Making Room for Kids “Like That,” with Jacqueline Specht

Good Things In Life Podcast episode 114 thumbnail with Jacqueline Specht
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The research is clear: inclusion works. Inclusive programs are the best option for everyone—for kids with disabilities, for all kids, and for teachers, families, the school system, and the community at large. But despite the lack of ambiguity, too many programs are still segregating students based on ability.  Educator and researcher Jacqueline Specht knows that the problem isn’t with the findings from education research—which are unambiguous in their recommendations to cease segregation of kids with disabilities from mainstream education—but with the way these findings get implemented (or not) into the classroom. That’s why her research these days is focused on trying to innovate implementation.  Individual belief systems, instructional practice, and degree of confidence make a huge difference in how teachers will respond to students with disabilities in the classroom. By ensuring teacher candidates can interact with students with disabilities early in their education, we can empower the next generation of teachers with the conviction to embrace students with disabilities as part of their classroom and with the experience and self-confidence they need to teach them.  Jacqueline Specht is a Professor and Director of the Canadian Research Centre on Inclusive Education in the Faculty of Education, Western University. Her research focuses on inclusive education for students with disabilities, focusing on parents, teachers, and principals. Even imperfect inclusion—such as programs that include kids with disabilities without enabling their meaningful participation in the classroom—is preferable to full-out segregation. I loved talking to Jacqui about how we’re already on the path toward a more inclusive world; simply acknowledging the desire to get there is an important first step. 

Speaker 1 (00:03):
Welcome to the Good Things in Life podcast, committed to bringing world-class ideas, conversations, voices, and thought leaders to parents and educators. So kids with intellectual disabilities will have the support they need to build positive inclusive lives at the heart of community. Here's your host sister, mom, researcher, writer, speaker, and perpetually curious Genia Stephen.

Genia (00:37):
Jackie Specht, thank you so much for joining me today on the Good Things in Life podcast. For listeners who don't know Jackie, although you really should. Jackie is a professor and director of the Canadian Research Center, on inclusive education in the faculty of education at Western University. And her research focuses on inclusive education for students with disabilities, focusing on parents, teachers, and principals. Jackie, thanks so much. I really, really appreciate you being willing to come on the podcast.

Jackie (01:10):
Thanks for asking me. Looking forward to our chat.

Genia (01:15):
Yes, me too. And I'm, I'm like muting and unmuting here as we start this recording. While I yell at my kids who are remote schooling, and my oldest just ground coffee. I'm like, I'm recording, he's like “Yep, I want it”. And it was so slamming around in the kitchen right now. So, I feel like at this point in the pandemic, I don't even have to pretend that you know, that this is like a real pro deal. And, uh, that I don't have kids using up my internet bandwidth. And, um, I'm making a lot of noise, um, or doing what we can. Oh my goodness. Uh, and not everybody who's listening will be in Ontario where both you and I are located. But we are on, I've lost count now, but we're on a stay at home order right now. So we are like deep, deep in pandemic lockdown. Do you know how, which number this is for us?

Jackie (02:13):
This is our, our third lockdown.

Genia (02:15):
Our third, like stay at home. Yeah, yeah. So, um.

Jackie (02:21):
It's getting tiring and I don't even have younger children at home. My daughter's in her twenties and it's just, you know, just it's I've had enough. I think we've all had enough.

Genia (02:32):
We've all had enough, we've all had enough. Okay, well let's dive into it. I mean, you would've been somebody that I have been, um, coveting having on the podcast since the podcast started. So I'm eager to, to have this conversation. So Jackie, why don't you, you know, I just gave a very brief bio. But why don't you talk a little bit about who you are and how you became concerned with inclusive education and kids with disabilities.

Jackie (03:00):
Okay, thanks. Um, you know, it's interesting when I think about this, because in terms of my own life, I think I've always worked with people with disabilities. Um, I recall even when we were kids, there was a girl on our street who had autism. I mean, we didn't know that term at that time. That's not what we were told. But, you know, she never came out to play with us and it was, it always felt very sad to me as a child. So I wonder if that's, in some ways where my, um, my grounding came from, because it seemed odd to me. When you know, I grew up in a time where kids played outside and your parents were nowhere to be seen. Uh, and, and so we all played out, but she didn't come out and she didn't go to our school. And, and I don't know, I, I often thought, you know, why doesn't she come out?

Jackie (03:52):
I mean, yeah, she, you know, she might, she might be different than us. I didn't really know, but I think, you know, in retrospect as an adult, that's probably what I think about. And so, I do think that has stuck with me. And I, you know, I've worked, I worked at a children's, um, preschool for kids with intellectual disabilities. Just at the time that at that time we would've called it, integration was starting to happen where they were starting to shut down, segregated preschools for kids with disabilities and move them in to the, uh, the, the general preschools and daycares and like early eighties, early eighties. And, and remember, you know, that angst, that everybody was feeling right. Because, well, we knew how to work with these kids in these little settings and to teach them what they needed to be taught, and how were they gonna go out into the, the big world and survive, but, you know, they did.

Jackie (04:48):
Uh, and then I, um, I moved into psychology as a, as a profession. Um, went to graduate school to be, to become a psychologist, that's what I thought I wanted to do. And as I was there, I really started to get involved with research and really enjoying the research. So that's where my trajectory went to them. I went into becoming a professor. I'm always interested in issues around people with disabilities. So I worked with Thames Valley Children's Centre here in the city of London and worked on sort of social, emotional development of kids with physical disabilities, because that's the population that Thames Valley Children's Centre served at that time. Um, and then I think that's where I really started to get involved with the school system and what was going on in this school system. And I mean, I came up through psychology where, you know, kids needed to go into special classes cause that was the best place for them.

Jackie (05:47):
But as I started to do this research on kids with physical disabilities and talking to them about their socialization, um, and then started to really think about what all that meant within our school system. I think I started to feel more and more like inclusion was actually a better way to go. And it, I didn't know the research at the time, I just had this sense. And so then as I started to do myself, you know, more research delving into it and such, I started to think, yeah, yeah. There's, you know, we shouldn't have these special classes for kids, but I must say at that time, Genia, I still felt like, but not all kids. Right? Not all kids can be included like, come on. Right. Like we can't do this for all kids. There must still be some kids that need a special class.

Jackie (06:41):
And I'll tell you, there was a, a family that I met whose son was not verbal. He hadn't learned to walk until he was quite a bit older, like eight or nine. And I, I remember, I remember this very moment because I thought, yeah, kids like him really can't be included. Right. And I thought like, what, what, what would he, what would he be able to do in a class? I mean, that was my thinking at the time. I certainly don't think like that now, but that was my thinking at the time. And I remember looking into his eyes, and they were so full of life. And I thought, yes, he can be included. Because he is a person, and he is valuable, and he can contribute right to what's going on in their classroom. Maybe not in the same way as, as all children, but, you know, we're, we're all diverse in that way.

Jackie (07:38):
And so that's where I think my mindset changed. Knowing that family, knowing how much the mother was pushing for inclusion, and realizing that if we could include children like him. Right, I'll use those terms because that's the kind of terminology that gets used, then we can include everybody. And so I've just worked towards that. And, and I, and I feel, I feel very strongly. I think it is, it's a human right to be, uh, with, with everyone not segregated into a small area, because of whatever category you seem to fit into. Um, and, and then doing my research, uh, we know that it's better. You know, we don't ask to segregation work, but we do it, but we keep asking, does inclusion work. And we find lots of ways to think that perhaps it doesn't, but yeah, you know, I've seen it work too many times to know that it, it can work and it does work and we just need to, we just need to be aware of how we make it better for all kids.

Genia (08:41):
Well, on that note, um, my son is, uh, one of the kids like that, you know, doesn't speak using words. And, um, um, I need to pause this recording because I just got a text message from his teacher saying, you need to go and help him get into his next grade nine class. Okay. Well you go to go meet. So I'm going to just pause this recording. I'll be right back, everybody. Remote schooling life. Okay. I'm back. He's not in, he's supposed to be working on his thesis for his English essay, but we couldn't. Um, uh, he was going to have a meeting with the ZA and the ZA couldn't get her audio working. So I'm using this as just an opportunity to say, not every minute in, uh, in general education is, um, got to be a worthwhile minute, particularly in remote school. And so he's going to watch a TV show while we finish this conversation because the Tech's not working and I'm prioritizing you and I, over my son's inclusive education just was all credibility.

Genia (09:49):
Hey, sometimes you do what you gotta do. Well, sometimes you gotta do. I think, again, it, by this stage in the pandemic, we're just, um, we're just all figuring it out. So it interests me. So I remember I was young, I certainly wasn't, um, you know, working in the field. I was just a young child, but my sister was one of those people in the early eighties. That was, my parents were trying to get her into. Um, what she was actually a part of, uh, of an inclusive preschool, the Peter Pan Preschool. I'm pretty sure it was called. Um, I can still remember what it looks like from the outside, but then coming into the education system, you know, junior kindergarten, senior kindergarten grade one, um, was very, very hard. And I remember those, I remember those conversations and my grandmother worked with kids with physical disabilities. And, um, she was really revolutionary in her time because she thought that some kids, particularly kids with physical disabilities could be trained.

Genia (11:02):
Right. And the, and the whole TMR is, and the, you know, right. Yeah. I remember those, those acronyms. Yeah. So we're not, you know, one of the things that really, I try to remind myself of when we're talking about, or when I'm thinking about how frustrated I am, that inclusion is not farther along is that it really hasn't been that long. Like it really hasn't been that long since the school systems have been trying to figure it out. Um, but it also, but it's not, it's not satisfying. It's still not satisfying because as you said, you know, people are rarely asking for the research that demonstrates that segregated programming works well yet. And in fact, we've got hundreds of years of evidence showing that it's awful for communities. It's awful for people without disabilities, and it's truly horrific for people with disabilities. And everybody wants the good things in life, which includes like living in the heart of community. And yet we're asked for the research about that. So you've spent your career creating research. We shouldn't need, is that kind of true? Well, you know, Genia, I do wonder sometimes I think.

Jackie (12:24):
Do we not know this? Like, why are we continuing to do this work? And it's interesting because I mean, I, I, I say that kind of tongue in cheek, but I ha I'm coming to that, to that conclusion that it's not about the research, in the sense that we have enough to say inclusion works and here's how we do it. It really is about the implementation, right? That's what we need to work on. How do we get our schools to be inclusive? Because we know, we know that inclusion works. Um, we have schools that are, that are, uh, working towards inclusive education, you know, nothing's perfect. But there are some that are further along in that journey than others. And I always say, you know, education is a messy place. And so, um, you know, we're never going to have anything that's perfect. And I think that most dangerous thing is when people say, oh yeah, inclusion, we do that.

Jackie (13:19):
It's like, uh, no, this is a journey. And I don't think it's ever going to end. Um, but you know, we need to kind of keep moving along the path because if we don't, then we slipped backwards. So I'm very much in now thinking about how do we implement, what does it look like in order to be able to have schools become inclusive and not to just rely on. Um, strong courageous leadership, because that's seems to be the case, right? You see schools that are more inclusive because of who their principal is. You see school boards that are more inclusive because of who their special education superintendents are, who their directors of education are. And when those people leave, there's a slippage depending upon who gets in. Absolutely. So, you know, I think we need to do more, especially in Ontario because we still have that full range of placement, right.

Jackie (14:14):
Where we can have special schools all the way up to inclusive classrooms, truly inclusive classrooms. Um, and I think as long as ministry allows that to happen, then we won't have inclusion. So I think that's where we need to, to look at. Um, it's certainly important to have those, those beliefs as a teacher, that all children belong, the instructional practice that supports that and the confidence to be able to do what you're doing. But we also need our leaders at the top in the ministries to put an end to allowing segregation to happen in our schools.

Genia (14:48):
Right. Well, and it's not just Ontario. I mean, you know, the, the, it's across the country and, uh, you know, we there's, uh, I have, uh, one of the inclusion academy members, The Good Things in Life membership, um, is in France. And, you know, there's basically no inclusion, like they're decades behind where we are in Ontario. And in the states, it's actually law that multiple levels of, or, or multiple types of programming be offered, like segregation is baked into the law, having it available.

Jackie (15:32):
So,

Genia (15:34):
You know, and I w one thing that Gordon Porter, who has been a guest on the podcast a couple of times and who, you know well. One of the things that Gordon was pointing out the last time we, he was on the podcast was that we're not as much as we need our leadership to say, okay, we're going to end segregation. It's not acceptable for people with disabilities any more than it would be, um, for, you know, black Canadians or black Americans, or, you know, people of color. Um, indigenous communities or indigenous kids. As much as we need that, we're never gonna get there until parents are united in saying, in saying that. Because we've got demand and which just on the one hand, I understand, you know, like I speak to enough parents about their fears and their worries and their, um, and, and I think often people are really misguided. Like they really do believe that special is special, um, and specialist specialist and that their kids are getting something good. But, um, or they're just afraid. But on the other hand, I, I don't get it. Like, it, it wouldn't be acceptable for anybody else. No, no. We would never think that that was an acceptable thing to do to anybody else.

Jackie (16:58):
Yep. And that's why, you know, it's always interesting to me when we see, um, large boards. And I'll use Ontario, as an example who go on about how inclusive they are, but they still have all these segregated classes for kids with disabilities. Because somehow that's still okay. And I think that's the cycle we have to break. And, and I don't think it's ministry alone. I mean, I do think it's, uh, it's, it's involves everybody and we have to have educators and parents and the kids, um, and, and policy makers. We have to have everybody working together, but, you know, there is something about having a policy in place is that kind of forces the hand, right. Um, I mean, if you look at New Brunswick, that's, you know, they've got their policy in place now. And so, uh, it's not an option. It's just not negotiable.

Jackie (17:47):
Inclusion is not negotiable. And so I think we do have to get to that point. And, um, you know, I think there's been, there's been some people in the power and the ministry of education in Ontario that have felt we needed to move in that direction. And, but others that haven't, and they kind of come back and forth. And so, you know, that's the issue. And I do think we all need to work together so that they understand that special is not special. Because again, if you're not, if you don't have any experience with people with disabilities, if you're not an educator, um, you know, you don't know because you're going with what you see in the world. And it's not very representative of people with disabilities. So I do think we all have to work together and I, you know, and I think there's enough research out there that shows us that change right. Change in any system, but change in the education system is about us all working together and, and, and, and working towards the time where we do have inclusive education being what's expected. And not just saying that, because I think a lot of people say that, but they don't really do it. Right. Yeah.

Genia (19:00):
And the, and the doing it kind of loops us back to your research on implementation. I wonder if you could just talk a little bit about your research.

Jackie (19:13):
So, one of the projects that we're just finishing up, we called it the development of, um, inclusive practice for beginning teachers. So we started with teacher candidates. So people who have just entered their faculty of education to become teachers, and we, we gave them a few questionnaires around what their beliefs about learning and teaching are, um, in a sense that, you know, do they believe all kids belong? All kids can learn, um, that, that, you know, what is the purpose of a teacher in the classroom, um, and then also about their efficacy. So how confident they feel and being able to, um, use instruction, to collaborate with colleagues, to kind of manage the situation within their classrooms. Um, and then we also, we, so we, we did that on a large group, and then we had some smaller groups that we interviewed and asked them about these questions.

Jackie (20:12):
You know, what experiences have you had that have influenced your beliefs about how kids learn in diverse classrooms or, or experiences that you've had that influenced your instructional practice. And then, and then experiences you've had that influenced your efficacy? Because I think that we do need to start this in the pre-service or the teacher education programs, right. Um, I mean, it's not to say that we just don't mind what's going on in the schools, but I think it's from the beginning of the time where you're learning how to be a teacher, that it's important to, to figure that out. And so we followed them through till the first three years of teaching. Um, we don't have a huge sample that we've interviewed all the way along, but, you know, we have a number and it's kind of an interesting thing to look at their five years.

Jackie (21:01):
So we've really done a, a very deep job in analyzing the data for them when they're in their teacher education program, we're still in the midst of analyzing all that data of what happens once they get out into their own classrooms and teaching. But, you know, it's really interesting because we found that similar experiences are there, whether you're asking them about their beliefs or about their instructional practice or about their confidence, but those experiences that really influence those three areas are different. Um, the first thing that comes out highly on all of those of course, is their, their faculty of education program and workshops that they take. So I think, okay, well, that's good. We're doing something in these faculties of education, right? They do see them as important, but the more interesting thing is, so what are those experiences that kind of are the second, if you like in each of those and they differ.

Jackie (21:59):
So for instructional practice, it's actually working with kids in practicum. That's that's, those experiences are the ones that really have influenced in their mind, their instructional practice for beliefs that all kids can learn in the regular classroom. It's those personal experiences that they've had. So whether they themselves have a disability, or they have a family member who had a disability, or they, they worked with people with disabilities, right? Those are the things that influence their beliefs. And it makes sense if you think about it, because they have seen that people with disabilities are just like them, right? They're not, they're not different. So why shouldn't they be able to be in, in the general education classroom, and then confidence, it's actually discussion with their personnel, like with principals and teachers while they're on their practicum. So it's interesting to me that, you know, if we feel like people need a little more help in certain areas, whether it's their practice or their beliefs or their confidence, we probably have to make sure they're getting those experiences differentially.

Jackie (23:04):
So interesting. It is. Yeah, it was interesting to me because sometimes when you just do, like, we call it a qualitative analysis. So you read through and you figure out what themes are coming out. Like, how are these experiences comping together? Well, as I said, they're all there, like beliefs. We can see personal experience and we can see discussion with personnel and we can see their, um, you know, their time in the, in the practicum with students. But it's the fact that it's, it's those personal experiences, even before they get into a faculty of education that really influenced their belief system. And so I think that we, in knowing this information, we can help figure out how to develop more inclusive practice. And what I'm really interested in is to see, so how does that continue once they get into teaching? So we, as I say, we haven't actually analyzed that data yet, but we're, we're getting there. Um,

Genia (23:58):
So yeah, sorry, I didn't mean to cut you off. No, no, that's what it's about. It's a chat. So the people, the teacher candidates who came in, who had, um, growth mindset, beliefs about the potential of people with disabilities came in with those life experiences already.

Jackie (24:20):
Is that correct? In terms of, yeah. I mean, if we, if we ask them what experiences have you had right. More have them talk about these experiences that exist outside of their faculty and probably before they came into their faculty. Because if they themselves have had experiences as a student with a disability in school, or they knew somebody. So, so yeah, I'd say that, that, that shows that coming in with experiences really has influenced their beliefs about how kids learn in the schools.

Genia (24:55):
So, and, and inversely one might pose it

Genia(24:59):
That

Genia (25:01):
Teacher candidates who come in, who don't have that mindset likely also are basing that on a lack of positive or affirmative experience, which would be actually really common since segregation is still so prevalent in our schools. So we’re around the beliefs piece, essentially, it's, it's really, it's all relational. The examples you gave were all relational of self kind. And so if we were going to, if teachers hadn't had those experiences previously with the Royal, we like, I'm not in education at all, but the Royal, we would need to be really mindful about crafting positive relational experiences for teacher candidates.

Jackie (25:53):
Yeah. And that's why, you know, what they see when they go into the schools is so important. Right. There's so much right. Yeah. And, and that's why even as a, as growing up as a, as a child, without a disability, it's important to have kids with disabilities around you. Because then you, again, you see, they are more like you than not like you, right. I mean, that's, you know, sort of, we've known things like that for a long time, even in social psychology, right? The, the whole sort of bias about people are against people because you don't really know them. Right. And you have these stereotypes of a group, but the minute you start to meet individuals from that group, all those stereotypes break down. Because you see, oh, they are different than I thought from the stereotype. And hey, they're kind of more like me anyway, so, right, right.

Jackie (26:39):
So I think that's where that comes from, and that's why inclusion is important. Not only for kids with disabilities, it's important for all of us to have all that diversity in our lives, right. So that, so that we grow up in a world that truly accepts diversity, not tolerates it. Not says, oh yeah, right. It truly accepts and embraces diversity and celebrates it. And, you know, we're not there as a society. Um, but I, I do think we're better than we used to be. And I do hope that's because of inclusive education. Like I think about my own experience. And as I said, that little girl on my street that I never really got to know. Um, and then even thinking about, you know, in my own schooling, there were a couple of students who had physical disabilities, but not, I didn't see any kids with down syndrome.

Jackie (27:30):
I, you know, I, I, I mean, I think even, um, not even through my high school, right. So, so none of that was, was happening when I went to school. And then I think about my own children who went to schools with kids with disabilities, right. Intellectual, physical, um, you know, learning disabilities. They, they saw, they saw all sorts of kids. And so that's just how they, how they accept it. Um, and, and even, you know, I, I share this story a few times. My son then went to a high school that was not inclusive. It actually had segregated settings for kids with intellectual disabilities and for kids with autism. And, you know, at their graduation ceremony, they, they had a few of the children from the developmental class who were, and I, and I will say this were prayed at, across the, the, the stage at the beginning to get these special awards.

Jackie (28:32):
Right. Like they cleaned off the cafeteria tables or something. I mean, just stuff like that. Like, it just, it, it it's gut wrenching because I think these are made up. Right. So of course, I'm sitting there, it's at the beginning of the ceremony and I'm just thinking, oh, for heaven sakes, but then genuine what happened next? Just like, I know I audibly gasped because my mother looked at me. They said, okay, so now all of the parents of the children that just walked across the stage can get up and leave and go join them down in the DC class for the rest of the celebration. And I just thought, right. So, first of all, that these parents think that's okay, that they don't, they don't necessarily question, right. Because we've, we've sold them a bill of goods. And then what message are we sending to all of the people in that auditorium that these kids don't really belong.

Jackie (29:27):
Right. Because now they're separate and they're going somewhere else. And, you know, the only positive thing that came out of that night was when we got in the car, my son said to me, so what'd you think of that mom? And he knew exactly. I knew what he was talking about. He knew what I was talking about. I thought, well, thankfully I have raised my son to be inclusive because he knew it was wrong, but I, you know, I just think the messages we give when we separate people, um, is, is wrong. We need to have a society that's inclusive. And if we don't accept all people, then we don't have inclusion. Right. So, yeah.

Genia (30:11):
Hey, there just a quick interruption to share an invitation with you. Have you ever wanted to sit down with some of my podcast guests and have a conversation directly, live? They're pretty awesome people. Now you can, every week I'll be hosting the inclusionary podcast party where podcast, guests and listeners gather together for conversations, connection, and networking. You can RSVP at goodthingsinlife.org/party. I hope to see you there. Yeah. I mean, everything we're talking about really could be summed up and maybe this will be the title of this podcast episode is, you know, kids like that. Um, or kids like us. Yeah. You know, cause you hear that right. That's still a termination. It was kids like us or kids like that, or kids like us. So I want to circle back to your research in that. So there's positive relational experiences, um, and gave growth mindset, beliefs to teachers. And you said their self-efficacy self-efficacy was improved by their collaboration with their, with other teachers and principals. Is that correct?

Jackie (31:35):
Right, right. So the idea there, I think is, um, you know, having those conversations as a, as a new teacher, right. Someone who's just learning the craft and, and being told that, you know what you're doing, it's a good job, right? Like you are doing, you are doing the right things, because I think whenever we're learning something new, we, we questioned it ourselves, right? For, so having that, uh, you know, that affirmation that what you're doing is a good job. Or if things don't go so well, then you work through it, right? So what could we do differently next time? So there was that kind of collaborative experience between there w you know, what we call an Ontario Associate Teachers they're called mentor teachers and other places, but the teacher in the classroom who was working with our teacher candidates and their principals, and then other teachers. So, um, so that helps the confidence. Because again, that's that mentoring relationship, right? Again, relationships, right? It's about that mentoring relationship that's important.

Genia (32:32):
And one might again pause it. I’m using the word pause it, cause we're talking about research here and I'm making statements that were not necessarily covered by the research directly, but one might pause it that what parents can take away is that if positive, constructive, supportive, encouraging relationships, that, um, with colleagues were helpful and increasing teachers' confidence, that inclusion was the right thing. And that they, that, that they could do it, that they could take it on. Um, that the same type of relationship with parents would possibly also have the same results. So, you know, being when you're, when, if your child is in a general education classroom and the inclusion is less than stellar, which let's be honest is probably true more often than not. Um, like just across the board, not in a particular classroom. Sure. Um, parents who are open to saying, you know what, I see how hard you're trying to figure this out. That's awesome. Or, you know, uh, this little change you made, thanks so much for that, that was really helpful. Or I know this went really, really poorly and I, I get it, you're working on figuring it out, um, that, that might really actually move the needle forward. Um, yeah.

Jackie (34:02):
I mean, I think that's, that's a reasonable assumption to make, but I do know there's also research that would support that, right. Not necessarily this research, but other research that says, yeah, though, that homeschool collaboration is so important and it's sometimes is difficult right. To, for parents too, to try to see the positives. Um, and I know that as a parent myself, right? And, but I think it's always important to be thinking about, you know, what are the good things that are happening and then what, you know, what else could we do differently? And for teachers to also be in that mindset,right? . Um, and I think teachers who have that mindset and parents who have that mindset work together very well, because they're not seen as, as adversaries. They, they both see themselves as working towards the good of the child, right?

Genia (34:55):
Yeah. Not always easy and less. I misrepresent myself. I recently showed up in a meeting. This was not an education, this was my sisters. I'm currently, still after six months, um, living in a hospital and I showed up to a meeting and completely lost my so much so that when, apparently I didn't hear this firsthand. But apparently when my mother was describing my, my conduct to somebody else and they said, how bad was it? My mother responded like she was 15 again. So I want to suggest that having that positive relationship is always easy. And I bring up this embarrassing example partially because I, I guess it's a question too, like when, when parents are, are, have a need to advocate because things really aren't going great and there's not, you're not starting from a happy partnership with the school. And, you know, there may be, has been some conflict or pushback around inclusion. Um, and you know, maybe you're, you know, even sometimes when you are totally losing it and acting like you're 15, um, where do you ha this is outside of your research? I, I, or at least this project specifically. I know, but how do you marry those two? Like recognizing that the relational aspect of Homeland School is so important to the success of inclusion, but also recognizing that you're in almost a defacto adversarial relationship as an advocate it to some degree.

Jackie (36:44):
Yeah. I think if, if it's gotten to that point and you're so emotional, I do think that you need to bring in some support as a parent, right? It doesn't have to be a professional advocate. I mean, it could be a friend who, you know, is not quite as committed to, to that. And I don't, committed maybe isn't the right word, but it doesn't have the same emotional sterically. It doesn't have the same emotional, uh, outcome. Um, you know, I've sat in on meetings with parents as, as more of the advocate and, and I, and I can see, you know, the parents start to escalate and then I just sort of calm down. I'll take over from here for a moment, right? Cause I, it's not my kid. Um, so I think that's the thing. I also think, you know, if, if we lose it because often that can happen, then we just need to go and apologize.

Jackie (37:34):
Right. None of us are perfect. I mean, I'm sure the teachers have lost it at times and parents lose it in principle. We all lose it at times, right? So it is about having to just go back and apologize and be in the heat of the moment and see if it's worth, you know, were possible to repair. I mean, I always think it is. I think that we just continue to work on those relationships. But I, but I do think as you say, you know, by the time you get to feeling that overwhelmed it's because nothing has been going right in your mind. So maybe get an advocate in to help. Um, right? In that way, some people are very, very good. They can stay calm, they can put it out there as a matter of fact, you know, and that's, that's great. But if you are not one of those people, then I'd say, get, get some support, you know, get some advocacy in there. Um, people who can speak for you and in our, you know, in the inclusion mind, uh, because you're always allowing.

Genia (38:34):
Those people. Yeah. You're both those people too. Right. So I've been both those people. Yeah. I am. I am both those people as well. You know, I'm one of those people that I, you know, I, I get both complimented and criticized, um, for how well I hold it together or don't, you know, um, so having somebody, I think that's great advice having somebody come with you. Okay. And then what, so basically positive relational experiences, um, is key to beliefs. It's key to, um, efficacy or confidence that inclusion is the right way to go and that the teacher feels like they can, they can do in air quotes, inclusion. Um, and what was the third?

Jackie (39:23):
So then we look at instructional practice because of course that has to be important, right. You have to understand and universal design for learning and, and that you don't teach to the middle and you know, all of that. Um, so that is actually having a chance to practice that while they're in their practicum experience. So that makes sense. Right. Um, so again, that's why it's so important for our teacher candidates to be in classrooms that are inclusive and have this universal design for learning approach, because we can tell them about it and we can kind of work on some of those assignments within our classrooms, but not until they're in the classroom, actually having to do that and see that it works. Do they believe it? I think in that sense, right? So, so that's important, um, to have that, to have those practice and time to practice those skills. Um, and again, that, that probably makes a lot of sense if, of course, you know, if we, if we were training someone to be a surgeon, we don't just tell them about it. We let them actually try it. Right. Right. With the, with the mentors standing there.

Genia (40:26):
I was just going to say support. Yeah. Um, uh, yes, I'm distracted by all of the things I could say, given my recent experiences with the medical system around the surgeon. So, um, okay. So the instructional pieces is not necessarily directly relational, but in the same way as the other two, but it is experiential. So we're really talking about the lived experiences of people across those three domains make a big difference. So what do you think then is the, there's a critical mass problem here with teacher education? Because we have so much, um, so many classrooms and schools that are not inclusive, that don't even, aren't even approaching something that could be called inclusion. And you've got all the teacher candidates coming through and only a small few of them are going to have the three experiential, um, domains positively covered during their time. So do you have any thoughts on this sort of messy middle while we create this critical mass of inclusive classrooms that provide our up and coming teachers with positive experiences?

Jackie (41:59):
Well, I mean, I do think that it is also, and that's when I said, you know, we start with the pre-service and that's important, but we can't forget about everybody that's practicing. Um, so I think, you know, I must say that that one thing I have really seen in the last number of years in the schools around me in London and, and region, um, there is a move. There's a move towards inclusion. Um, maybe not for everybody. So it's, it's not full inclusion, but there's certainly a move there's certainly this, this movement of this belief that maybe not all kids need some special education. Um, so I think we're changing there as well. And I think the more that, that changes, then the more we are going to get to inclusion. Also, Genia, you know, when I first started at the faculty of education, um, I remember showing a video it's called educating Peter.

Jackie (42:55):
So it's about a little boy in grade three, I think. And he has down syndrome and it really is just kind of a documentary of watching what the school was like for him and the teachers and the other kids and how they all work together to, to include him, right? And I, I had a student put her hand up and she said, here comes that phrase again, I won't have a kid like that in my class. And I said, well, you might. And she just looked at me and I said, wow, okay. I haven't had anybody ask me that now, right?. I don't still necessarily show the film, but, but just those conversations, it's like a lot of the students that come in have gone to school and inclusive settings, even if they're not, you know, the best inclusion there is diversity happening in terms of seeing kids at least with disabilities.

Jackie (43:42):
So I think that's moving. Um, and I think that's, you know, we just, we continue to work with teachers in schools, schools who, who do want to move to be more inclusive. Um, and, and we research how we have that happen. Um, you know, some of the other work that I've been doing, that's been led by Steve Cider at Laurier, um, has been around principals. And so, you know, that's another important area to focus in on because we know leadership is important. So I think, you know, we're trying to get at how we implement inclusive education at many of these different levels. And I think that's kind of, what's gonna move us forward because you know, I'm with you, you say, sure, it hasn't been happening for a long time, but you know, it's, it's been a long time,

Genia (44:30):
You know, generations of teachers, for sure.

Jackie (44:33):
If we look in Ontario, I mean, it was 1985, right? The bill 82 came in. And even if we say, okay, well maybe that really wasn't inclusion while it was 1998 when our public and owner education and public law, I'm not living in the states when our education law changed to talk more about, you know, having to have education plans and parental involvement and that's 23 years ago. So yeah. You know, there has been movement. I agree with that and there, and you know, and I think, I think teachers, you know, they want to do their best for their kids. And so it's not a matter of them. I've never had a teacher once say to me, I don't believe that all kids belong in that sense. Like flat out said it, but they say they, but how do I do it? How do I do it?

Jackie (45:24):
So to me, it's the, how that we need to really focus in because we know how to do it, right? But we need to, we need to do more figuring out how to help the teacher in the classroom, figure out how to do it, right? And that's really because they are the people that work in the classrooms every day. So, you know, we can have ministry say and what they want. We can even have school boards saying what they want, but until we get into the school itself, being a, an environment of inclusion, we're not going to get it happening. So it's focusing in, on focusing on the school, right?. Um, it's hard to be an individual teacher who believes in inclusion if you're in a school that doesn't. So it, we do know that, right. We know from the research that things have to happen at a school level. Um, and then cause we see then a lot of people helping each other and working with each other and seeing it work in that classroom and think maybe I can do this, right? So, yeah.

Genia (46:24):
So I have a, I have a question for you. Do you know if there's any research that specifically looks, I mean, the answer has to be yes, because the research around inclusion would have all been done on very imperfect inclusion. But, um, you know, I, I talked to a lot of parents who are, who say basically like the ink in, including my son or daughter is being done so poorly that either they'd be better off, not in the classroom. Like I could do a better job at home, um, with their education or they'd be better off in a specialist segregated program. And I've always just gone back to my own personal experiences and observations around the difference between the people, my age, I'm 45. So the people my age and I'm, I'm roughly that first generation of students, um, in, in Ontario anyway, that started in inclusive or general education classrooms. And, um, so I just think about my peers, my same age peers and how much better off they are compared to a generation of people before us who never had the opportunity to be in general education. Even though when my same age peers were in general education, the, the quality of the instruction, for example, the amount of knowledge about, um, how to, as you're saying, do inclusion or, you know, be inclusive was very limited.

Genia (48:08):
They still, they still did better. So I don't know, I guess, I guess my question is, is that true? Does the research support just imperfect inclusion and, and mum mumbling rumbling? Like I am with this compensation, um, it's still better than segregated programming.

Jackie (48:31):
Uh, I'd say yes. Uh, I think our research does show that, um, I've been involved in a few projects. One, uh, was one of my PhD students and, um, she actually went into segregated classrooms and went into inclusive classrooms within the same school for it. And, uh, talked to teachers about developing those individual education plans for their students and what the goals were in such. And without like, without a doubt, the ones in the segregated class were not focused on academics. Um, they, they didn't see that as something to work towards necessarily. And all the teachers in the inclusive classrooms did. So they still talked about academics as being important for their kids within lectural disabilities. Um, and so, so even that, you know, again, that this child is in my class, I am their teacher and I'm responsible and all my other kids are learning, reading.

Jackie (49:27):
Why wouldn't I wouldn't just child. All my other kids are learning math. Why wouldn't this child,right?. So, so there was that we also did some work, um, committee living Ontario and Arch Disability Law, and then a couple of colleagues from Brock, uh, Dr. Sheila Bennett, Dr. Monique Soma. And I, we, we put out a survey, uh, to parents of kids with intellectual disabilities. And, uh, and we, we had over nearly 300 parents answer this survey. And then we also did some interviews, but in, in that survey, in that quantitative data, we compared, um, parents responses of kids who were in more inclusive settings versus those who were in more segregated settings. So those who,who spent less than 50% of their day in a regular classroom, we considered more segregated. And those who spent most or all of their day in an inclusive classroom as more inclusive settings.

Jackie (50:29):
And, you know, when we analyze the data, we didn't find a lot of differences between the two groups. And I felt like originally I felt very deflated because I thought really there's not much difference. The only things we found differently. So this kind of speaks to your question in some ways, is kids who weren't inclusive settings in the high school were more likely to be working for academic credit. And then kids who were in more inclusive settings had more opportunities for social activity, right? Whether it was through clubs or interacting with kids, that sort of thing, but no other differences. We didn't see a difference in the amount of time that kids spent at home being excluded or being asked not to come to school for, you know, the first period and last period, all of that. And, and again, I remember feeling kind of, uh, concerned about that, but then I thought, wait a minute, special education and segregated education is supposed to be so good for these kids.

Jackie (51:29):
These kids are still spending as much time at home. They still have parents who need to take time off work. They still need to go on field trips with their kids, if their kids are able to go on field trips. So really even if we want to say inclusion, the sense, even if it wasn't doing, being done very well, they were at least in the, the classroom and having, um, having more access to credit and more access to social events than the kids who are in those segregated settings. Right. But what it really did tell me also is that we're just not, we're not giving kids with intellectual disabilities a very good education. It doesn't matter if they're in segregated or inclusive settings, so that needs to change. But also, you know, that inclusion bit is working in the sense of the credit and the socialization.

Jackie (52:19):
So even if it's bad in the sense that, you know, these kids were not in class all the time, they were being asked to take, be taken home, there's still something that's happening. That's better, right? For the, for the kids, with the disabilities. And then I dare say for the kids without disabilities, because they're seeing that diversity and, and therefore perhaps having a, a more rich experience to then grow up to be adults who accept that people with disabilities can be like, that's right. Yeah. Yeah. So, so I'd say, yeah, so, you know, bad inclusion is probably better than no inclusion because at least you're trying to work towards it. But I, you know, I see, um, my parents will be frustrated and why we do have to, we do have to get it, uh, happening in a better way for all of our kids. Absolutely. Absolutely. But yeah, I'd say if you think. Yeah. Um, I think, I think, uh, I think it was Sheila Bennett who actually first I heard say that right. Bad inclusionist better than no inclusions. It's like, well, yeah.

Genia (53:28):
Yeah. Thank you for that. Well, Jackie, if people want to connect with you or learn more about your work, how would people find you?

Jackie (53:36):
So, um, my email address is [email protected] Um, and then we also have our, uh, Canadian Research Center for inclusive education website. So it's, it's a long URL, but it's inclusiveeducation research.ca, but I'm sure if you just Google it, then it's there as well. So make sure it's in the show notes as well. Yeah. I'm always happy to chat with people and I, I certainly appreciate the ability to have this conversation with you today,Genia. I think it's, um, especially during these pandemic times, I'm not getting out and chatting with people about inclusive education. So it's nice to be able to do that and to, to feel that that rejuvenation and a bit of that passion, um, come back and from someone like yourself, who, who truly, you know, lives, this, um, has lived experience as you know, with many different hats. Uh, it's, it's good to hear, um, from you and, and chat with you as well. So I appreciate that.

Genia (54:37):
Well, it's really, truly an honor to have you spend your time speaking with me and speaking, you know, having this conversation for the, for the audience as well, and we'll make sure that we link, um, to you and to the inclusive education, um, research well for the scent to the centers, specifically to the website, to the center on the show notes. And I hope to have you back on the podcast and other times, so we can continue the conversation. Jackie, thank you so, so much.

Jackie (55:08):
That would be great. Thanks. I'd like that. Thank you, Genia.

Speaker 1 (55:15):
Thank you so much for joining Genia on the podcast. We hope you enjoyed today's episode. See you next time.

 

Thanks for Listening!

Resources & Links Mentioned:

  • Jacqui’s email – [email protected]  
  • inclusiveeducationresearch.ca 
  • Twitter – @JacquelineSpec9

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Special thanks to Jacqueline Specht for joining me this week. Until next time!

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Genia Stephen
Genia Stephen

Sister, mother, midwife, writer, speaker and perpetually curious. Dedicated to bringing you the voices, ideas and conversations of world class mentors and thought leaders in the field of disability.