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Road Trip to Inclusion

image of the road by yellow fields

Recently I packed up my car and started my journey from Kansas City to Washington, DC for the summer. This trip's purpose is to work for the Council for Exceptional Children this summer. The trip to DC for me is an important one. It is me taking a leap of faith into the world of public policy and advocacy at a federal level which is completely different from my current job as a special education teacher. As I embarked on my road trip to DC I thought about my motivation for taking this chance and moving to DC this summer. My “why” is to gain more experience and knowledge on ways that I can grow as an inclusive educator for my students with extensive support needs. Everything that I will be doing this summer will be for them and their families. It is important when starting your road trip as an inclusive educator to start with knowing your why and creating your plan. For most of us we don’t just get in our car and head west and see where we end up, we make a plan by looking at a map and we try to follow the map to the best of our abilities. Along the way of your trip you may have to change the plan and adapt due to accidents and other roadblocks along the way, but that is okay. You will learn to adjust and adapt in your road trip as you will do as an inclusive educator. 

On my 17 hour long road trip I call my family and friends along the way to keep me company. Calling the people who support me helped get me through parts of my long road trip. Asking for help from my colleagues and allies as an inclusive educator has helped me continue on this journey of advocacy. Creating a support system of allies is very important. You will need colleagues and friends to lean on during some of the toughest times. There will be times where you feel that you have not nearly made a big enough difference and your friends are there for you to support you during those times. In my experience where I have run into the biggest barriers was trying to change mindsets and challenge implicit biases that other people have on my students. Relying on allies is very important in this time, it is important to help get their advice and brainstorm with you to create a plan to overcome this roadblock. 

One thing to keep in mind is to also be looking to network and create new connections and allies in your journey. One of your biggest allies, if not your biggest ally, is to have strong connections with your students and their families. The families are the biggest strength in your journey that can help you. I have parents advocating for their students to gain access to general education and without their help it would have been harder for me to get them that same access. Think of your students' families as a team member and ally in your journey to help work with one another to grow the inclusive practices at your school. 

Along my road trip I had to stop many times to refuel and recharge. I think of this as whenever I am running out of energy or motivation in my inclusive education journey I look to join discussions over inclusion with other professionals in the field. I look to read current evidence based research that highlights different ways to help create a positive change in your school. For me this is a way to refuel my inclusive education passion with like-minded professionals. It is important to engage in these conversations to help you grow as an advocate and to find support in others who have been doing this for many years.

As I reached my destination in DC, I thought back to my long car ride that got me to this point. I had many highs and lows along the way, and I was grateful for the people who helped me along the way. I think it is important as an inclusive educator to reflect how you thought your school year went at the end of every year. We are on a long journey for inclusive education but every year we have a natural occurrence that can help us stop and reflect on what we have accomplished and make a plan for new roadblocks that will occur on future journeys. As I am currently in DC I think back to the successes that I have had over the years. When I entered my program we had only 10% of our students spending 80% or more of their day in general education. Now after ending year three, we have 67% of our students spending 80% of their time in general education. There is still room to grow in our program, but I am happy with the access that has been granted to our students. I have assisted three students in three years to attend a college program that assists students with intellectual disabilities when students from my program didn’t attend college before I started. I have helped create an environment in my classroom where students are expected to try their best and encouraged to fail and learn from their mistakes. I am proud of the accomplishments that I have made but I look forward to embarking on next year’s road trip. When starting a new road trip it is important to remember that each trip will be different and have different challenges but remembering your “why” and calling on your family and friends for support is how you can create the best road trips.

Posted:  23 June, 2022
Author: Sean Phelan

Sean Phelan is currently a high school special education teacher in a suburb of Kansas City. He has a bachelors and master’s degree in low incidence special education from the University of Kansas...

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