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83. “Inclusion as a Process” with Kevin Schaefer

by Lindsay Lyons
August 30th 2022
Today we are joined by Kevin Schaefer with a conversation surrounding inclusion ⁠and systematic change. He provides ed... More
get excited for my conversation with Kevin Schaeffer. The alternative title for this episode was the system has to be designed proactively. So we are talking about so many good things and so many things that are really rooted in sustainable, systematic and systemic change, Kevin Schaeffer is currently the director of equity and inclusive practices for the supporting inclusive practices project through the El Dorado County Office of Education. In this role, Mr Schaefer works to improve educational outcomes for students with disabilities through providing high quality leadership and support to the California Department of Education and Elia's throughout the state. Additionally, he provides organizational support through his work in promoting continuous improvement processes and alignment of initiatives that focus on creating enabling least restrictive environments that honor the diversity of learners across general and special education settings. His varied background as a special education teacher administrator and national State Technical assistance provider has led to expertise in areas of systems change and inclusive educational practices. The result in educational benefits for all students get excited.

Let's dive in. Educational justice coach lindsey Lyons and here on the time for Teacher ship podcast, we learn how to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice design curricula grounded in student voice and build capacity for shared leadership. I'm a former teacher leader turned instructional coach. I'm striving to live a life full of learning, running, baking, traveling and parenting because we can be rockstar educators and be full human beings. If you're a principal Assistant Superintendent, curriculum director, instructional coach or teacher who enjoys nursing out about co creating curriculum. Students, I made this show for you. Here we go, kevin Shaffer, Welcome to the time for teacher ship podcast. Thank you. Thank you so much for having me lindsey. I'm so excited you're here and I just read your professional bio, but is there anything else you want to say to kind of conceptualize your conversation or introduce yourself to our listeners today? Yeah, I think my biggest interest is right now. Um really diving deep into how special education can be utilized as a tool for social justice and equity for students to receive deeper level support, but at the same time have that meaningful access to general education, high quality instruction.

So I've been spending a lot of time over the last couple of years, really diving deep into ways that we can support um students with disabilities and their families through that lens of equity and social justice. So that's really what my priorities are right now. Um but really working with teachers and administrators and families on how we can make special education, uh a positive asset based intervention within our school systems is really where my heart lies at this point. That's amazing. And I think it takes us right into this next question of, you know, dr Bettina Love talks about the idea of freedom dreaming as dreams grounded in the critique of injustice and I think your intro kind of already spoke to that. But you know what's the big dream with that in mind that you hold for education if you want to expand upon that at all? Yeah. What what comes to mind is through a special education lens too often we have students who are segregated and when we talk about freedom, when we talk about equality, um when we talk about inclusion, we're talking about special education being that um that that priority that we have to help our most marginalized students.

And when we look through the lens of identity work and intersectionality and privilege and marginalization, special education is too often that That um program that is off to the side that removes students and creates that that that widening of the opportunity gap and what we do in education pre-k through the age of 22, we have to realize that that impacts students either positively or negatively literally for the rest of their lives. So I think that idea of freedom through the lens of education without doing the self reflective, implicit bias work of the adults who teach students who in too many cases um segregate because of a lack of realization of the able ism in the decisions that we make, the structures that we develop and the programs that we design.

I hope that answers the question absolutely. A beautiful answer to that question. And I think part of what you're talking about here requires like a real mindset shift around what we've traditionally thought of as special education and special education as removal and and tagging and categorizing in this way. And so I'm curious to know in your experience, are there schools or programs that have adopted a really great mindset shift that helps people really buy into the dream that you you just spoke to? And is there something that you would recommend listeners who really their schools haven't gotten there yet? Really be able to wrap their heads around to be able to make that shift? Well, you didn't nail on the head Lindsay with this idea of mindset without a culture that is created by the leaders, by the district leaders, by the site leaders with that vision that all students can learn with this idea of presuming competence that all can learn that all students must benefit from the education that we design.

And if we are able to identify students that are in the margins that are segregated, If we're not able to identify those students and create systems that provide meaningful inclusion, then we are doing a disservice to way too many students. So when, um, when we look at our own design, beginning with culture, creating a vision, how are we communicating that culture of inclusion and equity? And then how do we build it? How do we build it? So that when the inclusive programs, the inclusive structures, the policies, the practices, the culture that before the teachers before the administrators before the students and family experience that idea of of what inclusion looks like they've been trained, they understand the purpose, They know why they they've been exposed to the research and then we can implement it, but it's that envisioning it's the building of the system and then it's the implementation and scaling of what we want to create.

So looking at it, looking at inclusion through a process as opposed to simply putting students in a classroom in a less restrictive or general education classroom and they don't have connection, they don't have belonging. We haven't focused on relationship and building community and until we do, we won't have meaningfully inclusive environments that are successful in preparing our students for a competitive, integrated family sustaining wage when they leave our system. Oh my gosh. So much of what you just said is so wonderful. I have so many follow up questions. Um so I I love that you spoke to kind of the steps and and like the culture of the vision, the community, the building and scaling aspect. I just I love that there is a process there. And so I'm wondering for someone listening who's like, yeah, I know like that sounds great and I know that my school needs to do those things and maybe we're not even at that first step. Um what would you recommend? Like, what's what's something they could do or what does that actually look like in terms of the tangible steps of that process, I think um first and foremost, when we work with leadership teams, it's about bringing the leadership team together and working with them to create that vision?

What is how do we define equity? How do we define inclusion? What is it, what is it not? And coming together to create that plan of what in the future we would like this to look like so on our website, we have our blueprint which includes the envisioning component and the steps, the building component, the implementing component, the scaling component, and looking at it through a lens of a logic model and creating that logic model so that you know what resources you have available to you, you know what activities you want to complete and then you want to look at your short term, your mid range and your long term outcomes. So once you put your plan together, then you're able to um calibrate the understanding of all of the stakeholders across your organization. So moving from the uh envisioning piece with your leadership team and then how does that information cascade throughout the organization, um is really your is really your starting point and changing those mindsets, analyzing your culture, the culture in the organization, but also doing that identity work with your staff, doing that, helping them to understand that we all have privilege.

We all feel what it's like to be marginalized and once we're able to self reflect on our own implicit biases. We can identify those policies practices, structures cultures that are in our system that creates barriers for students who are marginalized or disproportionately represented in programs that don't have positive outcomes or haven't shown positive outcomes. Yeah, excellent points. And I'm just thinking too of of that leadership team, um possibly even including families and students and you know, folks who aren't just the staff in the school. And so bringing in those perspectives as well. It can be really powerful at that visioning level and then like you're saying, cascading to everyone, each of the stakeholders, all the stakeholders involved. Um I love that plan. Well. And the other piece is we do a lot of work around Universal design for Learning and with Universal design for Learning. It's not only an academic, social, emotional behavioral framework in a classroom but it's also systemic.

So how you utilize um Universal design for learning principles to engage your stakeholders. So you think about how um how do we engage our parents and families, how do we represent information? So they understand what our organization's mission vision and values are that support their Children and then how do we allow for them to offer feedback And that that voice and choice for our students is also connected to how we interact with our parents and allow for engagement representation and action expression through our parents and families are stakeholders, our district level leadership framework mindset, etcetera. Um so I think I think that peace is critical Lindsay with with our families and our community stakeholders having a voice in the way that we design our educational system, so representative of who they are and what their needs are, that makes so much sense. I've never heard someone put it like that, like you d l for stakeholder engagement, but that is absolutely what it is when we think about families not being able to make it to, you know, school night, open school night or something, or not being communicative and like, well, what does that mean?

What options have we presented around communication? Is that communication one way street is that, you know, a two way partnership? Um there's so much there and I love that framework so much that I think if someone listening were to like actually map that out into their practices of family engagement, of student engagement, you know, how how are we doing that in both, you know, the pedagogical sense in the classroom, but also system wide and and school wide. So I really appreciate that frame. Thank you. I'm also thinking you said something about experience the experience of inclusion and how students and families experience inclusion and I think that's so profound because you spoke specifically about belonging and relationships and all of these pieces. I think often we we don't think to ask students, you know, what their experiences are, what family's experiences are. We don't seek to measure things like belonging, we focus on, you know, narrow academic measures, but I'm curious to know how, you know, you try to facilitate or you encourage educators to facilitate this idea of, you know, almost like measuring or getting a sense of like that experience of inclusion and what that experience of inclusion means for you and your organization.

That question has so many different layers. I love it. Um, I think I think this, um, I always go back to special education, but we also have to understand that students with disabilities aren't are made up of one identity that being disability. And when we frame students around that one identity, it's an identity of deficit in the educational system. So it's that that, that social model that students step onto a campus and now all of a sudden they have a disability within the educational system because they don't have, um, uh, maybe the skill, the knowledge, the experience to be at that grade level standards that's expected to all students. So if they're not at that grade level standard, then they need to go somewhere else to receive their services instead of bringing the services back into the classroom with this where the student is in benefiting all students. So framing for all of our educators and administrators, changing that mindset that you talked about earlier from a deficit based to an asset based, that diversity in the classroom is an asset.

And when we look at inclusion through this lens of, of belonging community relationships, it's not only for the students that are meaningfully included in the classroom, we're also teaching empathy to typically developing students. And it's that idea of exposure actually creates connection and ally ship for other students because now they have an understanding of and relationship with someone with a disability and you know, you're getting to that point of meaningful inclusion that when a student with a disability is leaving the classroom to receive a service and all the other students, like why, why does this student leave the classroom? We want that student to be part of our community. And when your students start, um, including the student with a disability into their activities, into their questioning into what, what, what is happening in the classroom and they see it as a deficit when the student is absent, you're getting to that point of, okay, now we can, we can talk about culture and mindset change.

Yes, absolutely. And I was just thinking too about um, recently I learned about like the diamond model of M. T. S. S. And and so usually we think of it as a pyramid and we think of it only as deficit based and we think here are the students who are struggling and like how do we escalate their support? Whereas like the diamond model and I'm probably explaining something you already know, but I just learn about this. I'm so excited. The diamond model is like, you know, on on one end we have students who are struggling and then on the other end we have students who are excelling and actually almost bored with stuff. And so it's like we we need to support everyone regardless of where they are. And if that extra support that intervention that you know, whatever that looks like it, it's seen as something that people are just totally it's normalized and like everyone has this and you know, you may have this in english and you may have a different support in math and like you're really great at math and you really struggle with english and you know, all the the complexity of who students are as learners and as people I think is so important and kind of what you're you're speaking to and I'm just thinking about, you know, that that idea of um you know normalizing also getting to go when it is necessary to bring students to an intervention.

Like getting to go have that intervention. So other students but we have tried to normalize this. Um in my school when I was a teacher, we brought students in into like it was, I can't remember what we called it, I think we called it cluster time because we were like in clusters of students and so our entire cluster grade team effectively had this personalized time. So whatever it is that they needed, they had an intervention or support for in that moment. And then it became like, oh well, you know, some students are going to native counseling and some students are going and it's just like everyone gets what they need and it became less of students are missing and it's really, we're all now going to these personalized spaces. And so I just love what you're talking about of of this idea of um you know, missing the students who aren't there for like the regular class period being this moment of like, you know, we're not all here, like this is this is a problem, right? When I go back to this idea of the mythical average, there is no average students across all contexts.

So we all have needs in certain areas. So if you think about a students day and all of the different contexts, they experience just like you talked about their students who excel their students who have needs. There are students who have stretches that are moving toward a particular goal. We're all at different places across all different environments. So when students are able to see that variability within themselves and they're allowed the experience of failure, like we honor failure, we honor making mistakes and that's when you start calibrating this idea that that all students have many different needs, strength stretches, etcetera. And once there, once that culture is a priority in every classroom, then we get to the point where all students can then benefit from a high quality instruction and get their needs met in the way and in the area they need it.

And that's not how too often our educational system is designed and we end up with disproportionate representation of other identities marginalized identities within special education and the disability category because in in education it's that that that deficit based perspective that disability then rises to the top as the identity that is most focused on and other identities then fall by the wayside and until we see students as a makeup of all identities and the way they intersect as individualized and diverse, then we're never going to honor and celebrate all identities. That's so powerful. Just this idea that disability has become its own identity and and is made up of just diverse human beings, right? When we think about like it almost is a way that we like label and individualized failure instead of recognizing system failure, like our system failed the kids here like this is not a problem with you, this is a problem with how we deem education happens and how we deem like what we deem to be outside of that and needing supports beyond that as opposed to just designing inclusively from the start that everyone however they learn is, you know, going to get that tier one level, like everyone gets this.

Um so that that's so, so powerful and I was just thinking the idea of normalizing failure as well, I think really is like, so I was a decent student and I did fairly well and I think it may be averse to failure. Like it made me a verse to to risk taking. And so I wasn't willing to try some creative approach to approach. I wasn't willing to take this extra hard challenging thing that may negatively impact my G. P. A. Or you know there's these ways that everyone loses even if you're not categorized as you know having an I. P. Or something. I think the systems that we have created around this idea of disability have really negatively impacted like all students. And it's terrifying to think about what that's doing to kids and to people well and the idea to that the the system has to be designed proactively. We talked earlier about really making sure we understand what the vision is and how we build it because we we don't spend enough time designing and improving the system.

And then we put students in situations where they're not successful and it's not because they can't be successful. It's because the adults in the system haven't designed the program to be supportive of students. So we end up especially through the lens of inclusion. It's easy for us to say, well inclusion doesn't work. Look we tried it but you also haven't set up the system to be supportive and positive in that whole mindset. Have we analyzed our policies. Have we anna our practices and we analyzed our structures that we put in place and that goes back to that self reflection around the system that we've designed as well as self reflection on adult implicit bias, which are the two major barriers for students be successful? Absolutely, yeah. The impact of adult bias and and accept expectations and perceptions is mind blowing. And just the fact that the research highlights that that's such an issue and it carries beyond, you know, just the age that you have that teacher, right?

It carries like to college and to your rest of your life, like you were saying earlier, this impacts kids, you know, for a long time after they leave school. And so I think this is so, so critical that we get right in the school year because it's not just that year of their life that the kids are affected, right? I just did a workshop this morning with a bunch of educators and one of the questions I asked, you know, what's what's your memory of of primary school, like what's what's your the first thing you think about and is it related to academics? Is it related to relationships that you had or extracurriculars and overwhelmingly it was relationships in the sense of belonging. It wasn't what I learned in school, it wasn't even like the sports team I played on necessarily, it was maybe that sports team in the context of how it made me feel or, you know, I felt included and I felt part of a team. And so this is so profound, I think of just like a thing that you're talking about here because it is so um it resonates so much beyond what we think it does. So I I really appreciate you naming that and I appreciate all the work that you're doing with your organization to. Is there anything that you want to highlight in terms of, I know you said on your website you have the blueprint um and kind of the logic model framework.

Is there anything that you want to highlight about things that people can find on your site or work that you're you're doing with folks? Yeah, if you go to our website, it's www dot sip inclusion dot org. And we have a resource page. And what we've done is we've hired or contracted with Katie Novak and Americo Chardon who released a book last year, Equity by Design. And we had a series of four webinars um twice, once in the fall last year and once in the spring we recorded them all and then we took all of the resources in that book and put everything on a pad lit that's designed or organized by chapter. So it's really one stop shopping where you can see all of the recordings, listen to all the recordings, you can do a book study. You have all of the resources at your fingertips and then our program specialists and coordinators. Um we put together modules for Universal design for learning um that go from equity into the framework into proactive lesson designed by identifying barriers.

Um We have co teaching modules. We have a Youtube where we've collected a lot of videos related to inclusion. Um so there's a ton of information we've created paddle. It's um and series for para educators for the L. G. B. T. Q. Community. Um and those can all be accessed um from our website. You can also contact us through the the website. Perfect. Oh my gosh. It sounds like there are so many resources on there. This is so great. And so I know we we talked about so much in this episode in such a short span of time. I'm just curious if someone's thinking about all of the various things that we said, all of the various actions that you suggested or or even resources available on the site and they're feeling a little bit overwhelmed by the amount of things. Where do you suggest people start? What would be like a good first action that really gets them started on this process of either shifting their mindset or taking action on the school. So many good resources out there.

Um I think um I would start with Katie Novak and miracles. Gardens, book equity by design. Um And in addition to that. Andrew Tisha Fitzgerald also released a book um this past year called anti racism and U. D. L. And the reason I would suggest starting with those two is because it's it's a really broad perspective. It's not specific to disability or racism or homophobia or able ISm. It's really looking at the system through an equity lens utilizing the voice of marginalized student populations. Um in terms of of disability I would go straight for anything judy human um releases or you know the movie Crypt Camp. Any of her her book releases any of her webinars panels that she has set in on just amazing perspective in in the identification of able ISM and the need for ally ship um within the educational system.

So Just three resources I would uh highly suggest oh these are great and we can include links to those two in the show notes so that people can can find those easily because I I find myself already writing down things but I'm like I need to read that or watch that, that's amazing. Um and then so one of the questions I love asking this is totally just for fun. Almost at the end of each podcast, everyone who comes on is pretty much a self described like lifelong learner, constant growth is like a priority in their lives. And so I'm just curious about something that you have been learning about lately I've been learning about. Um this is seems really off topic. Um but I've been learning about introversion and being an introvert how that impacts students in the in in education and that we we look at um methods instructional methods right? And there are some students who learn by processing who learn by quietness who learn um in in situations that provide them think time and too often we move so quickly through our instruction.

And then um on the flip side of that we are supporting our students to be successful in the workplace. And the workplace values collaboration the workplace values individuals who can communicate. Um So it's it's this fine line between how do you honor a student who is more introverted while at the same time teaching them the skills that will be rewarded in their future work, either workplace or college placement. I've also been um working with um Beth Forker who just became the director at U. C. Davis for the Redwood seed scholars program which is a four year college program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. So I think the other frame is if we know that there are colleges, I think there's 1918 19 colleges who offer four year college programs for students with intellectual disabilities and developmental disabilities that if we know that's an option?

And we reflect on the struck that we've created for students with intellectual disabilities and developmental disabilities. Is there a connection there and is what we created going to lead them to be self determined if college is a dream for them. So this this idea of how do we connect our educational system to our students who have the most extensive support needs to then experience success in a four year college program that is reflective of what they want to be as an adult and work experience that leads to uh that self self sustaining wage for themselves and if they have a family. So I think introversion has been a big focus um and uh students with intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities and how we provide the level of support needed for them to be successful for the rest of their lives after they leave our system. And whether or not we do that such powerful things to think about and I think it was totally related to everything we've been talking about, so that's perfect.

Um The last question and I think you spoke to this earlier knowing that you have a website with a ton of resources, but where can listeners learn more about you or your organization or connect online. We have our website, so www dot zip inclusion dot org. And then we're all over social media, we're on facebook and twitter. We post not only uh the resources and the professional development that we provide but were directly connected to the California department of the ed special education division. So anything that is going on across the state with the state Department with the content leads with the system improvement leads. Um we push out over our social media, so we're trying to create a community in a really big state um, so that everyone is able to access the amazing resources uh that we design and are available throughout California. Amazing! Thank you so much. And I've really just enjoyed this conversation with you, kevin. So thank you so much for being on the podcast today. My pleasure, thank you so much for having me.

If you're leaving this episode wanting more, you're going to love my live coaching intensive curriculum bootcamp. I help one department or grade team create feminist anti racist curricula that challenges affirms and inspires all students. We leave current events into course content and amplify student voices, which skyrockets engagement and academic achievement. It energizes educators feeling burns out and it's just two days plus you can reuse the same process any time you create a new unit, which saves time and money. If you can't wait to bring this to your staff, I'm inviting you to sign up for a 20 minute call with me, grab a spot on my calendar at www dot lindsey Beth Lyons dot com slash contact until next time leaders continue to think big act brave and be your best self. This podcast is a proud member of the teach, better podcast network better today, better tomorrow and the podcast to get you there, explore more podcasts at teach better dot com slash podcasts and we'll see you at the next episode

83. “Inclusion as a Process” with Kevin Schaefer
83. “Inclusion as a Process” with Kevin Schaefer
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