sharma photoUmesh Sharma has been working as a Senior Lecturer in the area of Special Education and Psychology at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia for the last 8 years. His research focuses on teacher training for inclusive education, attitude measurement, and positive behaviour support. He has been organizing and conducting training activities for trainers, teachers and researchers both nationally and internationally on inclusive education.

The topic of my blog is the role of school leaders in enhancing inclusion of children who display disruptive behaviours. I want to share a true case study that has led me to raise some questions in the hope of initiating substantive, honest dialogue about what it means when we call a school “inclusive.”

The case study is about a mother and her son. I have known the mother for last three years as I worked with her and the family on a parent training project. We trained the family to use positive behaviour support strategies. The mother is well educated and is working part time in a high profile banking job. She called me last week and sounded very upset about the way the school is dealing with her son. Anthony is a seven year old first grader in a Catholic Primary School, and has mild symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder. The mother admitted Anthony into the school because she had known the staff for a very long time as her elder son, who is in Grade 5 this year, is attending the same school. Also the school is located in close proximity to their house. When I asked her about what was the issue, she told me that her son has started behaving inappropriately more frequently (e.g throwing temper tantrums) in the last few months. On many occasions the school has called the mother to pick him up to calm him down. It has clearly been upsetting for the teacher and the family. During all this time an adult aide has been working with him. The school has advised that it would be best for Anthony to attend a different school where the staff is well trained to handle children like Anthony. The mother does not like this solution and is keen to ensure that Anthony is fully included in the school. The journey is not so encouraging so far! She told me that she feels as an excluded child herself when she walks in the school building. When I asked her how the school leadership has responded on the issue so far, she told me that both principal and vice principal support the teacher and has indirectly asked her to look for another school. The mother finds it highly disturbing considering that the school is not only considered inclusive by many parents but it also promotes itself to be a highly inclusive school.

I am pretty sure the story that I presented here is not new but I have a series of questions which could be new for you. If they are not new and if you have been asking these questions and have done something productive about them, then your school should be highly inclusive and perhaps you can share some insight on your school’s journey to become inclusive. If you have not asked these questions, then this may be a time for you to start asking these questions. You may like to reflect on my case study and think of similar children and their parents in your school. It would be good if you reflect on a personal level (rather than on a theoretical level) when answering these questions. The questions are:

  • What have you done to welcome such children and their parents?
  • How many times have you walked in the classroom and spent time doing something positive with such a student? Remember, your behaviours are highly symbolic and they convey an important message to everyone in the school.
  • What have you done so that the parent of such a child doesn’t feel ashamed and feel empowered when he or she walks in your school? How many times have you asked them to join you for a coffee?
  • What have you told your teachers informally when dealing with such children and their parents?

You may also wish to reflect on your school’s policies and whether you think that your school policies support inclusion of such children. You may want to read the articles by Heineman, Dunlap, & Kincaid, (2005) and Sugai & Horner, (2002) before responding. I would also like to hear from parents about:

  • What do you think about the school leadership?
  • Do you feel welcomed in the school?
  • Are there any incidents that you would like to share reflecting positive (or not so positive) stories about your child’s school?
  • How did you react and what did you do?

I am looking forward to reading your reflections.

Heineman, M. Dunlap, G. & Kincaid, D. (2005) Positive Support Strategies for Students with Behavioral Disorders in General Education Settings, Psychology in the Schools, 42 (8), 779-794.

Sugai, G.M., & Horner, R.H. (2002). The evolution of discipline practices: School-wide positive behavior supports. Child and Family Behavior Therapy, 24, 23–50.

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2 Responses to “Inclusive or Not Inclusive? That is the Question! by Umesh Sharma”

  1. Jennifer on 8/5/09 5:50 PM US/Eastern

    This is interesting Umesh. As a parent of a toddler with developmental delays and is prone to tantrums, I wonder how he will do when he is school age. In Australia, are public schools allowed to say we don’t want a “disruptive” child, or is this a private school? I am going to think more about interviewing school staff for “inclusivity” when our son comes time for kindergarten.

  2. Cheryl Theis on 8/5/09 6:07 PM US/Eastern

    As an education advocate working with parents, foster parents and kin caregivers of children with disabilities, I can’t tell you how important this is to the success of an IEP or 504 plan, and to a child’s success at school. No matter how detailed these plans might be, the culture of the school can be the major issue. I’ve seen a child with behavior issues on the autism spectrum be wildly successful one year, only to fail to meet any goals the next. Why? The teacher one year had specific training and expertise in inclusion, was truly committed to making the child part of the school community and classroom community, and assigned buddies, played to a child’s strengths, etc==while the next year teacher clearly resented having to work on this, and the child felt it. Discipline and positive behavior support are two sides of the same coin. Both are imbedded in a view of any child, regarless of disability, as a human being who CAN respond and progress if the support is provided.

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