Creating a Culture of Belonging in Christian Schools

The Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) has recently published a series entitled Leading Insights, edited by Lynn E. Swaner. Throughout this series, ACSI highlights the latest thinking and best practices for Christian school educators. The monograph reviewed here—Leading Insights: Special Education and Inclusion—provides insight and practical application for how Christian schools can create and promote a culture of belonging within their school communities. It is divided into three sections: Philosophy and Research, Perspectives on Inclusive Education, and Shaping Our Practice.

Philosophy and Research

Thomas L. Boehm, of Wheaton College, lays a foundation of nine pillars for any school that is considering students with more significant needs. Within each pillar, there are applications for Christian schools to consider. Pillar 9 resonated with me: “Inclusive Christian schools must recognize that students with disabilities are not problems to avoid nor people with needs too heavy to carry in a learning community with limited resources” (19). Inclusive Christian schools find a way to accept students and share the Great Commission with all students without judgment or prejudice, even with limited resources.

Dr. Erik Carter, from Vanderbilt University; Elizabeth Lucas Dombrowski, from All Belong Center for Inclusive Education; and Dr. Kate Strater, from Calvin University, go into detail in the subsequent chapter on how schools can create communities of belonging. Carter states that “creating a culture of belonging is not a one-time endeavor, but a journey that is refined over time” (37). The research presented by Dr. Strater gives examples of inclusion models, training requirements for educators serving children with varied abilities, equitable tuition for all students, and ways to present emerging research priorities to educational leaders.

Perspectives on Inclusive Education

In this second section, Dombrowski; Matthew Lee from ACSI; and Rick Kempton, Superintendent of Annapolis Area Christian School, showcase from multiple perspectives what the inclusive education experience could be like in Christian schools. As shown through the student perspective, “educators and school leaders who take the time to truly listen to students with disabilities and involve them in their own education, it can have a profound impact on the student’s academic learning, personal and social development, spiritual growth, as well as the school community as a whole.” (51). The journey will not be without roadblocks, but the testimonials of the students, parents, and school leaders provide a way to make belonging possible for all students in our school communities.

Shaping Our Practice

In the third section, Dombrowski, Strater, and Lee highlight how schools can begin the transformation from an inclusive program to embracing an inclusive identity. [This is only part of the article. Want to read more? Subscribe to the website by choosing "Register" from the menu above. It's free!]

Work Reviewed

Leading Insights: Special Education and Inclusion (Association of Christian Schools International, 2021)

Tyler Harms is currently a teacher consultant for All Belong- Center for Inclusive Education. He works to support administrators as well as individual teachers with promoting inclusion in school communities, curriculum development, implementing interventions, behavior supports, and promoting self-care. Previously, Tyler taught special education for twelve years and attended Calvin University.