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Episode Transcript: Academic & Behavioral Inclusion

Mullen: Welcome to the EXPLORING THE CORE PODCAST, where we delve into the elements that make up our education system and learn more about how that system can improve for the benefit of all students in schools today.

I'm Greg Mullen and in this episode I’ll be talking about concepts of Academic Inclusion and Behavioral Coaching, to highlight the impact a developmental mindset can have on building an inclusive environment in a general education classroom.

I'll also be talking to Meg Bristow, a Special Education Coordinator out of Santa Ana, California, about her thoughts on the topic of inclusion in schools.

Thank you for listening, I hope you enjoy the show.

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I’d like to start this episode by mentioning the book I published through Corwin Press in December 2019. It’s called Creating a Self-Directed Learning Environment: Standards-Based and Social-Emotional Learning and I want to ensure you that there’s a good reason for mentioning my book because each of the episodes in this podcast has focused on topics related to either Standards-Based Grading or Social-Emotional Learning.

Well, in today’s episode, I’m focusing on how a standards-based and social-emotional approach to education, combined with a Developmental Mindset, addressing the cognitive and psychosocial development of students, can take intuitive efforts for academic and behavioral inclusion in some classrooms and turn it into intentional efforts in all classrooms.

In my classroom, I always had at least one or two students with an IEP, or Individualized Educational Program. This meant that a student and their parent or guardian met with their teachers, administrator, special education coordinator, as well as any other service provider relevant to the student’s needs, and discussed what challenges the student is facing and how certain accommodations or modifications will help ensure that student has opportunities to learn that meet their needs. At the start of a school year, I would typically receive a binder with these students’ IEP information and pull out the aspects of each IEP that directly impact my classroom. These sometimes included things as simple as seating arrangements and particular check-for-understanding strategies or extra processing time, but sometimes they would include things like needing to arrange in advance a separate high-stakes testing environment. I’m not mentioning the possible reasons or rationale for why any of these accommodations were necessary because I’ve learned that there’s not always a causation of a student need and a particular accommodation - every individual student is different and an accommodation that works for one kiddo may not work the same for another. What I liked about having one or two students with an IEP meant I always had a basis for how I needed to approach my classroom management for the year. I actually looked forward to those documents for this reason because it meant that I didn’t have to spend the first few weeks figuring out what works for this student or that student. In fact, I would spend those first few weeks exercising my awareness of how those accommodations would not only benefit those particular students but how they might also benefit all of the other students in my classroom.

You see, something I mention in my book is what I call a Developmental Mindset. This is an awareness that a classroom full of students around the same age may actually be working through a wide range of certain social, emotional, and even cognitive and psychosocial stages of human development. I would be offering my students a disservice if I treated them all according to a particular average of all of those developmental stages and set my expectations based on that average, because none of them would ever fall precisely on that average line. In fact, looking at that “best line of fit” for the developmental scatter plot of my students was mainly to keep my own sanity. It had always seemed impossible to think that I could address every students’ needs all the time. It took a few years before I realized how wrong I was.

One of my favorite days of the school year became the first day of school. It wasn’t because everybody was on their “best behavior”. It was because that initial state in which students would enter my classroom allowed me to observe how they chose to find their seat - maybe it was with a friend, or perhaps a student would anxiously find their seat away from others, or walk confidently to the front-center of available seats and begin unpacking their things in what they have clearly presumed to be the best seat in the house. What I came to realize is that it wasn’t just what seat they were selecting as much as how they chose their seat which illuminated for me their own personal and social wants and needs. It created an informal set of base data that I would gauge over that first week as each student began to