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DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION
Inclusion Sooner Said Than Done: Improving Special Ed Support in International Schools
By Beckett Haight 19-Oct-18
Before I was aware of resources like The International Educator that help you find a job overseas, I took to using a directory of international schools I found somewhere online. I’d find a school in a region where I thought I might want to live, locate an administrator’s email address, and start hustling for a job. Sitting in a coffee shop in Long Beach, California one day, I received a response from a headmaster that I will never forget. She rebuffed my overture by explaining that hers was a college prep school and that either her students didn’t have special needs or they dealt with them outside of school. Really? I was shocked. My prior experience had taken place in a context of Least Restrictive Environment, which means we aimed for the fullest inclusion possible and did what it took to help all students succeed. But as I continued to look at schools overseas, I came to realize that even though it was 2011, many international schools were only beginning to get in on the inclusion movement and its correlates, differentiation of curriculum and multiple graduation paths. That year, I donned a three-piece suit, went to a job fair, and obtained my first international school learning support position. The school’s secondary program was developing its service delivery model and I was able to jump in and help move things forward. Same thing at my next school. And at the school after that (yes, I’m globetrotting!) What I found, once students hit the IB Diploma Programme (IBDP), is that the learning support essentially stopped there. Kids who were technically on my caseload were struggling to stay on top of all the IBDP writing requirements and the foreign language, among other challenges. The history of learning support at the school led people to expect that my push-in and resource support should be focused on Middle School and Grades 9 and 10. But here were juniors and seniors struggling, with very few accommodations. Thus I had to work my way into an IB system that wasn’t always used to working with learning support teachers in the same way that non-IB teachers increasingly are. One aspect of the rigorous IB that I had to contend with is that often teachers felt accommodations and differentiation within the curriculum were crutches likely to prevent students from passing the IB world exams. But with many of the teachers who graciously and energetically gave up their planning time to discuss assessments, projects, and concerns, we came to understand that we could make a million adjustments to help our students learn crucial content and skills; then, when it came for the final, high-stakes exams, while these individuals wouldn’t have access to most of that support (i.e., lowered reading level or audio of a text in English), they would however have learned the skills and the content needed to pass the IB exams. In the short time I’ve been teaching abroad, it has become evident to me that international schools are quickly moving in the direction of ensuring broad support for students, wherever their needs may lie. Just because a student is in a college prep school or has been accepted to be full IB, doesn’t mean that staff won’t need to collaborate and co-plan. The HL Chemistry teacher may well come to rely on learning support, or perhaps it’s push-in support that is needed in the AP Euro class. Maybe the ToK teacher could use a partner in coming up with ways to support students with executive function challenges, or those who experience anxiety in the Socratic seminar, or others who find themselves struggling to hone their research skills. With response to intervention (RTI) and multi-tier system of supports (MTSS) becoming integral to how we approach student differences in our international schools, and in light of the increased rates of special needs such as ADHD and autism among our student population, we need to continue to incorporate inclusion best practices and maintain high expectations—not only for the students, but also for the learning support and general education teachers who work with them. When I first started my international learning support journey, I found that if students weren’t able to keep up with the school’s demands, they would be counseled out (if they were even admitted in the first place). And if they were lucky enough to receive learning support services, they could still end up on academic or behavior probation, or would perhaps reach a certain milestone before moving on to another less challenging institution. But now things are starting to change. In the environment where I currently work, it is a given that we are going to do whatever we can to keep a student on our campus. It is commonly said, for example, that we do not want to split families up. My last school—the International Community School of Addis Ababa (ICS Addis), in Ethiopia—has steadily been developing a program for students with developmental delays. These special needs services attract embassy workers to Addis Ababa who have been rejected from other posts (or fear rejection) due to their child’s special needs and or other schools’ inability to support their children. But going forward, programs such as the one at ICS Addis will most likely become the norm, not the exception. Things are changing globally. As teachers and schools become more familiar with the best practices of differentiation of content and graduation paths, and as they improve the learning support delivery model, we will continue to see more families kept together—that is, more happy students and families—and it will be our pleasure to work with students that experience a sense of academic fulfillment and success that they never did in the days when it was sink or swim. Not every student will be successful in full IB. Not every student will be able to handle the rigor of an AP class. But it’s our job to make sure that we do everything we can to give our students the opportunity to be successful in the most challenging setting that is appropriate for them. Beckett Haight is a National Board Certified special educator who is currently at the American School Foundation Monterrey, has worked on a few other continents, one island, and spent a few years in California. Collections of a Spedukator Twitter: @BeckettHaight firstname.lastname@example.org
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