The Six Pillars of Special Education: A Comprehensive Guide For Teachers

By Angelica Bottaro

teacher teaching a small classroom group of special education students

What Is Inclusion? How Schools Can Foster A Culture of Community In Special Education 

You may have heard the word inclusion before. Most often, it’s used in a societal context and refers to equal opportunity and access for everyone regardless of race, age, creed, orientation, or station. When talking about inclusivity in education, the same principles apply. 

One aspect of education that relies heavily on an appropriate level of inclusivity is special education. But what is special education, and how can fostering inclusivity improve the academic culture for all students?

What does inclusion mean in education?

Inclusive education revolves around the same fundamental ideals associated with societal inclusivity. The only difference is that it is limited to educational institutions and the students they teach.

According to Inclusive Education Canada, inclusive education means “all students attend and are welcomed by their neighborhood schools in age-appropriate, regular classes, and are supported to learn, contribute, and participate in all aspects of life at the school.” 

Simply put, inclusivity in education gives all students a chance to feel included and succeed in their educational careers. Fostering a good culture of inclusivity in schools is vital for all students, not just the ones who may feel like outsiders or “different” from their peers.

What is Special Education?

The ideals set forth by inclusive education are crucial for one group of learners, those who are in special education courses. Many people know that special education exists but not precisely what it entails. Essentially, this form of education provides students with extenuating circumstances, such as an identified disability, the opportunity to have their learning needs met in a traditional classroom without the added stress of paying for the services.

Some disabilities that qualify for special education include:

  •   Intellectual disabilities
  •   Speech or language impairments
  •   Hearing and visual impairments
  •   An emotional disturbance that affects their ability to learn
  •   Traumatic brain injuries
  •   Orthopedic impairments
  •   Autism spectrum disorder
  •   Developmental delays
  •   Learning disabilities that affect how well students can learn in non-special education classes

Because these disabilities negatively affect a child’s ability to learn in the same way as their peers, specific programs ensure that they are included in their own educational experience instead of sitting on the sidelines while they watch their peers excel.

What are the Six Principles of Special Education?

There are six principles of special education, all of which are federally enforced. They include: 

  • Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE): FAPE ensures that children with disabilities receive no-cost public education that meets their academic needs.
  • Non-discriminatory Identification and Evaluation: All methods used to help identify students with disabilities must be free of all discrimination.
  • Individualized Education Program (IEP): The IEP document acts as a foundation for special education, outlining specific services required by each student. It focuses on the student’s current grades and how their disability affects their academic success. Accommodations and yearly goals made to help encourage better learning for students with disabilities are also outlined in this form.
  • Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): The LRE refers to the classroom setting that provides children with an equal learning opportunity. Inclusive learning can be done through special education in a full- or part-time capacity, and other areas, such as self-contained classrooms or resource rooms, are part of the LRE.
  • Parent Participation: Special education doesn’t stop at school, and parents need to include themselves in the placement process for their children. It is a parental right to do so.
  • Due Process Safeguards: Safeguards ensure that the children and their parents are included and protected in the decision-making process regarding placement, educational records, and student evaluation.

These principles ensure that students have access to appropriate education that meets their needs, adapts to them, and provides a community-driven environment where students with disabilities can learn freely and feel part of the collective at their school.

Why is Special Education Important?

Special education is crucial to many children’s lives because it allows them to experience learning on terms that work for them, not against them. Special education students should have everything they need to reach their full potential. Accommodations, remedial courses, and modifications to course materials are all aspects of special education that make it easier for those with disabilities to prosper in their academic careers.

This benefits students greatly because, without this level of inclusivity, they may be unable to keep up with their studies even though they are more than capable of doing so. Students in classrooms with people with similar disabilities can also feel more camaraderie among their peers because of special education courses. They can meet individuals like them, creating bonds that can help foster brain and social development.

Another importance of special education doesn’t focus solely on students with disabilities but on teachers and educators, and students without disabilities. By providing these specialized courses, teachers can learn new ways of incorporating lesson plans to suit the needs of more of their students while also learning how to practice inclusivity in a real-world environment.

Students without disabilities paired with those that do can also gain real-world insight into connecting with those who may be different from them in a positive and lasting way.

How Can Schools Foster a Culture of Inclusivity?

It’s good and well to talk about inclusivity, but making it happen is another story. The good news is that there are ways for all educators and those in education positions to help foster inclusivity.

While laws are in place to ensure that schools are inclusive, it doesn’t always guarantee a culture of community among all students and teachers within an educational institute. To promote a culture of inclusivity, teachers must work toward it every day. They can do this by: 

  • Receiving the proper special education training to learn how to support inclusivity within their school adequately
  • Collaborating with parents and other educators to create individualized plans that work with the student’s best interest in mind
  • Getting to know their students and what their needs are so that any adjustments can be made on the fly
  • Setting the right expectations for each student to provide support to those who may not be A students but continue to work toward their personal best
  • Getting involved outside the classroom to help create laws, policies, and resources that can help generate more inclusivity
  • Celebrating the students’ differences in a way that represents all students. For example, using educational materials such as books, videos, and online courses that show students from different backgrounds who are differently abled can help to accomplish this.
  • Provide students with disabilities the chance to engage with the rest of the school community by offering interactive opportunities for the entire student body.
  • Focus solely on progress and build on the momentum when moving on to more complex and challenging course material.

Students, parents, and educators are responsible for upholding an inclusive environment in educational institutes. To do so, it’s vital to understand what inclusivity is, how it affects students in special education, and what you can do to promote it in your school.

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