A sense of belonging is a basic human need that drives beliefs and behaviors, whether that’s in school, at home, while rooting for a school team, or the hundreds of other thoughts and actions we complete daily.
This need to be part of something larger than ourselves has fueled the actions of education leaders in the past year amid the pandemic. They sought out students and, in some cases, fed them during the first days of school closures and beyond. They developed entirely new safety procedures and created entirely new curricula, delivering them through virtual, hybrid, and in-person learning during the 2020–2021 school year.
Behind these plans and actions was the desire to make sure all students were included by starting with their most basic needs. The inclusionary puzzle became more complicated when schools rose above those must-have needs and up Maslow’s Hierarchy from basic to psychological to self-fulfilling needs. Questions like the following likely arose in your school or schools:
- How do we teach students who don’t show up or only tune into class once in a while?
- How can I reach students who lack access to adequate technology for their learning?
- My staff is burned out from creating both in-person and distance learning. How can I give them another district initiative when they are barely hanging on?
As school districts step back and attempt to take a collective breath and reflect on all that has occurred in the last year and a half, how can schools make sure students, staff, and leaders feel connected to each other, their learning, and the greater community? However this happens, it will take greater intentionality of those areas of need which are consistent and always evolving. The first step is to define what a truly inclusive school means today versus what it meant in the past.
What Is an Inclusive School?
Inclusive school settings are sometimes defined as classrooms where general education and special education students do most of their learning together. In this article, I use it in the broader sense to mean ensuring all students, especially students who are underrepresented or marginalized, feel like they belong—whether that’s in the choir, higher-level courses, or student government.
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