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May 30, 2023
ASCD Blog

A First Step on the Path Toward Inclusivity

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Exclusive book excerpt: Undertaking authentic systemwide change requires educators first establish—individually and as a team—why inclusion matters to them.
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In their recent book, The Way to Inclusion: How Leaders Create Schools Where Every Student Belongs (ASCD, 2023), five educators and inclusion experts—Julie Causton, Kate MacLeod, Kristie Pretti-Frontczak, Jenna Mancini Rufo, and Paul Gordon—take readers on an “inclusivity journey,” charting a path to disrupt the inequities found in traditional special education systems. Organized around seven milestones and filled with research, resources, action planning templates, and real-world examples, their book serves as a guide for educators who are ready to take steps toward sustainable systems change.
In this exclusive book excerpt, the authors explore how systemwide change begins with deepening your relationship to your personal “why.” When educators carefully examine why inclusion is important—both to them personally and to their school system—they are better equipped to take bold steps toward change.

As a Team, Explore Your Personal “Whys”

You came to the work of inclusion for a reason, and you are likely already very committed to and passionate about creating inclusive schools. Clarifying even more the reasons you want to create more inclusive schools will serve you well in leading your system through this change process. You will return to your own “why” and the why of others repeatedly in the journey toward inclusion for all.

Understanding and committing to the why of this work will ignite your resolve to take the journey.

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If you and your colleagues deeply understand why you are taking this journey, you will feel bolstered to continue through the challenges that may come and be prepared to bring everyone along to your desired outcome. Understanding and committing to the why of this work will ignite your resolve to take the journey and bring you comfort when the trail gets narrow and hard to navigate.
Take a moment here to reflect on your own why as it relates to inclusion and the journey you are embarking upon. Why is the work of equity and inclusive education important to you personally? Why is inclusion a priority now?

Communicate Your Why with Your Team

Gather your trusted leadership team to share your thoughts and ideas with one another. Having an open and honest sharing conversation will help you to develop common reasons why you are working toward inclusion and discuss similarities and differences in your personal rationale. In some districts, everyone writes individual answers on a shared document so that you can easily see your different rationales, hopes and dreams, and priorities for this work. This conversation will solidify the importance and urgency of the work and create even more shared collective purpose for your team.
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Rationale at the Ready

By a special education director
When I assumed the role of special education director for a school district with roughly 13,000 students, most students with disabilities were receiving services in self-contained special education classrooms. I knew, based on both research and my experience working in other school systems, that this method was ineffective and needed to be redesigned. Our district’s Inclusion Task Force asked the question, “How do we bring services to students rather than bringing students to services?” We engaged in many conversations about how to wrap services around students.
Even with a strong leadership team in place, clear rationale for the change, and a detailed plan of action, questions still arose. Here are some examples:
  • Why are we making this change?
  • What’s wrong with what we’ve been doing all these years?
  • What about the students who “can’t handle” general education?
  • Can’t we do this as a pilot?
  • How will we get training?
  • What if this doesn’t work?

We had to show, share, discuss, and, at times, debate why we were moving toward an inclusive system. We had to have our why at the ready each day.

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As a leader, I needed to be ready to answer these questions and many more. I also found that for some staff, words were not enough. They needed to see and experience success for themselves firsthand. Others needed time to discuss concerns and revisit what this would mean for them. What it came down to was revisiting our rationale repeatedly. We had to show, share, discuss, and, at times, debate why we were moving toward an inclusive system. We had to have our why at the ready each day.
This post is excerpted from The Way to Inclusion: How Leaders Create Schools Where Every Student Belongs by Julie Causton, Kate MacLeod, Kristie Pretti-Frontczak, Jenna Mancini Rufo, Paul Gordon, Arlington, VA: ASCD. Copyright 2023 ASCD.

The Way to Inclusion

An invaluable guide for leading through change so that all students can thrive in a truly inclusive system.

The Way to Inclusion

Julie Causton is a bestselling author, inspiring speaker, and inclusive education advocate. The founder and CEO of Inclusive Schooling, she is a former tenured professor in the Department of Teaching and Leadership at Syracuse University, where she headed the Inclusive Elementary Education Program.

A former elementary, middle, and high school special education teacher, she has conducted presentations focusing on engaging ways to educate all students within the context of general education that have inspired and uplifted educators and families throughout the United States and helped them learn the most cutting-edge inclusive practices. Julie is the author of a dozen books about inclusive education and has published articles in over 30 educational research and practitioner journals.

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