What Is Inclusion? How Schools Can Foster a Culture of Community in Special Education

By Sarah McCarthy

students fostering a culture of community and inclusion

Inclusion is a word used to describe a societal ideal that can be difficult to attain. However, it is a crucial aspect of education and has gained significant attention in recent years. Inclusion refers to providing equal opportunities and supports to all students. This is regardless of the students' abilities, disabilities, or backgrounds. This approach acknowledges that students learn in different ways and promotes a supportive learning environment for everyone.

So, what is inclusion, both in theory and in practice? How can schools be more inclusive of special education and different types of learners? How can you become a certified Special Education teacher? In this article we will:

  1. Explain inclusion in the classroom in theory as well as in practice
  2. Explore the benefits of inclusion and the steps that you can take as a teacher to create a more inclusive learning environment 
  3. If you’re thinking of becoming a certified Special Education teacher, we will give you resources to help you gain your certification.

Inclusion in Theory

To have a positive attitude towards inclusion, you must first understand what it means and why it's crucial. The Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) defines inclusion as “a term which expresses commitment to educate each child, to the maximum extent appropriate, in the school and classroom he or she would otherwise attend.”

Supporters of inclusion enacted a law in 1975. This law ensures equal access and opportunity inside the classroom for all students with disabilities. The legislation has been revised several times. It is now called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This act ensures students with a disability can access a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that fits their needs. 

Inclusion in Practice

Like most things, theory doesn’t always translate precisely to practice. The law (IDEA) doesn’t explicitly say that classrooms must be inclusive. Since there is a wide spectrum of special needs, the “least restrictive environment” is determined on a case-by-case basis. So, that doesn't always mean that a child with special needs will be in a general education classroom. Practicality is an important factor in deciding whether an inclusive environment best suits a child. Parents don’t get to make this decision alone, nor does the school’s administration. Everyone on a child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team works together to reach a verdict. 

Some students need adaptations. The kind of adaptations becomes important when considering their type of classroom placement. These come in two forms: accommodations and modifications. These adaptations assist students with special needs by compensating for any disability-related obstacles and allowing them the tools to succeed. After all, a student with special needs is unlikely to thrive if he or she is thrown into a general education classroom with no support. 

Benefits of Inclusion

Inclusion benefits not only special education students but all students in a classroom. Some of the benefits include:

  1. Improved Social Skills. In an inclusive environment, students have the opportunity to interact and work with their peers of all abilities. This helps to break down barriers and stigma. It also promotes social skills, such as empathy and understanding.
  2. Enhanced Learning. Inclusion enables all students to learn from each other. It helps to create a more diverse learning environment too. This can lead to a deeper understanding of the subject matter. It can also increase critical thinking skills.
  3. Increased Understanding. Inclusion helps to increase understanding and appreciation of diversity. Once this happens, it can lead to a more accepting and inclusive society. This is particularly important in a world where differences are often viewed as a source of conflict.

Steps for Creating an Inclusive Environment:

  1. Assessment and Planning. The first step in creating an inclusive environment is to assess the needs of all students. This assessment should include a review of the school's policies and procedures. It should also include an evaluation of the resources and support services available. Based on the results of the assessment, schools can develop a plan for creating an inclusive learning environment.
  2. Classroom Environment. The physical environment of the classroom can impact the success of inclusion. Schools should ensure that the classroom is accessible. There should be enough space for all students, including those with disabilities. Classrooms should also be designed to promote interaction and collaboration among all students.
  3. Curriculum Adaptations. Schools can make modifications to the curriculum to make it more accessible to all students. This might mean using alternative assessment methods, the use of visual aids, and incorporating different learning styles.
  4. Parent and Community Involvement. Schools should involve parents and the community in the creation of an inclusive environment. This can include regular communication, the creation of support groups, and the development of partnerships with community organizations.
  5. Monitoring and Evaluation. Schools should regularly monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of their inclusion efforts. This can include the collection of data on academic outcomes, the engagement and success of special education students, and the satisfaction of teachers, parents, and students.
  6. Teacher Training. Teachers play a crucial role in creating an inclusive environment. They need to be trained on the principles of inclusion and how to support all students, including those with disabilities. Teachers should also be trained on the use of assistive technology and other resources that can support special education students. Reading this article is a great first step!

Becoming a Certified Special Education Teacher

So, you want to become a certified Special Education Teacher? Well, now is a great time to do it! There is currently a shortage of teachers in general, but the shortage of Special Education teachers is even greater. With the demand for teachers rising, schools across the United States struggle to fill vacancies with committed, high-quality educators. Luckily, some states are trying to make it easier to get a Special Education teaching license. They hope that this will help reduce the shortage over time.

If you are patient and empathetic, this could be a great career for you. 

You need a bachelor’s degree (in any major!) to apply, and you can become a certified Special Education teacher in under one year.


Having everyone feel included is crucial in education. It helps not only students with special needs but all students in a class. Special Education teachers are very important because they help students with disabilities learn and grow. They make sure every child gets a quality education. 

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