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In our section, we wanted most of our content to come from people with hands-on experience with inclusion in international schools so that you can get more than just our opinions and what you are able to find online.  Because of this, we have curated the detailed accounts of a multitude of educators’ experience with inclusion.  The majority of our content will come from interviews or questionnaires of people employed in present or past in the world of international education.  We hope you enjoy this inside look.

Meet Elizabeth Daigle Babin

Elizabeth has worked as an early interventionist and a special education teacher in the United States, Saudi Arabia and at The International School of Azerbaijan(click to read TISA’s definition of inclusion). She is also a proud parent of a third-culture kid. Click to listen to our interview with Elizabeth.

Meet Kirstin Botter, ITEps Lecturer

Kirstin has worked as an early years teacher in Scotland (learning support info on page 31 of their handbook), Dubai (inclusion policy) and Switzerland (check the FAQ page), Click to listen to our interview with Kirstin.

Meet Natalie Shaw, ITEps Lecturer, Years 2 – 4 Coordinator

Natalie has worked as a classroom teacher in China, a classroom teacher and Art Coordinator in Cambodia and a classroom teacher and Coordinator of an Early Childhood Centre in Germany. Click here to listen to the interview with Natalie.

Meet Cecilia Cienska, Learning Support Director

Ceclilia is the Learning Support Director and a Speech Therapist at the American School of Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland. Their mission regarding inclusion can be found here.

Meet James Denby, Lecturer and Year 1 Coordinator, ITEps

James has worked as a classroom teacher (primary, middle and secondary) and an educational consultant in international schools in Thailand, Colombia, and Turkey as well as schools in the United States and Canada. James has also published several books with Teacher’s Discovery and designed courses for the Digital Media Academy and American Western University.¬† James currently teaches Inclusive Education,, among other subject, as ITEps. Click here to listen to our interview with James.

Meet Anne Bradley, Learning Support Teacher and PYP Coordinator

To what extent have the schools you worked in lived up to their definition of inclusion? Have they fully embraced it Are they working on it? Are they just beginning their journey?  

For the most part, teachers in schools I have worked in fully embraced inclusion. They have received lots of in-service training and support from the Learning Support teachers. They are involved in discussions on student progress and support. Sometimes, as international schools have a transitory teaching population, teachers arrive who have come from schools that are highly selective and are not used to having LS students in their classes. These teachers need lots of support to include students effectively.

Onsite collaborative discussions between all interested parties. Different perspectives. Easy access to assessments to less time-delay. Working together with students.

Describe one impactful experience you have had with inclusion. 

It has to be Alfred. I began working with Alfred when he was in Grade 7. I worked closely with the speech and language therapist who had been working with Alfred since he was referred to her in Grade 4. She said at that time he was unmotivated, fairly uncommunicative and unhealthy physically.

By Grade 7 he was a very invested young man. By Grade 8 he gave up most lunchtimes and after school to receive extra support. I think I must have explained the equation for the slope of a straight line more than 30 times to Alfred. I doubted he would make it through high school to graduation. But he had going for him a phenomenal attitude of persistence and grit, and lots of in-school support.

Alfred remained in school, taking all regular classes, and receiving both group and one-on-one learning support, all the way through. He became really involved in high school soccer and became leaner and fitter. I was more moved when I watched him walk across the stage at his graduation than for any other student. He went on to university in the USA.

What is one aspect of inclusion that you believe your school (current or past) stands out in? 

Working with class/subject teachers and helping them better support the learners. Advocating for the students.

What is one aspect of inclusion that you believe your school (current or past) could improve upon? 

It is the same as above actually. I think we can always be better at helping teachers better serve the needs of all the learners in their classes. And this is a factor of teacher time, Learning Support teachers need common planning time with the classroom/subject teachers.

Meet Monique Siep-Donahue, ITEps Lecturer, Math, IUR
  • Homeroom Teacher and the G5-Math Coordinator at the International School of Busan

What was your school’s definition of inclusion?

Admit all students, no matter their educational or social-emotional needs.

In your opinion, to what extent is this definition upheld and practiced in the school and in classrooms (fully embraced, working on it, just beginning)

Fully embraced as all students are admitted, but not necessarily fully supported.

Does your school have a policy and/or handbook on inclusion/ student services /learning support?

No, but inclusion is in the mission and vision statement and part and parcel of the International Baccalaureate mission.

What was the process through which your school became an inclusive school or began to become more inclusive (brief timeline or key milestones)?

It was always inclusive and has remained so.

Does your school provide you with access to onsite specialists and if so, which ones? (behavioral therapists, speech-language therapists, occupational therapists, educational psychologists, etc.)

Yes, one special needs teacher and one counselor. All other forms of support were hard to find outside of school because of language and cultural barriers.

Specialists are instrumental in supporting classroom teachers in making sure students’ needs are met and often have educational resources and expertise to support students and their teachers.

Describe one impactful experience you have had with inclusion.

There are many. One year I had a student diagnosed on the autistic spectrum and two to three more who were suspected to be on the spectrum but of which parents were in denial.

What is one aspect of inclusion that you believe your school (current or past) stands out in?

If the students came from the US military or diplomatic service we were able to access funding. This extra funding then often paid for shadow teachers (teaching assistants for the children who needed it) that helped immensely in alleviating the time and energy that went into supporting these children with special needs, Special needs children require more time to service, disproportionately to the regular students.

What is one aspect of inclusion that you believe your school (current or past) could improve?

Allocate more funding to be able to support students and teachers as needed. Support teachers in entering into difficult conversations with parents about students who need special needs assessment and support.

Meet Danette Sack, Director of Student Support Services at the International School of Beijing

What is your school’s definition of inclusion?

We have not yet defined this, however, we envision the definition to be broader than just inclusion of students with disabilities. The definition will include access, equity, and inclusion for all learners.

To what extent is this definition upheld and practiced in the school and in classrooms (fully embraced, working on it, just beginning)?

Working on it.

Does your school have a policy and/or handbook on inclusion/ student services /learning support?

We are writing a new one.

What was the process through which your school became an inclusive school or began to become more inclusive (brief timeline or key milestones)?

The US Embassy has put pressure on schools around the world to expand their services to include children with disabilities; we also believe it is a moral imperative to teach a broader range of learning profiles

Does your school provide you with access to onsite specialists and if so, which ones? (behavioral therapists, speech-language therapists, occupational therapists, educational psychologists, etc.)

School psychologists, Speech and Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, and learning support teachers provide intervention, therapy, and assessment for students with special needs.

What is one aspect of inclusion that you believe your school (current or past) stands out in?

Opening a classroom for children with intellectual disabilities; it’s the first of its kind in Beijing.

What is one aspect of inclusion that you believe your school (current or past) could improve?

Wow, so many areas – we’re really at the beginning of our journey.

Meet Debra Williams-Gualandi, ITEps Lecturer
  • Former School Director and Principal of the International School of Florence.

What is your school’s definition of inclusion?

All children have a right to have what they need to learn to reach their individual potential.

In your opinion, to what extent is this definition upheld and practised in the school and in classrooms (fully embraced, working on it, just beginning)?

Always working on it and not yet actually there.

Does your school have a policy and/or handbook on inclusion/ student services /learning support?

Yes

What was the process through which your school became an inclusive school or began to become more inclusive (brief timeline or key milestones)?

Inclusivity focused primarily on students with learning needs. This, in my view, is a partial definition. Historically, learning support required an extra fee; that was abolished; the learning support teachers (one for each school) helped to train staff at meetings on what inclusion means; whole school PD with the Powells (great); review of policy and admissions guidelines; constant individual work with teachers to explain and exemplify differentiation.

Does your school provide you with access to onsite specialists and if so, which ones? (behavioral therapists, speech-language therapists, occupational therapists, educational psychologists, etc.)

Speech therapists come to school by appointment; other roles externally supported through an extensive national system, but language barriers met by private services.

Making specialists available within the school, and within the school day normalizes services in a culture where learning needs are often stigmatized (portions of this parent environment)

Describe one impactful experience you have had with inclusion in your/a classroom.

Very early on as a young teacher, I understood how a dyslexic student learning French as a second language was a ‘transformed’ student when he was provided with visual learning prompts. It was a small thing, but it radically changed my approach, my future research and thinking and my sense of responsibility.

What is one aspect of inclusion that you believe your school (current or past) stands out in?

Providing spaces for support and extra time that don’t stigmatize and are user-friendly. Hiring EXCELLENT support specialists.

What is one aspect of inclusion that you believe your school (current or past) could improve?

Working on the definition to broaden what is meant by inclusion. For example, we would be challenged with a student with visual or severe hearing impairment.

Meet Sarah Borgerding, School Counselor at The International School of Azerbaijan

What is your school’s definition of inclusion?

I am not sure that TISA has a formal statement regarding this definition but I will respond with how I see it being enacted at TISA. This is from the perspective of a School Counselor who has worked as a classroom aid for learning support students, a person with dyslexia and other learning differences, and the¬†parent of two kids who are accessing the services of Learning Support at TISA: Inclusion at TISA incorporates the way that the school community supports and addresses the individual needs of every student. All students have challenges and areas where they¬†see things/learn differently. Looking at the needs of the individual student and working as a team to work to address a¬†students¬†needs in order to provide them a space where they can be challenged, grow, and find success. In this the idea of ‚Äúsuccess‚ÄĚ is¬†also defined by the individual students goals and progress rather than a general definition for all students. This means flexibility in how things are taught and assessed and how classrooms are run. Teachers work to¬†run their classes to meet the needs of the students who are in their classes, and the Counselors, Learning Support, Language Learning and administration are here to support students and teachers when a student is struggling to make progress. We have a strong pastoral team and are working to build relationships with students so that assistance of any kind be it academic, stress, anxiety, or other mental health related support, has a better chance of success.

In your opinion, to what extent is this definition upheld and practised in the school and in classrooms (fully embraced, working on it, just beginning)?

Fully embraced but also still working on it. This is a process not a one and done. TISA has embraced the idea and philosophy. Sometimes it works better than others and there are always things we can do better as teachers and students change.

Does your school have a policy and/or handbook on inclusion/ student services /learning support?

What was the process through which your school became an inclusive school or began to become more inclusive (brief timeline or key milestones)?

I am not sure how to answer this question. I have been there for 6 years and I think that things have become more inclusive with better practices and support for students as we have become more willing to be flexible and work as a team towards practices that are effective . That being said the sudden move to online learning has added an additional layer of challenge. The underlying agreed philosophy has not changed. I think I should also note that we do have limits as a school for the types of students we can integrate. As an example, students must be able to access the curriculum, at least to some degree, but we are also very upfront with these parents before a student comes to attend school at TISA, and will not accept them if we feel that our school is not in the best interest of the students growth and development.

Does your school provide you with access to onsite specialists and if so, which ones? (behavioral therapists, speech-language therapists, occupational therapists, educational psychologists, etc.)

This is hard in the International School world to have these therapists at hand that speak the language that are needed to serve our population. We pull from online resources and from the parent communities where we can. From time to time we have had most of the ones you listed here in our community, and when we don’t we punt and do our best. Many of these resources are focused on elementary students, like speech and language, and when the schedule permits, a few time slots for secondary students if needed. We now have a full time Ed Psych which is amazing as we are not having to fly in a specialist to do assessments for a group of students, decreasing cost and increasing accessibility to parents and students.

Specialists are key as they give teams including the student a direction to look at and a bag of tools to try. As an example if I know that a student struggles with spelling but I am not sure why I can work to treat the spelling, but I may blunder and stumble through many approaches that do not work until, if I am lucky, I am able to find the one that helps. The approaches that are not a good fit might also be doing more harm than good and wasting key learning time. An assessment gets the team headed in the right direction. Specialists as a key member of the team can give students, families, teachers support and specific ideas of what modifications might be appropriate and effective. In addition, specialists can work with students one on one and support students in a focused way with specific challenges that are getting in the way of a student’s academic success.

Describe one impactful experience you have had with inclusion.

This is a hard question for me to answer. It is hard to pick just one. Perhaps I will focus on a current student with Autism. I have worked with this student for 6 years, and the first year I sat under desks and in the hall for hours while he stimed (Rocking back and forth).

This student‚Äôs ability to think and express verbally is exceptional, with a highly enriched vocabulary outstripping some of the teachers, but in writing the processing speed drops to normal. The discrepancy is a huge source of anxiety, and often resulted in a “this is stupid, I will not do this” attitude that put off classroom teachers. Also some of the self-stimulation was more violently directed at the self (head banging or shoving away of things that sometimes caused things to go flying –never with the intent to hurt others but that might have¬†hurt others).

Working with specialists, including myself as the School Counselor, learning support, and an Ed-Psych, we have spent the past 6 years working to help this student build skills to manage and work through the anxiety, to get the student to accept modifications (like using a computer to type rather than a pen and paper for all assessments), working with an physical and occupational therapist to assist with body movement issues, and much much more.

As a DP student, they are now an active participant in classes, self-motivated, self organized for the most part, and are on track to earn an IB score in the high 30’s and able to access some of the top universities in the world. This is still an ongoing process. Last week I was told that the subject of Spanish was “Stupid”. Giving the student a place to be heard, with a trusted person, and walking through the logic is key. I have an agreement for now that they will work to get a low middle range grade that will get them to their goals of university, but the Learning Support Teacher, myself as Counselor, the classroom teacher are all checking in with the student to see how things are going and how we can be of support. We are in the process of developing specific goals and a plan is in progress.

What is one aspect of inclusion that you believe your school (current or past) stands out in?

We work at it every day and work to work with the students. We are not always perfect or successful, but we keep trying! We keep communicating, working to be as flexible as we can, but also keeping in mind our limitations and that our goal is to be inclusive but in a way that does not negatively impact the learning of other students.

What is one aspect of inclusion that you believe your school (current or past) could improve?

This is also a hard question, as I know that there are students for whom the circumstances at TISA are not fully meeting their needs, but we are a small international school and do not have the space or resources for a much fuller program. Having additional resources and specialists at hand is always a plus. Continuing to make a belief in inclusion be key to hiring new teachers is also important for moving forward. We can always do things better, but working together we are effective or efficient than compartmentalized. This is always a process and although something we do well on most days, also something that could always be improved.

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Inclusive Perspectives in Primary Education Copyright © 2021 by room305 and Inclusive Education Class 2020-2021 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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