It has been almost 15 years since Manitoba’s Special Education Review’s Final Report was published. Taking recommendations and turning them into action is always the difficult part of any review of the way services are offered. Many individuals will cite the Legislation in regards to Appropriate Educational Programming for All and the subsequent regulations and standards as being the point these changes occurred. Having worked in education before and now after Legislation, although Legislation, regulation and standards play an important part, the changes in education are a result in what we believe and they way we act or teach in our schools.
In 2001 Manitoba adopted the ‘Philosophy of Inclusion’ which provided educators, community, parents and students with the foundation for what we believe is important in not only Manitoba’s schools but in our communities as well. Having had the opportunity to be a part of the development of this Philosophy I remember thinking at the time how important the statement of every individual feeling safe, valued and accepted is. I have used this as the cornerstone in many of my presentations and discussions about education and how to support students in our schools. The true change in Manitoba Schools though is a result of our fundamental belief about students. The true change is more to the words just prior to every individual feeling safe, valued and accepted. Inclusion is about a way of thinking and acting.
The way we think in schools has changed. The way we act in schools has changed and therefore the strategies and our methodology to build community, teach reading and math has also changed. The concepts of developing positive school climates and behavioural support systems was not the common beliefs or language used in schools prior to 2000. Conversations revolved around punishment and exclusion for those students that didn’t fit into the expectations of the schools our children attended. My earliest presentations about understanding behaviour were often meant with we need to punish harder, suspend students who can’t behave. Working as a Special Education and Resource Teacher I was often asked ‘Why are these students in our schools?’ Both of these comments occasionally still occur but are no longer accepted as an appropriate belief system. The questions now are in regards to how to we develop that safe and caring community or how do we program for students so they are valued and accepted.
Inclusion has never been about placement. It has always been about the way we think and act. This is not just in our school systems or for students we identify as having special needs. It is about creating an environment where we build on the strengths of our students, teachers and community members. If we are going to have on a larger scale a world, a country, a community, a school, an individual feeling safe, valued and accepted it will be by the way we think and act. We must believe that all our citizens have value and then we must put those thoughts into actions. Now that is the hard part, but at least in our schools in Manitoba we are moving in the right direction.