Inclusion: Was Always, Is Now, and Will Continue to be THE Work

Chris Espeland, Associate Director (Inclusion Project Lead), AWSP
Oct 23, 2020


As leaders guiding schools now two months into the start, you have continued to move forward with the huge task of reinventing school during a pandemic. 

Spring of 2020 arrived with pretty much everything you could have ever imagined, but truthfully more of what we never dreamed possible: quarantine, schools shutting down, face masks, continuous Zoom, remote learning, school re-entry plans that are frozen in time. And yet, you are still required to think of all the usual scenarios including open house, orientation, safety drills, and more because you just never know when you may pivot. 

Oh, and just when you think you have it figured out, something else gets added or there’s a shift in policy or practice that has to be communicated TO EVERYONE… by you, the school leader, virtually. In truth, The principalship is at its most complex moment in history. As you continue to navigate the year trying to create culture, systems, and learning for your community while problem solving issues such as the quick turnaround from hybrid to remote to hybrid learning again, I’m sure you’re asking yourself daily, “So NOW what’s next?” 

What I would say is just pause and hear this: The “So NOW what’s next?” is YOU!  Without you leading, we (as in the royal “we” of schools) just would not be. Without you, really nothing would happen! 

In terms of what’s next, FIRST make sure you make time for you. Do something to rest your head and heal your heart a bit each day.  Understand why you might be  feeling depleted now that we’ve navigated our initial “surge capacity” and then access self-care resources as often as possible.

And after you center yourself and take time for you, I ask that you come back to your school and systems with inclusion in mind.


As the 2020 year progressed (and continues to progress), we had the unusual vantage point for understanding an even broader meaning of inclusion. Across the world, we all experienced a form of isolation that was required in response to the pandemic and continues even now. Social distancing is something we all became intimately acquainted with. For our own safety and the safety of others we donned masks, restricted outings, and reduced gathering to those within our households. To equate social distancing to exclusion may seem over the top, but if you think about it, it has afforded everyone the experience of what many students with disabilities encounter daily in our brick and mortar schools and in truth, life, which is to be distanced in all ways. So how do we shift, in those ever-shifting sands of re-opening schools to ensure inclusion and inclusionary practices are a part of reimagining?  

First, recognize that there is nothing wrong with the feeling of being overwhelmed with the thought of tackling inclusion now. Name it, embrace it, breathe deeply and then take a step forward. Second, think of possibilities instead of catastrophes. Focus on the opportunity to capitalize on the fact that COVID-19 has highlighted learner variability to such an extent it can no longer be ignored. Lastly, ask yourself some questions: What have I learned as a leader? How have I grown? How might I continue to grow and how do I help grow others in this current space and place? What might be the necessary steps to achieve the outcome of inclusion?  AWSP has created tools to assist you in thinking through your current culture, school systems, and learning to begin to identify an entry point and goal towards inclusion. 


While the ultimate outcome is inclusive education as the norm, we need to continue to frame inclusionary practices as ways to ensure all students maintain access to general education curriculum and instruction, even as schools adapt to a variety of instructional delivery models. An education for all students begins with access to high-quality core instruction in a welcoming environment, whether remote or in person. As unprecedented circumstances force changes to the traditional ways of doing school, you are forging new ways to provide the best learning experiences possible for each and every student.  

Inclusionary practices create the conditions for positive learning experiences, irrespective of the learning environment and should reflect the following tenets:   

  • All students feel a sense of belonging and value, as full members of the school community. 

  • All students have access to equitable and high-quality, meaningful instruction. 

  • Instruction is culturally responsive, and student and family centered. 

Finally, on a worldwide basis of “So now what?” We have seen the true meaning of inclusion in the struggle for social justice. When we recognize the deep and, yes, inclusive meaning of the inherent right of every individual to be equal in the eyes of society, the law, and in the opportunities life offers, we can appreciate that the movement to gain inclusion for children with disabilities is a promise that must be realized for all our students and most especially our students of color. Systems have been created to ensure exclusive practices and there is often intersectionality that occurs with disability and race that we must recognize and restructure.

Now is the time to lead in ways to dismantle and create learning that is equitable. Sometime in the not too distant future, we will be able to celebrate our resilience in the face of difficulty and experience the joys of being included in a community that learns, plays, and works together — and it will be you, the school leader, who will be leading the charge for change.

  • Inclusion
  • Inclusionary Practices
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