Inclusion Matters: The Importance of Being Seen

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This post is a part of the conversation around the ASCD Forum “Learning for All = Teaching for All.” To learn more about the forum, go to www.ascd.org/ascdforum.

By Jason Flom

Flom Forum Inclusion Matters 300x300Edwidge Danticat is incredible. Go ahead, Google her. I’ll wait here.

See? Incredible.

I had the opportunity to hear her speak a couple of weeks ago. Her talk affirmed for me what most educators know instinctively: relationships matter more than content.

She talked about immigrating to the United States from Haiti with her family when she was a young girl. She found herself in an English speaking school system not designed for kids like her.

Yet she thrived.

Why? Her teachers. Specifically, teachers who “saw” her—saw her whole person, her strengths and challenges, and, most important, her humanity. She talked about the transformative power of being “seen.”

We as educators have experienced and felt this power. Consider for a moment someone who was fiercely committed to you, someone on whose shoulders you now stand. Who was that person, and how did his or her fierce commitment to you shape you?

Now, if you will, consider the children who need to be fiercely committed to, the children who need to be seen.

Although the idea of children who need a champion tugs at our heart strings, the collective pressures of policies and mandates, scopes and sequences, and end-of-course exams and summative assessments test our capacity to see these very children.

While listening to Danticat, I wondered, do teachers today have the time and space to see each learner—to see each whole child?

So I asked her, “What do you say to the principals and leaders who stand between the mandates on high and the teachers in the classroom? What can they do to help each child be seen?”

Her reply, paraphrased here, was simple: care for the teachers so they can care for the students.

When we consider inclusive teaching, perhaps we are really talking about inclusive culture. Cultivating a school climate in which inclusion matters begins with an adult commitment to all learners—young, old, religious, atheist, black, white, brown, heteronormative, nonheteronormative—and all learning profiles.

Inclusion, really, begins with compassion and empathy, or at a minimum, tolerance and acceptance.

Educators use this kind of language and know the value of it (especially as it pertains to that student who needs to be seen). Policymakers not so much.

It is the role of the educational leader—the superintendent, the building administrator, etc.—to be the buffer. How might we speak the lingo of policy outside the school while cultivating a culture of inclusivity inside the school? How do we model humanity in our schools?

What might it look like if people—teachers and students alike—felt safe enough to risk seeing others?

How might such a model, in turn, shape the policies to ensure each child feels seen?

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Jason Flom is the director of Cornerstone Learning Community in Tallahassee, Fla., a whole child school he cofounded with other educators. He also serves as a Faculty member with ASCD’s Professional Learning Services.

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There are four ways for educators to join the 2016 ASCD Forum discussion:

  • The ASCD Forum group on the ASCD EDge social networking site is the main discussion platform. Educators can contribute blog posts about culturally responsive learning environments, pose questions to one another, or offer insight on message boards.
  • On Twitter, educators can use #ASCDForum to share perspectives and resources.
  • The #ASCDL2L Twitter chat on Tuesday, March 1, from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m. eastern time, will bring educators from all roles together to discuss how each can meet the diverse needs of the modern learner.
  • An in-person session of the ASCD Forum will take place at the 2016 ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show on Monday, April 4, from 8:00 to 9:30 a.m.

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