The three key ingredients of an inclusive educational community
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Sector.
When a young person can walk, work and play alongside others from diverse backgrounds with a range of abilities, their educational experience is profoundly enhanced.
In the opinion piece below Edmund Rice Education Australia’s (EREA) new Flexi schools CEO Dr Matt Hawkins explores the three key components of an inclusive educational community, and how to create a space where inclusivity is alive, not just in words, but by being genuinely embedded in policies, systems, processes and practices.
Dr Hawkins also shares findings from a thesis he completed In 2022 which explored inclusivity across EREA, which resulted in three key ingredients necessary for genuine inclusivity.
My research confirmed what many of us already know, Dr Hawkins continued. The person leading the learning community is critical to the level of inclusivity (or sometimes, exclusivity) within the community.
“What I learned through my research was that an inclusive community is defined by relationships, service and vision,” he said. “An inclusive leader will be highly skilled at building relationships with key stakeholders, will act as a servant to the entire community, will have the ability to dream a future that others may not be able to see, and most importantly, will be able to paint that dream so that others can see it.”
“For me, it became clear that to be a truly inclusive leader, you would need to possess two key attributes: a deep understanding of inclusivity and a genuine commitment to it.”
Inclusivity, he continued, is complex and difficult. Leaders in aspiring inclusive communities need to have reflected deeply on the concept, read widely, sought advice and come to their own understanding of what it means and how it might be operationalised in their respective setting. The leader needs to be persistent, patient, creative, and willing to come up against opposition.
Honest and transparent communication, Dr Hawkins said, “is essential if we must overcome some of the perceived challenges in implementing inclusive education practices.”
This communication must come in multiple formats, such as:
- Enrolment policies and procedures
“These policies and procedures are very important public statements regarding inclusivity for any educational setting. They provide an opportunity to begin the conversation with families about the community, its beliefs and its aspirations.”
- Staff formation, support and development
“Inclusivity inevitably makes for a more complex learning space, and therefore provides challenges for educators,” Dr Hawkins continued.
“Those educators require training, development and regular pastoral support so that they can best meet the needs of their learners. There needs to be honest communication at the time of recruitment to ensure employees begin with an awareness of both the challenges and rewards ahead.”
- Parent formation, education and communication
Most parents who participated in the thesis research were overwhelmingly positive about the concept of inclusivity and its potential benefits for their children. Citing inclusive education models give opportunities to prepare their children for the real world, developing skills like tolerance, compassion and empathy.
Similarly to educators, parents require education and formation regarding the foundational concepts relating to inclusivity, including transparent communication prior to and during the enrolment process, and throughout their child’s time in the community.
The third key ingredient necessary to promote authentic inclusivity in an educational setting is institutional integrity, Dr Hawkins said.
This refers to the overarching governance of an organisation – this could be the leadership team, parent entity or board. For an educational entity to be genuinely inclusive, the governing body must provide two key drivers: direction, and accountability.
“This will often come in the form of a Mission or Vision Statement, a Charter, a Strategic Plan, or all of the above,” he explained.
“If there is no mention of inclusivity in documents such as these, it becomes a far more difficult task for on-site leaders to implement inclusive practices.”
Following clarity of direction, an institution then needs to hold leaders and learning communities accountable to meeting their shared inclusivity goals. These measures can come in many and various ways from internal renewal or audit processes, surveys, annual reports etc. When the governing body keeps asking questions, it ensures inclusivity never fades from the community’s view.
“Inclusive learning communities are complex places,” Dr Hawkins said in closing.
“They are often loud and sometimes messy. But they are always warm, rich and fun. Inclusivity is hard, but it’s worth it.”
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