Volume 28, Number 2
Collaborating to Make Schools More Inclusive
Bill Henderson has long been a pioneer of inclusion for students with special needs. In 1989, he took the helm of the Patrick O’Hearn Elementary School in Boston and transformed it into one of the first fully inclusive schools in the country, nationally renowned for its diversity and high academic performance. Henderson, who became legally blind when he was a young teacher, wrote about the school’s transformation in his recent book, The Blind Advantage: How Going Blind Made Me a Stronger Principal and How Including Children with Disabilities Made Our School Better for Everyone (Harvard Education Press, 2011). At 61, he continues to be a popular presence at the school that now bears his name: the William W. Henderson Inclusion Elementary School. Harvard Education Letter assistant editor Patti Hartigan caught up with him in January as he was on his way to attend a student performance.This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.
What defines an inclusive school today?
When I think of inclusion, I am thinking specifically of kids with and without disabilities learning together and from each other. It doesn’t have to be 100 percent of the time. It doesn’t mean they are doing all the same things all the time, but they belong to the same group. They are in the same general education classroom for kids with a wide range of abilities. They can go out for physical therapy or Braille training, but their class is Room 103 or the second-grade class for kids with and without disabilities.
Clearly, if you have a situation where the disabled kids get together on Wednesday afternoons with the typical kids and have swimming class, that is not what we mean by inclusive education. That is an inclusive experience. It has to do with the frequency, and the main issue is quality. All students learn together and at high academic standards, and they participate meaningfully in a range of activities, including recess and afterschool activities as well as academics. If they are reading biographies, they are all reading. Some are reading with their eyes, some with their eyes and ears and technology, some with their fingers and ears. But everyone is reading.