Being inclusive is the opposite of being exclusive

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This analogy of consumer behavior and marketing technique may not directly relate to this essay which is discussing about being inclusive in education. But from here, I gathered that being inclusive deals with the ideas of belongingness and there are possible losses of opportunity in both areas if we don't belong; either of having the opportunity to access shopping privileges or having the opportunity to access the privileges of education.

I quote from this CEO who exclaimed such in his company's mission statement, "When we are truly inclusive, I believe we go beyond toleration to really understanding what makes us unique and what unites us as human beings. (Brian C. Walker, President and Chief Executive Officer, Herman Miller, Inc., retrieved from http://www.hermanmiller.com/About-Us/About-Herman-Miller/Inclusiveness-and-Diversity). This is a kind statement that I strongly believe in of readily accepting differences and diversity in people and dealing with human variability.

We are all not the similar mould of each other. I believe that what makes us unique is the diversity among us. It is up to us to embrace the differences and defend the diversity among us, celebrate it and make our life experience as whole as it can be. This will take up more than the regular output from us, in our job as education officers, to make that special connection, to elicit that promising spark and teach meaningfully.

But we have chosen this seemingly noble path, it is in our honor to carry out our mission well and I believe that being inclusive should naturally come from within. I also believe in being fair and nice to students no matter how they behave, talk or look like. It puts me at a disadvantage sometimes, surely. This gesture from me is important to myself because I believe that it is the simplest and greatest thing a teacher can do and be for their students.

In my personal view, an inclusive learning environment is an environment structured as such where a child is not "accidentally or intentionally excluded from any learning opportunities" (http://depts.washington.edu/cidrweb/inclusive/). This will include children that are different, who are the 'others' in terms of differences in religion, race, ethnicity, linguistics, immigrants, girls, lower-income families, physical disabilities like hearing impairment, special needs like ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), the gifted and etcetera. These differences should not be seen as barriers to overcome but as a source of diversity. The motion of this is that the learning environment should be structured to accept such diversity; that is the students involved are not the ones adapting to the needs of the school system. However, it is the reverse and the system should be equipped with strategies and allowance for flexibility to engage students in inclusive learning to its best advantage (retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inclusion_%28education%29).

I frankly find myself a gentle person and sometimes I do wonder if it is appropriate for me to be a teacher since I'm like this. Then again, this is a challenge that I have taken up and I believe that I should define my life mission and not the other way round. As a student, I found myself lucky that my primary and secondary schools environments have made me become this gentle, fair and tolerating person. High moral behavior and conduct, great tolerance of others and taking initiative to serve are greatly observed in both of my schools.

My primary school was a neighbourhood school; from young I had already recognized that there are different kinds of people and that prejudice or biasness was not encouraged. A kind of 'sharing' environment was always prevalent in my childhood whether during camps or my brass band sessions. I had the opportunity of performing overseas in band and that had opened my mind. I remembered my band went to Turkey to perform in an international children's festival and we each stayed in foster homes. This experience that I had with my friend and her family who readily took care of me for a week made me learn to give and take well in alien environments at the age of eleven-years-old. Also, the interactions I had with kids from different countries truly broadened my perspective during that time. The experience was fun and enriching.

My secondary school is a Christian missionary school. Although I'm not a Christian, I greatly appreciated the 'community spirit' my school was always projecting. I remember that at every morning assembly there is "devotion' where the principal would cite from the Bible and once a week they will have Mass and I always got 2 free periods during those. I did not mind this religious 'interjections' in my life then, I thought that what the principal talked about every morning ethically makes sense and I was not pressured in any way because I was not a Christian. I was accepted into their culture nevertheless and if I was curious about their religion, my classmates, seniors and teachers would readily explain but never forcing me to change my beliefs.

I believe in "Learning is in the relationships between people. " (McDermott, retrieved from http://www.infed.org/biblio/communities_of_practice.htm). My own learning was shaped by others, from others and through others. I greatly believe in the power of interaction and communication. Lave and Wenger (1991) stated "Through participation and engagement within collective activities and practices, individuals gain or appropriate socio-cultural knowledge and practices such as attitudes, values, skills and behaviours" (socio-cultural theory, Lim, Thaver and Slee p59). Thus it is vital for active participation through interpersonal relationships that develops mutual regard and respect for others. Blumenfield (1992) proposed that a child "who feels threatened and unsafe will achieve less than those whose learning environment (either at home or in school) is safe and stable" (Tan, Parsons, Hinson and Sardo-Brown p330). As a teacher, I strongly feel it is in my power to create an inclusive thus safe and stable environment as much as it is in my scope of responsibilities.

If I were given a chance to be a form teacher for a particular class, I would like to create an inclusive learning environment from the beginning of the year. Hypothetically speaking, the class for example will be a class of forty Secondary One students with an equal combination of boys and girls. There will be a mixture of students from different ethnic backgrounds and income households. A couple of the students would be foreign students and I will have a student who is clinically diagnosed as having ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

My framework of an inclusive class would be generated simply from the positive and constructive relationship of the 'self' and 'others'; teacher to student(s) relationship, student to student in same class relationship and students of same class to school relationship (other students and other teachers). From here, I would aim to synergize mutual respect and mutual regard for one another in my form class. I would also construct my class learning environment from three aspects: physical - what is visible and tangible will be accessible, social - the building of relationships and psychological - making students will feel at ease in a classroom environment.

From the start of the year and my first weekly lesson with the class, as we would all be strangers, I would just get the students to introduce themselves to me and to one another through a brief ice-breaking activity. It would be brief because I would want them to loosen up the initial tensions a bit but not too much that they would think my classes would just consist of fun and lack seriousness.

Next I will work with the students to negotiate a set of rules and regulations (aside from the school's generic classroom rules given to all students). I find it important and more valuable if the students are involved in this decision-making which will be put together using their own words. It is also like when you work outside; you are introduced to the do's and don'ts first before knowing more about your colleagues.

Thus, rules would be set for cases of misbehavior and poor conduct. Regulations are established on noise level, moving to and fro from classroom, bringing of school materials and etcetera. I would set expectations and establish with students on their roles and responsibilities, class duties and call for volunteers on class committee for a trial period. I would also establish a classroom seating arrangement of equal gender ratio (one boy sit next to one girl); this would also serve as a buddy system to foster partnership and cooperation. I hope to pair up the foreign students with local students and the ADHD student will sit in close proximity to me. So he/she will have my immediate attention if the need arises. I would also ask the students and check if students are short-sighted, color-blind and amend my arrangement accordingly.

From the second weekly lesson onwards, slowly I would build rapport with students by getting their names right and implementing the rules or regulations that were set if there happens to be misbehavior. I would show them a morality-themed video about friendship and camaraderie. We would discuss about the topic and I would introduce to them a buddy system game; another ice-breaking activity but more long term, called the "Angel-Devil" game, students will pair up with a partner anonymously and every week they will write a letter to each own "Angel" about anything that they are facing in their life. It would be like making friends through 'pen pals'. I would hope that there would be a development of mutual tolerance, respect and caring attitude among my students. I would also encourage students to write to me too either through emails or written letter if they are faced with any difficulties and requires privacy in consultation.

I would enforce respect for others; vulgarities, racist, sexist and derogatory remarks or gestures will not be tolerated, stereotyping will be challenged and high moral values will be upheld. I would be a positive role model; "walk the talk", and the language spoken, images shown, context illustrated should be free from any form of biasness or condescension. I would work with my students on an individual and whole class level in promoting inclusion in my classroom (Quek, Wong and Tay, p36-37). On an individual level, I would have one-to-one chitchats with my students especially ones with special needs (like my ADHD student), work closely with other colleagues and his/her parents on the student's progress and development. On a class level, I would incorporate social development skills in my lessons and activities - such as teamwork, respect, tolerance, participation and cooperation. I would have class discussions or "teachable moments" especially if a particular misbehavior occurred and address that issue and its implications to the whole class.

In conclusion, the abovementioned methods would encapsulate my take on creating an inclusive class environment that was shaped from my personal pedagogy. It is obviously a softer approach but from my short stint at contract teaching experience, I realized that in time, time gentle words will sway a heart more than a rough scolding.

(1,910 words, excluding reference list and the cover page)

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