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Association of Washington School Principals
Washington Principal | Volume 2– 2021-22
“All Are Welcome Here”
Our Journey Toward Inclusion at Rockwell Elementary
Michael Clark
Principal, Norman Rockwell Elementary School
Evaluation Criteria: Creating a Culture, Planning with Data, Aligning Curriculum, Improving Instruction, Engaging Families & Communities, Closing the Gap
“All are welcome here.” This brief and powerful phrase adorns the walls of Rockwell Elementary, the Home of the Mighty Beagles, and we work each and every day to make this phase a reality.
Our school community is a rich and beautiful tapestry of cultures and walks of life, and for years, we have focused as a school team on ways in which to honor and partner with the students and families we serve. This has included professional learning around Culturally Responsive Teaching and Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol, and when we were asked to be an inclusion pilot school for our district, we jumped at the opportunity, knowing this paradigm shift would further our ability to make Rockwell a welcoming school for every learner. We eagerly began our work, visiting other inclusive campuses and immersing ourselves in the tenets of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). And then the entire world came to a halt.
When the world was upended with COVID in March 2020, we were faced with an important decision: Do we halt this important work in light of the many demands presented in the moment, or do we move forward, knowing there was no real playbook for what we were working to achieve? Our final call still makes me proud to this day: We decided that, if we have to reinvent the wheel anyways, we were going to do it in the direction of justice and access. Our inclusionary practices work would continue. In the months that followed, we welcomed students back to their home school from the other campus and created a brand-new special education program focused on promoting access to the general education classroom, curriculum, and peers. We continued our professional learning around UDL, and we began reviewing IEPs to see how they could align with the general education curriculum and standards. Students began attending their IEP meetings, adding their important voice, and ALL Rockwell students engaged in lessons around how to give your “Beagle Best” through welcoming others. In the midst of remote and hybrid realities, we fostered inclusive practices at our school.
We are advocates for each and every student we serve, and we will continue our endeavors to ensure that all students and families are welcome at our school.
That work continues to this day. Now well into the 2021-2022 school year, we’ve added intervention blocks (affectionately known as “Beagle Blocks”) to our daily schedule, allowing all our students to receive “core plus more” to address their individual learning needs, and providing our students receiving specially designed instruction greater access to the general education curriculum. We’ve engaged in professional learning around collaborative planning among general and special educators, and our grade-level teams meet regularly with their special education colleagues to plan and review student needs and data. And the climate of our school continues to be positive, with all our students working and playing together, including with peers who they may have never met previous to this work, as these friends would have attended a different school entirely. As I reflect on our inclusionary practices work, there are several planning and leadership moves that have served us well and may support you in your school’s journey toward inclusion. These include: Clearly articulating the ‘why’ of this work with every stakeholder at your school. Along with the discussions in which we engaged as a staff about our inclusion work, I also spoke with our families and students. In collaboration with our partners at the University of Minnesota TIES Center and our PTA, we engaged our families in a discussion about our inclusion pilot using TIES’ 10 Reasons to Support Inclusive School Communities for All Students. When families realized our efforts were part of our equity work and that they would support all students at our school, they knew this was the right course of action; we created allies and champions for our cause. With our students, I joined each class to talk about our work, reading Amy Webb’s “When Charlie Met Emma” to our primary classes, and leading our Intermediate groups in interactive discussions on how to be good friends and allies to all learners at our school. Setting up real-time supports. Inclusion is prioritized as a key element of our work as a school team, and we revisit the subject on a regular basis. This includes creating structures for real-time support. For the past two years, we have had a weekly “Inclusion Help Desk,” staffed by members of our district special services team, as well as our partners at the TIES Center and University of Washington Haring Center for Inclusive Education. Individuals and teams sign up for ‘help desk’ slots via a Microsoft form to discuss the needs of a student, problems of practice, or ways in which to make a project or assignment more inclusive. The work products from the sessions are then shared centrally on our Teams site for others to use. Aligning your inclusion work with other school and district initiatives. In many ways, I see our inclusion work as a Venn diagram aligning with other school and district initiatives, including MTSS, PBIS, and Equity. Our Beagle Blocks and Inclusion Help Desk are perfect examples of this. While our Beagle Blocks support our students receiving specially designed instruction, they’re an opportunity for every learner to receive structured support, from our Multilingual Learners to our students receive accelerated services. Further, our Intervention Help Desk aligns with the work of our Student Intervention Team, or SIT, a pre-referral structure in which a variety of participants discuss a student’s needs and recommend scaffolds and supports.
Developing shared leadership, including parents. Now in my fifth year of the principalship, I still remember what my mentor principal said to me many years ago: “All of us are smarter than one of us.” Our Inclusion Site Team, composed of teachers, paraeducators, administrators, professors, the district special services team, and parents, has been a key component of our work. Each month, we meet as a school team to engage in planning and professional learning, as well as to discuss problems of practice. The many hands and perspectives of the team broaden the scope of what we can accomplish and ensure there are many different torchbearers for our work. Celebrating your successes, focusing, and being patient – foundational change takes time. The realities of our current moment have required us to be measured and specific in our work, in many instances requiring us to “go slow to go fast.” As a result, I’ve had the team focus on two key elements of our work, the implementation of intervention blocks and collaborative planning, knowing that we will broaden the scope of our efforts when the logistical demands of COVID hopefully shift and ease over the months to come. In the meantime, patience is the name of the game, and there are still great things to celebrate! We take time at staff and building leadership meetings to highlight the stellar inclusion work that is taking place on a daily basis. While I know we still have plenty of work ahead in our journey to create an inclusive school environment at Rockwell elementary, I am SO proud of our Beagle students, staff, and families for everything we’ve achieved together during these unprecedented times. We are advocates for each and every student we serve, and we will continue our endeavors to ensure that all students and families are welcome at our school.