In my many years in education—as a teacher, inclusive educator, and educational support program director—I have spent hundreds of hours at back-to-school meetings with teachers, administrators, and support staff. Each new school year comes with lots of questions, hopes, and fears: What will this class be like? What strengths and challenges will these students bring with them? How will I meet all those needs in one room? What will we accomplish together this year?
As an educational support provider, my role in these meetings is to orient teachers to the students with additional support needs who will be in their rooms. This often brings an extra level of anxiety for teachers. Typically, I hear the same sort of questions from teachers about students with extra needs: How will this student make it through all the academics I have to cover? Why isn’t that student at grade level yet—how did they make it to the next level? How am I supposed to meet all of these needs?
I’d like to tell you about one of these meetings that still stands out in my mind.
This group of teachers had some of the best questions that I’ve heard.
Changing Our Questions
This was a transition meeting—one where our educational support team was sharing information about students with their new classroom teachers. This group of teachers had some of the best questions that I’ve heard. Instead of asking, How will we ever manage all of these needs? They asked questions such as:
- What makes that student feel safe and secure?
- What is the best thing about this student?
- How do I know when this student needs a break?
- How can I let the student know that I’m okay with him taking a break if he needs it?
- What’s the best way to build a relationship with her?
- How can we encourage his family as they go through this tough time?
- What’s the best way to communicate with her family?
Whenever a teacher had a concern, another one of the teachers would jump in and encourage everyone in the room. The teacher would say, “We’ve got this! God has placed this child in your class. The student is here for a purpose, and we’re really good at problem-solving. We’ll figure it out. Don’t worry! We’ll do this as a team.”
A Foundation of Belonging
This process reminded me of 1 Corinthians 12:4–6, which tells us, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.”
One of my favorite parts of that teacher meeting was getting to share the stories about how several students with disabilities in the class knew that they belonged. The students had learned over the years that they are part of the body and that they belong at this school. This had happened as teachers became more comfortable using the language of inclusion. In their heart of hearts, all of the teachers loved students and wanted them to be successful, but it was so empowering for the students to hear a teacher say, “You are a part of my class and this school. We’re not going to give up on you or on this concept. We’re going to do it together because you are important and you belong. God loves you, and he has placed you here for a reason. We need you!”
The students had learned over the years that they are part of the body and that they belong at this school.
Sharing Our Journey
Several years ago, the head of school made it very clear that our school (Annapolis Area Christian School [AACS]) was going to be a place where all students belong—a place where students can thrive in the body of Christ whether they are gifted academically or gifted in other ways. He made it clear that we want to serve our school families. We kept seeing that there were families who had most of their children at our school, but one or two or even three of their children were at a different school because we couldn’t meet their needs. We wanted to change that. This is an abridged version of this article. To read more, subscribe to the print or digital edition of Christian Educators Journal.
Carolyn Beall came to Annapolis Area Christian Schools in 2015 after spending almost fifteen years in Anne Arundel County public schools. In her former jobs, she taught first and second grade and special education. She currently oversees the educational support program from kindergarten to twelfth grade at AACS. One of her great passions is helping to integrate all students, including those who learn differently, into the larger community. She’s thrilled to be part of a school where families and teachers walk alongside each other every day to encourage students to display God’s splendor to those around them. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published on the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) blog and has been lightly edited. Reprinted with permission.