There isn’t a professor or employer who ultimately pleases the every person they lead. A large number of higher education professors are usually hit or miss, meaning they greatly please half the students and greatly displease the other half. There are the rare leaders, however, who effectively educate students through inclusively based strategies. Inclusivity is thrown around a lot more these days as a vague Band-Aid to put on the administration to student conflicts but recent studies on inclusive education have made it a necessary skill set for educators to utilize.
What is inclusive education?
PBS gives an all right definition:
“Inclusive education happens when children with and without disabilities participate and learn together in the same classes. Research shows that when a child with disabilities attends classes alongside peers who do not have disabilities, good things happen.”
This speaks well to the idea of inclusion versus integration. It’s important to make a distinction between the two because they are different. Integration is the act of moving a group into another without taking steps to erase the boundary. An example of this is a racially diverse population on campus but people still only spend time with their respective race. The diversity exists and is promoted, but lacks genuine benefits because of the boundary of separation that still exists.
The true definition of inclusive is aptly represented by PBS’s definition, however it comes with a lot more effort behind it. The effort is what separates inclusion from integration. This effort comes from inclusivity based strategies that make an effort to blur the boundary of separation previously mentioned. I will explain a few easily implemented inclusive strategies later on but first we have to understand how and why this impacts a learning environment.
Why should I care?
Not only have numerous studies, from both public and private agencies, presented evidence on the benefits of inclusive education, there is also proof in the pudding. The phrase inclusive education is usually associated with grade school but can be used in any educational experience including higher education or a professional career environment. There are, in fact, educational opportunities in all aspects of our lives. Without inclusive strategies these opportunities can be far less impactful or even negatively impact the educational environment. For an educator, be it a boss or a teacher, communication is key. To effectively educate one must effectively communicate. To effectively communicate one must be inclusive so that the communication reaches and responds everyone, not just the select few.
This is where education is faltering currently. Because educators lack specified inclusivity training, they aren’t able to effectively communicate to their diverse audience. The US Department of Education consistently represents students as numbers rather than individuals. This is not their fault as there are too many students to do otherwise. But it is their fault that schools dependent on the test scores of their students. It is also their fault that the ACT and SAT among other standardized tests have become as important as grades. These are negatively impactful and non-inclusive educational practices.
Because of these things students are suffering from not being included and therefore devalue their worth as members of society. This is why we need inclusivity training.
What specifically can we do to be more inclusive?
At Cal Poly, there is a severe lack of integration, let alone inclusion, on campus. This is true for ASI, clubs, sports, majors, and the staff. A prime example, though of course not the only one or the most severe by any means, is the Pride Center in the UU. Many gay men who are less traditionally feminine aren’t always welcome there. The same can be said if you sleep with the wrong person or are, generally, not a far left political supporter. This exclusion is a form of micro-aggression. To avoid this, it should be necessary for student leaders of any kind to take a seminar on inclusive leadership strategies, one of which being to avoid micro-aggression through clear communication and understanding.
Strategies for inclusivity revolve around listening, understanding, and reacting appropriately. To be inclusive you must first listen clearly, patiently and without prejudice. As a leader, not listening this way will lead to a level of disrespect and distrust that will negatively impact productivity and communication.
The understanding part involves an empathetic and rational understanding of what is being said. If a student says “I’m sorry I missed the midterm, there was a death in the family” many professors will actually think that the student is lying to get out of the midterm. Yes, this could be the case, but to react appropriately a leader must learn to empathetically and rationally understand what is being said. Instead of dismissing it as a lie and having a negative opinion of the student, the professor must take benefit of the doubt and trust the student. This trust will, in most cases, be rewarded by positive performance and relationship building. If you do not understand or cannot relate to what a student is saying, ask them to elaborate further so that you can better foster that important bond.
Finally there is the reaction, the most important aspect of inclusive strategies. After listening and understanding, it is crucial to react appropriately. Appropriate reaction can come in a variety of forms. If a worker wants to try something new that could better the company and expresses their desire to do so, react with a clear and concise response. To do this, you must respond to all aspects of what was expressed.
In this example the boss would begin by first addressing the passion to better the company as a positive and admirable attribute. By addressing this passion you reinforce his love for the company. The boss would then need to respond to trying something new. In most cases it would not make sense to have an employee dramatically switch tasks to better the company. However, using a compromise that once a week the employee can work on the new material but the rest of the week must still be used for their current task would be beneficial and promote the growth and trust of employee to boss. If it is not possible for that worker to work on a new task different from their current one, it is the responsibility of the boss to make it clear. If a boss says “I don’t pay you to think of new ideas. I don’t have time for any of that, go back to work” they automatically place a negative barrier between then and their employee. Saying something like “while I admire your passion for our company and your desire to grow, right now we need you to remain on your current task. If, in the future, we have the resources, we will move forward with your desired new task” is a far better option. Notice the use of group pronouns and the attention paid to clear communication.
Inclusive education revolves around clear communication to further erase the boundaries that separate educational experiences. Hopefully this has shed some light on ways you can be more inclusive with your own leadership or other leaders that could benefit from inclusivity training.
And remember: Listen, Understand, React.