Commentary: Social Inclusion is not Enough

By Missy Pfaff

26.MissyPfaff1Have you or your children ever been asked to a swimming or skating party? What about joining a pottery or yoga class with a friend? How about attending a learning workshop on technology? All of these examples are wonderful opportunities to actively participate with others.

But what if you couldn’t swim or had no skates? What if there were no extra art materials or yoga mats available? What if your tablet was not charged? How would the experience be different?

Well, you could go to the pool or arena and stand on the sidelines smiling and waving as your friends did cannonballs into the pool or played crack the whip on the ice. You could probably sit at the table for the pottery class and make small talk while your friends experienced the feel of the clay and the turning of the potter’s wheel. It might be just fine to simply listen to the instructions on how to use the new app while others are trying it out and talking about how to make it work. You might still be socially included. But it wouldn’t be the same, would it?

In order to be truly included in whatever setting you find yourself in, you must also have an opportunity to participate in that activity. What would you talk about or laugh about or be frustrated with or use your senses to experience if you are not a participant in what is happening? It is not the same experience to simply be socially included in that setting. And really what does that mean, “socially included”.

There seems to be a distinction between social inclusion and academic inclusion. For some students, goals are set around social inclusion, but not for academic inclusion. Many teachers and parents believe that the academics are so far beyond the scope of that student’s understanding that they are included for social reasons only. When that happens, are we meeting the needs of all of our students simply by having them in the class for social reasons?

We must be careful as teachers and school leaders not to limit student participate in the activity of the classroom based on social inclusion goals. Not all students will participate in the same way, but they do need to participate.

Students could be participating in the same activity, but meeting different goals. Some students may be working on their oral presentation skills, while others are practicing their use of an electronic switch. Same activity — different goals.

If the focus of our classrooms is academics, then we need students to be academically and socially included. When the interests of all the learners in a classroom are considered, the level of participation increases for everyone.

And so does the engagement and the learning!

26.MissyPfaff2Missy Pfaff is a “Learning for All Coordinator with the Avon Maitland District School Board in Ontario. With over 25 years of experience, she is excited to see that new learning happens in classrooms and staffrooms where a growth mindset and a belief that all children can learn is present!