“When we talk about inclusion, we’re not just talking about individual practices,” says RinaMarie Leon-Guerrero (PhD ‘06), an inclusion specialist at the University of Washington's Haring Center for Inclusive Education. “Inclusion is a cultural initiative, and it must be a complete shift.”
In autumn 2019, in partnership with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), the Haring Center launched a project to create 16 demonstration sites at K-12 schools across Washington state that highlight inclusive education best practices — part of a statewide effort to assist more schools in adopting a culture of inclusion.
“These demonstration sites give us the opportunity to focus on what is working well, and to take a closer look at schools on these amazing continuous plans of improvement as they evolve in response to students that walk through their doors,” says Cassie Martin (PhD ‘10), a senior inclusion specialist and project lead.
The Haring Center selected 10 elementary, middle and high schools from all regions of Washington as the first cohort to showcase their own inclusionary best practices. Next year, six more schools will join the effort as demonstration sites.
After working with the Haring Center this spring, five schools are ready to showcase their successes to visitors. Of course, this suddenly looks quite different than originally conceived, Leon-Guerrero said.
The original plan was for the schools to set a rotating schedule to host visitors, with one site visit every six weeks, she noted.
Instead, the Haring Center and the demonstration sites have quickly pivoted to a virtual format, and are now highlighting their inclusionary practices via webinars.
“It’s no easy task to translate something so tangible like seeing the look and feel of a school to a virtual visit,” Leon-Guerrero said. “But I’ve been impressed — our sites were able to do it successfully. They really stayed committed to the work.”
The 16 demonstration sites range widely in how far they are into their inclusive education journeys.
“A visiting school may see a site five years in, and that can be overwhelming, but they can also look at a school one year in,” says Martin. “They can observe what’s working really well, the high-leverage moves schools have made, and really see how they can implement inclusion in the early stages in their own schools.”
The five schools presenting webinars this spring exhibited a substantial number of inclusionary practices. Some display an inclusive mission and vision, others incorporate master scheduling or apply multi-tiered systems of support, while others demonstrate visible learning, co-teaching or collaborative professional learning communities.
Katy Bateman (PhD ‘17), a senior inclusion specialist for the project, noted the strong positive behavior interventions and supports in place at Meadow Ridge Elementary School in Spokane.
“They have worked hard to develop multi-tiered systems of support to support all learners,” she says.
“Another great thing about the demonstration sites is that by including middle and high schools, we can really look at the continuum of inclusionary practices,” noted Leon-Guerrero.”Hidden River Middle School [in Snohomish] discussed how to prepare students for middle school, high school and beyond as we look toward the long-term success of our students.”
In addition to the webinars themselves, demonstration sites provide artifacts that can aid other schools as they work toward integrating inclusion into their culture. Examples of these artifacts include master schedule templates, inclusion handbooks and lesson-planning tools.
Another aspect of the demonstration sites project is the Haring Center’s role in building a professional network for the schools.
The Haring Center is hosting a virtual summer institute in June for this year’s demonstration sites. During the institute, schools will work together on demonstration site replication and information dissemination to effectively inspire other schools to implement inclusionary practices.
An award-winning journalist from NPR will join the institute to work with the schools to help them tell their stories of inclusion in a transformative way.
Then, in August, the group will re-convene virtually to share their stories.
Marci Anderson-Youngstrom, a school psychologist at McMicken Heights Elementary School in SeaTac, says, “One of my favorite things about our community is that we’re never done growing our inclusive practices.”
“These schools have the opportunity to have tremendous impact both on the way we think about inclusive education across the state, but also within their own regions and districts,” says Martin.
While Martin, Leon-Guerrero and Bateman agree that there is no substitute for feeling the culture of inclusion in a school and seeing inclusive learning take place in-person, they point out benefits of this spring’s webinar structure.
“The webinars mean we’re able to share the incredible work these sites are doing on a larger scale,” explains Bateman. In one week, four schools hosted webinars and attendance reached nearly 400 people, including families as well as educators.
“That family engagement piece is definitely a benefit, because we need to weave it into all the work we do anyway,” agrees Martin.
Martin noted that not only did the schools have to quickly pivot in the format of their work as demonstration sites, but they also had to do so while they were transitioning to distanced learning at a similar fast pace. And, she explains that many inclusive practices, such as co-teaching, are significantly more challenging virtually.
“I am constantly impressed with the way these sites have adapted to new technology and creative ways to share their stories of inclusion,” affirmed Bateman. “We are all on a learning curve, but this curve has lent itself to stronger partnerships as we work through this new world together.”
As for the five demonstration sites slated to open their doors to visitors in the autumn, they are planning ahead for all possible scenarios.
“One of the wonderful things about our demonstration sites is that they’re innovators,” says Martin. “They’re ensuring an inclusive community outside of the confines of a school building, and they understand that providing others with an opportunity to see strong inclusive practices and culture is important regardless of whether or not we’re in a physical school building right now.”
Bateman says she is inspired by how well the first five sites told their stories.
“When you listen to this team present their work, you can’t help but feel the passion, dedication and collaboration that went into their development and implementation of their practices.”
This story originally appeared on the Haring Center website.
Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications