5 inclusive teaching strategies to know
Start practising these strategies in your classroom now, or bookmark them for your learning journey. Inclusive school communities equal inclusive societies, period.
What does inclusive education look like?
Around 1 in 6 people in Australia have a disability—so it’s highly likely that there’s at least one student with a mental disability, physical disability or behavioural disorder in every classroom.
Inclusive education is about creating a school and community environment that welcomes all students and helps them thrive, regardless of ability or background. Not familiar with inclusive education? Read about what inclusive education is here.
A fully-inclusive school would have facilities that provide extra support to students that need it. More often than not, accessible and disability-friendly spaces also benefit users without a disability.
Examples include accessible play areas and wider spaces (for students in wheelchairs), low sensory areas (for children with autism) and assistive technologies such as text-to-speech systems, Braille displays, modified eating utensils, the list goes on.
Inclusive practices in education also mean that students with additional needs have teachers’ aides with them in the classroom or on the playground.
Importantly, students of all abilities learn together and are on the same curriculum, though children with additional needs may have an Individual Education Plan, which helps teachers tailor tasks based on the ways in which they learn best.
While all specialist schools currently operate this way, there’s work to be done for mainstream schools to also be more inclusive.
Currently, Victoria is rolling out a $1.6 billion Disability Inclusion investment to help mainstream government schools do just that. Additionally, it’s building new Supported Inclusion Schools which will be equipped and staffed for students of all abilities from day one.
Thinking of training to be an inclusive education teacher? Already a teacher but wanting to incorporate more inclusive principles in your practice? Great timing! Have a look at this range of online specialist and inclusive education courses that could get you there.
5 strategies for inclusive education
Wrangling a bunch of kids is never easy, so how does a teacher practise inclusivity with students of varying needs? Here are some strategies for inclusion in the classroom.
1. Tailor activities to be as inclusive as possible
Inclusive teaching is very much a creative job! Within a lesson, tasks can be tailored to different students’ learning goals, strengths and abilities. This could mean using simplified texts and visual supports, breaking tasks into smaller steps, letting students use alternate ways to respond and/or giving kids more time to complete tasks.
Instructions should be short, clear and engaging (a hallmark of great teaching, regardless of whether you’re teaching students with additional needs).
You might also engage with a student’s family and healthcare professionals like occupational therapists to help make environmental adjustments—allowing a student to stand more than sit or ensuring the right assistive tech is available in class.
2. Create a safe space
This refers to creating safe spaces in a physical, as well as emotional sense.
Some students may feel embarrassed about receiving extra support, so being discreet is important.
Students with ADHD, autism or backgrounds of trauma may need quiet areas to which they can retreat. These areas should contain items that support emotional and behavioural self-regulation—a padded playmat, bean bags, calming music and the lights turned down.
Creating a safe space also means providing support and encouragement that focuses on a student’s strengths, using inclusive language and allowing them to express their preferences, opinions and emotions.
Diversity is the norm in the world—constantly repeating this to students reinforces the safe space message too.
3. Encourage peer interaction
Make sure to include opportunities for students to engage in collaborative learning. The benefits extend far beyond the classroom. Students get to know each other and will build friendships that cut across abilities.
Where possible, students should remain with the main group, rather than in separate areas working with specialists. Ideally, they should be using similar materials and content (that have been tailored to their individual strengths and abilities, of course).
Talk about different styles of communication and share practical tips for including other students. For example, you could tell your students to choose activities that all their friends can take part in such as a range of activities in the park instead of a game of basketball, which could be challenging for some with a physical disability. On the other hand, their friend may be an enthusiastic wheelchair basketball player—a respectful question about interests and preferences is the way to go!
4. Collaborate with others
Another key diversity and inclusion strategy is to have ongoing conversations with parents, carers and the learning and support team. Together, you can set tailored learning goals that speak to a student’s strengths yet are challenging enough to support their development.
With students, it’s imperative that they are able to make their own choices. Find opportunities for students to co-design their own learning. Empower them to have a voice within the school community and ensure that feedback is considered and actioned.
5. Introduce routine and structure
While there are too many diversity and inclusion strategies to list here, we’ll round this list off with this: provide routine and structure so students have a sense of stability. Increasing predictability reduces behavioural problems in the classroom.
What this means is keeping a similar structure each day but refreshing the tasks within the structure to keep things interesting. For example, always scheduling a silent activity before starting a lesson, but have this be reading one day and an interactive task the next. Prepare students for change by letting them know about it far in advance. Use countdown timers, regular reminders and visual schedules to ensure they aren’t surprised.
Inclusive education resources
There’s so much to learn in the inclusive teaching space, so where to next? Here’s a list of online resources (and courses!) that will help you grow into the inclusive teaching practitioner you want to be!
- Don’t have a teaching qualification yet? Through Open Universities Australia, you can either choose a specialist education bachelor degree or begin with a general teaching bachelor degree and specialise later. Your coursework will be online, but you’ll do placements in person to ensure you’re ready for the classroom.
- Already have a bachelor degree in teaching? Immerse yourself in specialist and inclusive teaching with one of these postgraduate courses, short courses or single subjects to start.
- Read the Australian Institute for School Teaching and Leadership’s advice on teaching children with a disability.
- Learn more inclusive teaching practices from Inclusive Solutions, an inclusive education consultancy.
- Curious about assistive technologies? Here’s info from New South Wales’ Education Department.
- Find support for educators from Amaze, an autism advocacy group.
- Share facts about the prevalence of disability with your students. Compiled by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
- Working as a teacher currently? Express your interest in inclusive education with your school and sign up for ongoing inclusive teaching professional development opportunities, such as this from the Victorian Government.