusive educator. So it is with fondness that I return to this story of a teen retreat. 

In my role as a Jewish educator, I take many students on weekend retreats. Such experiences are a wonderful opportunity for teens to live and learn together as we celebrate Shabbat, socialize, talk and play. At retreats, teens build relationships with peers while exploring their Jewish identities, and such experiences expand exponentially on what we accomplish within the walls of our synagogue. Living together in Jewish time and sharing the joy of Shabbat in a unique setting is an amazing springboard from which we can launch our kids into so many other significant opportunities.

Living Up to My Inclusive Values


Birthright; Removing the Stumbling Block

I’ve had more than a month to reflect. 

I've recovered from the jet lag and gotten rid of that awful sinus infection. 

I’ve posted my pictures and thoroughly enjoyed everyone else’s. 

And yet, it’s taken me more than a month to write this post. Mostly because I have something challenging to write, and I don’t always know how to share the difficult stuff.

Need to catch up?

A Reminder of What is Possible - “No Limits” on the Jewish Disability Community

When you write a blog, there are some posts that get lost in the mix over time. It is hard work to continually bring each one back to the front. But there are some posts which are just too important to let fall by the wayside. This is one such post.
Reminder of what is possible; Removing the Stumbling Block
This Winter I lead my first Birthright trip. I say first, because I have every intention of leading another! I mentioned my motivations here and was not at all shy about sharing that I had the "ulterior motive" of learning how we (the Reform Movement and Kesher Birthright) might offer accessible and inclusive trips. With first-hand knowledge and experience behind me, I can say with certainly that this will be no easy task. BUT IT IS NECESSARY. It is important.

And that is why this post has not lost its relevance. It is a reminder of what is possible and it inspires me to keep the goals of inclusion close every day.

A Word of Caution Before Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month



Inclusion is a philosophy; Removing the Stumbling Block

There’s a buzz in the Jewish Disability World. Can you feel it? A few weeks from now will mark the beginning of yet another Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month; affectionately known by those who love acronyms as JDAIM. It can be a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness while highlighting the many great resources and opportunities that already exist within our communities. Personally, I always hope that it will lead to the opening of new doors that were once closed.

Disabilities vs. Special Needs - It's Time to Use the Words We Truly Mean

Disabilities vs. special needs, using the words we truly mean; Removing the Stumbling Block


I have wondered aloud (and in writing) about the difference between using the word disability and the phrase special needs.

While I prefer the term disability as I think it is clear, understandable and not in any way derogatory, I have been approached by parents of students in my school who have asked me to use the language of special needs because they find it gentler.

But here’s the thing: Don’t we all have needs? And aren’t we all special in some way? 
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