Ensuring High-Quality Inclusive Instruction for All Students

By Kevin Oldenburg (@kwoldenburg), Principal, Howe & Hiawatha Community School, Minneapolis, MESPA Minneapolis Division President-Elect


As the new year begins, leaders should take time to look back and audit our goals set out at the beginning of the school year. One of the goals my staff and I have publicly voiced over the past few years is, “All students, all the time.” While many of us as principals start with this goal in mind, I felt it was important to have actionable steps to implement to ensure our students with who are often marginalized or not attended to receive the high quality inclusive instruction and practices they should be receiving.

I am fortunate to have an incredible teacher at my side to ensure students in our federal setting III programs receive high quality inclusive instruction. She and I, with the input of other stakeholders, took on the task of outlining our vision for what instruction students should be receiving as it is laid out in their IEP. We defined our inclusive practices as students having access to appropriate instruction and activities at the appropriate time and place. This helps foster not only good learning but also a sense of belonging and acceptance.

We started by asking:

  • What are the basic steps we should be taking?
  • How can we ensure a sustainable process for programming to meet the needs of our students?
  • How will our building define inclusive instruction?

These seemed like three pretty straightforward questions. Not until we started answering these questions did we understand we needed to ask even more questions. Yes, all students should have: lockers integrated with their grade level peers, desks in the general education setting which aren’t set aside or isolated, their names on their general education rosters, access to all grade level field trips, etc.

As you look to address the needs of your learners I would encourage you to ask these questions as well:

  • Are we encouraging student-to-student interaction with all of our learners?
  • Are staff incorporating best practices in their attempt to best meet the needs of our learners and is there a way for them to reflect on this practice with a colleague or peer?
  • Through staffing, adaptive technology, or student groupings, are we accommodating the needs of individual learners?
  • Does our building have a way for IEP Case Managers to regularly meet with content instructors to discuss providing the best environment for students to learn?
  • Do we have a way/time for our case managers to sit down with our Special Education Assistants and help them either prepare a student for learning in the general education setting, or at a minimum help them to differentiate the curriculum being presented?

Our students identified as needing federal setting III services see a bevy of different service providers and service models. When we began, we knew there wasn’t going to be a one-size-fits-all solution for all students. Our work was not to make an all-or-none environment for students, but to evaluate how we meet the needs of all of our students. This work can and will seem daunting for some teachers and for some IEP Case Managers. I can tell you after three years of professional development, adapted practices building-wide, and more than a few bumps along the way, we are progressing. Are we there yet? In a word, “no.” However, we understand this and continue to work on improving our practices with all children in mind.

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