Exploring Inclusive Education Through Storytelling

What would it take to design educational environments where every learner gets what they need?

Segmented education classrooms for children with disabilities allow for specialized learning, but they also foster segregation. Tim Villegas, who helps school systems build support and curriculum for more inclusive classroom environments, sees firsthand the very real, research-backed value of spaces where children with different learning styles are taught together. There is so much more to be learned when we experience the world alongside people unlike ourselves. 

Inclusive classrooms benefit all children

Both Tim’s and his colleagues’ experiences and the growing body of research confirm the benefits of inclusive education over and over again. For kids with disabilities, sharing the classroom with peers who have a wide range of learning levels opens up access to language and social experiences, as well as curriculum, that is unavailable to them in the majority of segregated special educational settings.

The benefits of inclusive classrooms to typically developing children can be just as significant. Children who might otherwise grow up with minimal exposure to kids with different experiences have the opportunity to spend every day building the social and emotional groundwork for a lifetime of inclusivity—and they also often learn better themselves.

The positive results of universal curriculums

Inclusive education benefits different students because of the way teachers teach when they are creating universal curriculums for a classroom with many types of learners. A homogenous teaching style works when most of the children in a classroom learn in the same way. However, consistently approaching education with different learning styles in mind ensures everyone, even typically developing children who simply learn better from less traditional approaches, has the chance to experience teaching that truly resonates with them. As Tim says, a universally designed curriculum enables teachers to “reach the margins,” and this heightens their career fulfillment, too.

The current barriers to inclusive education

Tim understands the hesitation some parents feel around the question of inclusive educational spaces. Those with typically developing children worry that their education will be slowed down if the curriculum is tweaked to accommodate learning disabilities. Parents of children with disabilities are concerned that their children won’t receive the specialized care they require if they are placed in a classroom that is not focused solely on their needs.

Storytelling is the best way Tim has found to address the perspectives of the skeptics. One quick anecdote, or even a long list of confirming research, often isn’t enough to change their minds, but “the more we can tell people’s stories in compelling ways,” ones that viscerally demonstrate the feeling of watching these positive shifts take hold, “the more effective we can be at changing mindsets.”

On this episode of the Care Work podcast, Tim speaks with Alida about his transition from public school teacher to full-time disability justice and inclusivity advocate. His own journey to embracing inclusive education has made him exceedingly capable of fostering the kinds of conversations that are changing minds and helping redefine the future of our education systems.

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