Disablity and Inclusion within Christian SchoolsIt’s that time of year again! As students and parents are enjoying those last few days of summer and maybe beginning to feel some anxious thoughts about a new school year, teachers are busy preparing for their new students (and maybe having some anxious thoughts of their own). They’re wondering, “What will this class be like? What strengths and challenges will these students bring with them? How will I meet all those needs in one room?”

Changing Our Questions

This week I got to be part of one of those beginning-of-the-year meetings with an amazing group of teachers. Although I’ve been in hundreds of teacher meetings in public and Christian schools, this one stood out. This meeting was a transition meeting—one where our educational support team was sharing information about students with their new classroom teachers. Over the years, I’ve sat in many of these meetings and heard many kinds of questions.

Questions such as, “How will this student make it through all the academics I have to cover?”How come that student is not on grade level yet—how did they make it to the next level?” “How am I supposed to meet all of these needs?”

This group of teachers, though, had some of the best questions that I’ve heard. Instead of asking, “How will we ever manage all of these needs?” they asked questions such as:

  • “What makes that student feel safe and secure?”
  • “What is the best thing about this student?”
  • “How do I know when this student needs a break?”
  • “How can I let him know that I’m okay with him taking a break if he needs it?”
  • “What’s the best way to build a relationship with her?”
  • “How can we encourage his family as they go through this tough time?”
  • “What’s the best way to communicate with her family?”

Whenever a teacher had a concern, another one of the teachers would jump in and encourage everyone in the room. The teacher would say, “We’ve got this! God has placed this child in your class. The student is here for a purpose and we’re really good at problem-solving. We’ll figure it out. Don’t worry! We’ll do this as a team.”

A Foundation of Belonging

This process reminded me of 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 (NIV), which tells us, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.”

One of my favorite parts of that teacher meeting was getting to share the stories about how several students with disabilities in this class know that they belong. They have learned over the years that they are part of the body and that they belong at this school. This has happened as our teachers have become more comfortable using the language of inclusion. In their heart of hearts, all of our teachers love students and want them to be successful, but how empowering it is for students to HEAR a teacher say, “You are a part of my class and this school. We’re not going to give up on you or on this concept. We’re going to do it together because you are important and you belong. God loves you and He has placed you here for a reason. We need you!”

Sharing Our Journey

Several years ago, our superintendent made it very clear that our school was going to be a place where all students belong—a place where students can thrive in the body of Christ, those who are gifted academically and those who are gifted in other ways. He made it clear that we want to serve our school families. We kept seeing that there were families who had most of their children at our school, but one or two or even three of their children were at a different school because we couldn’t meet their needs.

Our school mission says, “We engage students in an education of excellence enabling them to impact the world through a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.” In order to fulfill this mission, it became a priority for our school to learn more about students and about how they learn. We began consulting with CLC Network who helped us identify our school strengths as well as areas to grow.

There was definitely some fear as we began to change our thinking. There were many questions about resources and about how students and parents would respond. There were questions about how one teacher could meet so many varied needs in his or her classroom. Even with all those questions, we were encouraged to take a step of faith.

“Developing the Whole Child”

One of our core principles is “Developing the Whole Child.” Our school says that we believe that “God created each child in His own image with diverse gifts and talents,” but often that is difficult to live out practically during the school day. Even though there have been questions and some fear, we have seen God at work at AACS as we have begun to think more broadly about who we can serve. It has been so exciting to see teachers brainstorm together to support a child’s unique journey. I often hear teachers treasure diversity by reminding each other that there’s not one path for learning but many paths. They are working hard to help each child see their unique gifts.

This journey is not over. We continue to have questions and fears, but God is good. He promises that He will be with us and that He will guide us each step of the way. We have seen over and over again the blessings of meeting students where they are, helping them to develop friendships within their community, and helping them to become co-laborers for Christ.

[Editor’s Note: This post is part two of a two-part series. Part one by Elizabeth Lucas Dombrowski of the CLC Network discussed disability and belonging in the Christian school, and provided important resources for schools for moving toward inclusive education.]

About the Author

Carolyn BeallCarolyn Beall came to AACS in the summer of 2015 after spending almost 15 years in Anne Arundel County public schools. In her former jobs, she taught first and second grade and special education. She currently oversees the education support program from kindergarten to 12th grade at AACS. She loves working with students and helping them figure out how they learn. There can be such a joy that comes from learning new things—whether it’s reading and math or learning about how to be a good friend. One of her great passions is helping to integrate all students, including those who learn differently, into the larger community. She’s thrilled to be part of a school where families and teachers walk alongside each other every day to encourage students to display God’s splendor to those around them. She can be reached via email at cbeall@aacsonline.org.

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2 Comments

JO-ANN M INTLEKOFER

Beautiful thoughts, Carolyn. So glad you found a great forum in which to share them. Trusting in God’s vision for each student is the key to supporting each one. God bless you and have a wonderful school year.

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Penny Clawson, EdD

My heart was blessed as I read Carolyn’s words. More of us, as Christian educators, should be echoing these words of inclusion for all God’s children. Why can’t we do this with compassion, professionalism, and grace?

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