Community engagement needed to improve inclusion

May 5, 2015

Part seven of a seven-part series

On Sept. 10, 2014, the Alberta Teachers’ Association released the Report of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Inclusive Education in Alberta Schools.

The report outlines 38 recommendations arranged around seven themes. In this, the seventh instalment of a seven-part series, the ATA News outlines the recommendations that fall within the theme of community engagement.

Community engagement

Parents, school councils, students, community members, businesses, industry and post-secondary institutions are partners in supporting implementation.

Recommendation 37 — to the government of Alberta

Establish a provincewide telephone link and a web-based annotated list of services by geographical region to provide information to teachers, parents and students who need immediate access to specialized services and advice.

Finding existing supports and services can be challenging for teachers, parents and students. At times, there are existing supports that would be helpful, but there is no central place that lists a directory of supports, such as those for mental health, for newcomers to Canada or for counselling services. One phone number and web service would provide a one-stop place for people to find what they need.

Creating a comprehensive listing of such services would also help to identify gaps or overlapping initiatives. Such a system was proposed by Alberta’s Commission on Learning, and it was compared to the Health Link Alberta service, one number that Albertans can call for health-related advice. Effort would be required to ensure that the information is reliable and regularly reviewed for accuracy. In some cases, such as a mental health crisis, having access to this information could mean life or death.

Recommendation 38 — to Alberta Education, school jurisdictions, administrators, school councils and teachers

Provide opportunities for parents to learn about inclusive education and to engage in dialogue.

Parents are key partners in education and, other than brief opportunities at the consultation events for Setting the Direction, they have often been left out of these important conversations and policy changes. For example, many parents do not know that the funding has changed so that there are no longer specific dollar amounts attached to individual students. Parents often have concerns about the lack of support services available for their children. Broad engagement was seen as an important step in the consultation process of Setting the Direction, but there has been little direct support for parents since then.

In addition, some parents may be reluctant or unable to become involved for a variety of reasons, including work schedules and language barriers. One example of an initiative to involve parents would be to develop multi-language presentations for parents that would be suitable for a variety of settings, such as self-study, school councils and the like. Parents can also provide meaningful input through the advisory committees mentioned in recommendations one, five and six. Providing thoughtful opportunities for parents to be involved and informed requires concerted, ongoing effort, and this is particularly important for parents in an inclusive system.

Conclusion

The recommendations of the blue ribbon panel point to many gaps in the implementation of inclusive education in Alberta. While there are pockets of success, there is certainly no evidence of widespread success or comprehensive implementation. It is not too late to make a difference and create systems and spaces where support for inclusion is part of how we live in schools and in our province. We can still create access to quality education and environments where all students are able to learn. It is the teacher’s responsibility to help students learn, and everyone and everything in the system should support the teacher to do so. Indeed, implementing the recommendations in this report would position Alberta as a world leader in inclusive education.  ❚

The Report of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Inclusive Education in Alberta Schools is the product of an arm’s-length panel formed in May 2013 due to myriad concerns from teachers and administrators. Panel members represented a broad range of roles and perspectives within the education system. Based on face-to-face meetings and in-depth research, the panel concluded that a previously released framework to make schools more inclusive (Alberta Education’s Setting the Direction Framework, published in 2009) had not been effectively implemented.

The panel’s 38 recommendations are arranged around seven themes:

(1) Shared vision
(2) Leadership
(3) Research and evidence
(4) Resources
(5) Teacher professional growth
(6) Time
(7) Community engagement

Read the full report
Read the companion document
Read part one of the ATA News seven-part series
Read part two of the ATA News seven-part series
Read part three of the ATA News seven-part series
Read part four of the ATA News seven-part series
Read part five of the ATA News seven-part series
Read part six of the ATA News seven-part series