Implementing Inclusive Learning Environments in Early Childhood Services to Grade 12

This document was written for the primary audiences of educators and parents.

Every effort has been made to provide proper acknowledgement of original sources. If you identify errors or omissions, please notify the Association of Independent Schools and Colleges in Alberta so we can take appropriate action. Permission is given by AISCA to reproduce this document, or any part thereof, for educational purposes and on a non-profit basis.

The Association of Independent Schools and Colleges in Alberta (AISCA) is pleased to offer this online resource for Early Childhood Services operators and educators working in Early Childhood Services to Grade 12 independent schools. The content may also provide helpful information for parents who are partners in their children’s education. The resource will provide policy, theory and research that will serve as a basis for the practices, procedures and strategies that are presented.

There are four sections in this resource. Each section presents research, strategies for consideration and ends with questions to ponder either individually or as a staff or learning team.

Each section also provides links to websites and source documents through hyperlinks. A detailed interpretation of each of these links is not provided, as the material is self-explanatory. The Association of Independent Schools and Colleges in Alberta does not endorse these materials specifically; however, there is value in educators reviewing the material to determine what fits their learning environments, learners and local situations in independent schools.

The sections include:

  • Section 1: Context and foundation for an inclusive approach. The definitions, principles and suggestions in this section provide the foundation that will help schools establish an inclusive approach.
  • Section 2: Understanding the diversity of educator’s strengths and needs. This section places an emphasis on the diversity of educators. Diversity is a result of the degree of knowledge, background and experiences that educators bring to situations in the classroom. Three factors will be discussed including: an awareness of professional development opportunities to support inclusive environments; an acknowledgement of the ability and skills required to bring the learning team together; and access to resources and appropriate professionals.
  • Section 3: Understanding the learner’s diverse strengths and needs. This section explores the individual nature of students and what students need to be successful, recognizing that each student reflects the diversity of classrooms and schools; therefore all students are diverse.
  • Section 4: Highlighting instructional interventions to support educators. This section uses the pyramid of intervention to categorize instructional strategies not to categorize students. This distinction is important.
  • Section 5: References and Further Readings

This resource was developed as an online resource to enable revisions which will help ensure relevancy, currency and usefulness. If you have ideas to enhance this resource, please send them to AISCA at [email protected].

SECTION 1: Context and Foundation
What could be more compelling than undertaking a profession that literally places the future of children in your hand? (Blankstein, 2004, p4). Blankstein’s quote reminds educators each day of the incredible responsibility and opportunity that teaching children presents. The powerful impact educators have on students, and on their parents, is significant but may not be fully known for years to come. As parents enter this trust relationship, they are reminded of their need to work in a collaborative manner with schools to ensure a successful educational experience for their children.

The new Education Act sets out the responsibilities of all partners in the education system: learners (to be actively involved in section 31), parents (to make informed decisions in section 32) and the preamble that recognizes the importance of an inclusive education system to provide each student with the relevant learning opportunities and supports necessary to achieve success and enabling high quality and socially engaging learning opportunities with flexible timing and pacing through a range of learning environments to meet diverse student needs and to maximize student success.

The Act provides for the right of access to an education program for learners from 6-18 years. However; providing the right to an education program does not presume the right to access success. Success can be achieved, in part, through participation in the appropriate educational program. The Setting the Direction Initiative provides a reminder about how, “attitudes and practice, which are often unintentional, sometimes create division between groups. The same can happen in classrooms, which are often a reflection of society as a whole”. Our responsibility as educators is to ensure that we promote participation in learning for all students.

Trying to define inclusion and inclusive education has been the topic of discussion for many years and will continue to be debated in the future. It is an emotional topic, and each of us brings our perspective and experiences to our definition. A significant international statement, the Salamanca Statement on Principles and Practice in Special Needs Education argues for children to learn together in schools – but it does not specify the place where learning happens:

The fundamental principle of the inclusive school is that all children should learn together. Inclusive schools must recognize and respond to the diverse needs of their students accommodating both different styles and rates of learning and ensuring quality education to all through appropriate curricula, organizational arrangements, teaching strategies, resource use and partnerships. There should be a continuum of support and services to meet the continuum of needs encountered in every school (UNESCO, 1994).

In particular, four key elements related to inclusion are identified. Inclusion: is a process; is concerned with the identification and removal of barriers; is about the presence, participation and achievement of all students and involves a particular emphasis on those groups of learners who may be at risk of marginalization, exclusion or underachievement. (UNESCO, 2005, pp15-16).

UNESCO’s concept of inclusive education is mirrored in the more current work in Alberta from Setting the Direction Framework, Government of Alberta Response:

An inclusive education system is: “a way of thinking and acting that demonstrates universal acceptance of, and belonging for, all students. Inclusive education in Alberta means a value-based approach to accepting responsibility for all students. It also means that all students will have equitable opportunity to be included in the typical learning environment or program of choice” where such a placement is appropriate, and is undertaken in full consultation with a child’s parents/guardians, teachers, school officials, and relevant community service providers. Inclusion and choice must never be considered in a vacuum (Alberta Education, 2010, p2).

The key consideration in this definition is the view of inclusion as an approach and not as a placement. As we work in our independent schools towards ensuring that all students who attend our schools are welcomed in an environment where we practice an inclusive approach, we are working towards helping learners access success. We are working to prepare learners for success; using the regular curriculum as the starting point, involving parents in a meaningful way and using a collaborative approach.

Alberta Education’s dialogue with Albertans between September 2008 and April 2010 was an opportunity for Albertans to articulate their vision for education and resulted in the release of the Inspiring Education: A Dialogue with Albertans (2010). The report expands on the vision, values, guiding principles, policy and governance shifts for Alberta’s inclusive education system. Support for these guiding principles will help promote successful learning environments in independent schools. The guiding principles include: learner centred; inclusive, equitable access; responsive, flexible approach; sustainable and efficient use of resources; innovation to promote and strive for excellence; shared responsibility and accountability and engaged communities.

This resource defines inclusive education as an approach; therefore, we cannot set a single educational goal to achieve this approach. Instead, we can set small, manageable goals for ourselves, our independent schools and our communities as we continue to enhance an inclusive approach. To do this, school leaders across the province require continuing conversations with their school community about inclusive learning environments and how the staff can work to further reduce barriers to participation and learning so that every student in their school has a sense of belonging and is a successful learner.

Alberta Education’s Indicators of Inclusive Schools: Continuing the Conversation offers information and tools that school leaders can use to guide conversations related to inclusive learning environments in their schools. The conversations will provide an opportunity for schools reflect on how schools are demonstrating a commitment to inclusive education which can then lead to the development of strategies and action plans to strengthen inclusive education and ensure equitable access for all learners.

The Indicator’s resource is organized around five dimensions:
Establishing Inclusive Values and Principles
Building Inclusive Learning Environments;
Providing Supports for Success
Organizing Learning and Instruction
Engaging Parents and the Community.

Each dimension is supported by sample indicators that provide descriptions based on current research and promising practices. A number of indicators contain links to further information, examples and resources. The indicators in dimensions 1 and 2 may be particularly helpful in supporting conversations and practices around inclusive learning environments.

UNESCO also offers a planning matrix and a check-list of questions to guide conversations (UNESCO, 2005, pp. 32-35).

Questions to Ponder:
These questions are intended to serve as a self-reflection on own practice and our practice within the school community to create inclusive learning environments. Perhaps these questions could be conversation starters at staff meetings or other professional development opportunities?

How do I define inclusive education?
Does my school have a policy on inclusive education?
What decisions to I make that take into consideration the needs of all my learners?
What are some of my strategies that I use to create an education setting where each of my students can find success?
Where would I rate my practices related to the indicators on Dimensions 1 and 2 of Indicators of Inclusive Schools: Continuing the Conversation?
Where would I rate my school’s practices on these indicators?

Scenario to Consider:
Imagine walking into a room of work colleagues where a friendly conversation is taking place around a table. You sit down in an available seat, intending to join the conversation, but others don’t seem to notice you. When you try to add to the conversation, it seems that others ignore your comments and dismiss your ideas. The conversation moves on without you.

Does this scenario happen in your school? In your classrooms?

SECTION 2: Diverse Educators
This section places an emphasis on the diversity of educators. Diversity is a result of the degree of knowledge, background and experiences that educators bring to situations in the classroom. Three factors that will be discussed including: an awareness of professional development opportunities to support inclusive environments, an acknowledgement of the skills and ability required to bring the learning team together; and access to resources and appropriate professionals.

Professional Development Opportunities
A number of opportunities for professional development will be provided in this section. Some are course-specific; some are web-based; some are informal readings. This is only a sample of the many opportunities that exist. When choosing professional development experiences, it is important to choose those that will be sustainable in the independent school environment and provide long-term benefits.

The Alberta Regional Professional Development Consortia’s (ARPDC) is dedicated to promoting student learning and achievement, school improvement and parental engagement in the educational process through the provision of professional learning opportunities. Most often, professional development resources are archived webinars with conversation guides or professional development/workshop resources intended for leaders to facilitate district/job embedded learning opportunities. Professional development resources can include facilitator guides, participant handouts, and/or facilitator resources and are intended to be adaptable to your context. All materials on the site are aligned with the Alberta programs of studies, were developed by Alberta educators and are intended to support implementation.

ARPDC has many areas of focus, and each area’s resources are intended to support opportunities for educators to “continue the conversation” with respect to various selected learning opportunities. These areas include Collaborating with Parents, Collaborative Practices, Early Learning, English Language Learners and English as a Second Language, First Nation, Metis and Inuit, Inclusion in Action, Learning Coaches, Literacy, Positive Behaviour Support, Response to Intervention, School Leadership and Inclusion, and Universal Design for Learning.

Other professional development resources are available at the Edmonton Regional Consortium and the Central Alberta Regional Professional Consortium websites.

The Association of Independent Schools and Colleges in Alberta has developed a series of inclusion resources to support teachers’ professional development. These resources and strategies come directly from independent school educators, so may be particularly relevant.

Alberta Education‘s web site has a variety of resources that promote professional development under various topics.  Presently, these are not organized under any single banner, but can be accessed through the search function.

A recent UNESCO (2013) publication, Promoting Inclusive Teacher Education: Advocacy Guides was developed to support educators wishing to engage in advocacy to bring about changes in inclusive education. Although this resource was developed primarily for pre-service, the five booklets: Introduction, Policy, Curriculum, Materials, and Methodology, provide another perspective for educators in independent school to consider.

UNESCO’s Guidelines for Inclusion: Ensuring Access to Education for All (2005) are intended to provide information and awareness, to be a policy tool for revising and formulating student learning plans, and to serve as a basis for discussion among policy-makers and educators. These guidelines attempt to demystify the notions surrounding inclusion and demonstrate that challenges can be overcome through a willingness to change attitudes regarding inclusion.

Bringing the Team Together
The ability to bring the learning team together requires a skill set grounded in collaboration. A Working Together Toolkit, developed in collaboration with Alberta School Boards Association, Alberta Teachers’ Association, Alberta School Councils Association and the College of Alberta School Superintendents, is a comprehensive resource that provides information on establishing, initiating, implementing and evaluating partnerships. Although AISCA was not on the development team for this resource, the content is very applicable to educators working in independent schools. The principles and strategies of collaboration are common to all teams working on behalf of students.

UNESCO’s Guidelines for Inclusion: Ensuring Access to Education for All is another resource that has relevant strategies to support the educator bringing the team together.

Access to Resources and Appropriate Professionals to support student learning is critical. Sometimes resources and supports are available, but we may not know about them. Other times, there are not supports and services within our geographic location, and we may have to look to other areas for support

As you are waiting for professional support, there are interventions that educators can put into place at the classroom level. For example, take a look at the class-based interventions in the following section’s pyramid of intervention for samples of interventions that will support most, if not all, students in the classroom. It will provide professionals with useful information if you record the interventions you use. Through your records, you are providing a ‘video’ of the student versus the ‘still picture’ that will be captured by the professional. Putting all the data together provides a more complete picture of the student and his/her strengths and needs.

The Regional Collaborative Service Delivery, RCSD, is a concept that provides a regional model for support to schools and community partners to meet the needs of children and youth (ECS to Grade 12), as well as to families who have children and youth with complex needs (birth to 20). It is also intended to strengthen the capacity of service providers to collaboratively respond to those needs. The above link provides contact information for the RCSD manager in each of the province’s 17 regions.

While the Province of Alberta funds the RCSD and provides a structure for planning and reporting, the leadership and executive teams of each RCSD determine the focus of that collaboration.  Many regions have made professional development of school staff a key priority.  A conversation with the regional manager can direct you to available resources and sessions.

The following chart outlines some of the supports and services that are available and provides hyperlinks to websites, where appropriate.

Discipline Supports and Services
Education Services
Alberta Education
Other Sources
Health Services
Human Services
Justice Services
Community and
Not-for-Profit Agencies Services
Municipal Services
There are no hyperlinks provided for this section. Go to your town, city and check out these services in your area.
Family and Community Support Services
Public Libraries
Recreation Centres
School Resource Officers

SECTION 3: Diverse Learners
This section explores the individual nature of students and what students need to be successful.

Each student reflects the diversity of classrooms and schools; therefore all students are diverse. The development of a learner profile would be helpful for educators and others working with the student to get to know each student and his/her particular strengths, needs, interests and passions. In the past, learner profiles were sometimes in the educator’s head and were only written for those students with more diverse educational needs. However, as classrooms become more diverse and more professionals are participants in the learning team, it is helpful for educators to gather the collected data into a learner profile.

The Inclusive Education Library is a collection of templates and information schools can use to support inclusive instructional planning, learner profiles, and differentiated instruction. Check out the Inclusive Education Planning Tool Library’s section, Student Perspective, for a selection of interest inventories, preference inventories, reading preferences and much more. Some are more detailed than others, so choose the appropriate tool for your use depending on your students, the structure of your classroom and the reason for gathering the data.

At this same link,, be sure to take a look at the Parent Perspective tab for ways to talk with parents to solicit their perspective on their child. Most often, school and home goals are the same; however, the approach sometimes varies. We are always reminded that the parent was the child’s first teacher.

There are two videos, with scripts, at that will assist educators in Knowing their Student and Using Classroom Assessment. Be sure to check out the accompanying Discussion Guides.

Other ideas for getting to know students include:

  • observing in the classroom and other school spaces – how do students act and react in varied situations?
  • having a colleague observe the student – sometimes a different set of eyes brings a different perspective
  • reading the student record for past strategies that led to success and those to avoid – if the student record has not yet arrived at your school, be sure to request it from the sending school. There are required elements for what must be in the student record. View this information at the Student Record Regulation.
  • use an antecedent-behaviour-consequences chart to concisely report behaviour before and after an incident to look for patterns and possible reasons for behaviour
  • complete a Functional Behaviour Analysis to gather data to help manage challenging behaviours
  • use a calendar to record both positive and negative behaviour – again, to record patterns.