Inclusion for One is Inclusion for All: Unite!


On paper, the classrooms I taught in were labeled “inclusive”…meaning children with group identities of disabled and non-disabled. But, the classes were more than simply inclusive to children of diverse abilities, they were also inclusive to children of diverse racial, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, family unit, economic status, and more. During those years, and more so in the years since, I have come to realize that the practices I used were more than practices for the inclusion of children with disabilities. The strategies used in the classrooms I taught in were inclusive for all, regardless of group, cultural, or self-identities.

In this blog, I provide three resources, that when unified, can help support programs and classrooms that are inclusive to all children and families. I wrote the blog with early childhood professionals and advocates for social justice and equity in early childhood education in mind. I conclude with a call for early childhood professionals to unite and address injustice and inequity! Because #OurKidsAreListening…not just at home.

Resource one: The Recommended Practices…Inclusion begins with relationships

As I told Addi last January, discrimination, prejudice, and identity are hard to define and understand (refer to the first blog of this series). They are complicated, but with the song from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, understanding relationships is a bit easier.

Thanks to thirty years of work from dedicated advocates for the inclusion of young children with disabilities, embracing similarities and building relationships with the goal of inclusion for children with developmental delays and disabilities are already comprehensively outlined in the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) Recommended Practices (RPs).

The RPs emphasize collaboration and team decision-making as a key component for the successful inclusion of children in their natural environment. They are a tool that can be used by early childhood professionals who are looking for evidence-based guidance for building relationships.

Maintaining my position that social justice and equity are grounded in relationships, it is necessary for early childhood professionals to recognize the cornerstones for building relationships with families. The RPs offer three components essential for working with families: 1) Practices that are responsive to families uniqueness; 2) Strengthening families ability to advocate for their child; and 3) building relationships that promote positive outcomes for families and children. The components, accompanied by ten recommended practices provide evidence-based strategies for building team partnerships with strong relationships. However, more is needed to address the complexity of building relationships in a society where children and families are surrounded by messages normalizing discrimination against people who have “abnormal” group, cultural and self-identities.  Fortunately, there are additional resources.

Resource two: The Anti-bias Curriculum…RP plus ABC = inclusion for all

The vast differences of group, cultural, and self-identities make working in early childhood education unique and special. That said, the differences between team-members and families are susceptible to implicit biases. The biases potentially influence acts of injustice and inequity, particularly against families. To go beyond implicit biases, early childhood professionals must recognize the influence of differences and value race, native language, national origin, gender, economic status, education, etc…as assets, and embrace the similarities they share with children and families. The RPs offer guidance for creating relationships, but the supplementation of the Anti-bias Curriculum (ABC) practices can strengthen collaboration between early childhood professionals and families. Practices found in the ABC support early childhood professionals as they work to challenge their implicit biases and recognize their role in systemic oppression, discrimination and prejudice; a process that I have found both challenging and crucial for the inclusion of all group, cultural and self-identities.

The ABC and work by DEC (authors of the RPs) are recognized by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) as cornerstones to successful inclusion, but they have not been unified with one another.  Because of that, early childhood professionals who want to address social (in)justice and (in)equity must take it upon themselves to unify the RPs and ABC practices. The ABC practices serve as an aid for early childhood professionals to understand the message Daniel Tiger provided to Addi: “In some ways we are different, but in so many ways we are the same.”

As promising as that RP plus ABC were for me, and can be for other early childhood professionals, like every other resource they must be transferable into a program and classroom.  Lucky for us, the field has resources for that too!

Resource three: Tiered frameworks…focus on relationships and an effective workforce

Whether an early childhood program recognizes themselves as one that includes children with disabilities or as a program that includes all group, cultural and self-identities, the support of a tiered framework is strongly encouraged for transference into a program and classroom setting.  Discussed thoroughly in the book Blended Practices for Teaching Young Children in Inclusive Settings, tiered models such as the Pyramid ModelMultitiered Systems of Support, and others, provide a structure for supporting the development of the whole child and whole groups of children.

Different from other tiered frameworks, the Pyramid Model has a base at the foundation of the framework. The base draws attention to the pivotal influence of an “effective workforce.” In the case of a program that includes all identities, an effective workforce is prepared to use the RPs and ABC practices in addition to the other aspects of effective ECE. Above the base is the first tier of universal practices. The universal practices emphasize a supportive environment and nurturing relationships. The universal practices are essential for building relationships that embrace the identities of all children and families.

In a classroom incorporating ABC practices, the second tier, targeted instruction, should include explicit conversations about social justice and equity (refer to the first blog of this series), but those conversations are unique to each child’s identities and the identities across the early childhood program. It is important to use the RPs and ABC to welcome the voice of every child’s family into the decision-making process for targeted instruction.

The third tier requires early childhood professionals to have a deep understanding of their biases, recognizing the influence of their behaviors on the perceived need for intensive intervention. If the time comes when a team considering intensive interventions they should be deeply focused on unifying RPs plus ABC practices.

Call to action! 

In closing, early childhood professionals and families are living in the same unjust, inequitable society. Children’s constructions of normal and abnormal, good and bad, right and wrong are not isolated to any one environment. We must listen to children’s questions speak up and engage them. We cannot afford to be sitting on the sidelines watching injustice and inequity play out through immigration policy, police brutality, health care, disaster recovery, education, housing and beyond.

We must stay woke (refer to the second blog in this series), and uncomfortable in our biases, confronting the discomfort by understanding group, cultural, and self-identities (refer to the first blog in this series), and our roles as contributors to injustice and inequity.

Early childhood professionals can act by unifying the RPs with ABC practices in a tiered framework and uniting against injustice and inequity. Follow the guidance Addi provided to me as I wrote these blogs: “In some ways we are different, but in so many ways we are the same.”

Listen! Speak Up! Engage! And Unite!  #OurKidsAreListening. We need to build relationships, NOT walls!

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