Written by Bethany Todd, in collaboration with Laura Barr
Inclusion is a mindset.
Inclusion is a culture.
Inclusion is a right.
Inclusion goes beyond the classroom.
It’s a community
e.Merging has partnered with Enlightened Inclusion. We join them in their mission: “committed to transforming the conversation around what it takes to create a culture that intentionally designs a place for all people, regardless of their differences.” As part of our understanding that inclusion is a process, we are learning new things. Recently, we have observed that sometimes parents’ community, or lack of community, is a barrier to authentic inclusion. Are parents in our academic environments inclusive? Does their language and relationships support inclusion?
When parents support inclusion by building community with all parents they serve as role models; providing an example of what inclusion looks like. Parents that adopt an inclusion mindset, build authentic relationships, met other’s real needs, play a vital role is community building and school morale, minimize bullying and generalizations, and support teacher’s efforts to teach inclusion. Research states that when parents get involved, children succeed. How can we help all families to get involved? I suggest that we help by including everyone.
When Parents are Inclusive, they…
Build Authentic Relationships
Building relationships with all parents doesn’t mean that you are friends with everyone. It means that you have some type of relationship, perhaps which at the bare minimum involves knowing their name and child. Building relationships allow us opportunities to get to know each other. It creates space and time for listening and sharing and maybe even making a friend or two. It is respectful, kind, open, non-judgmental.
It takes a village.…such a true statement. As parents, we have very real and practical needs. Meeting others’ needs can be really easy if we are aware and open to them. Last year, two simple but crucial needs of mine were met by other parents in my daughter’s class. One parent was a nurse. She answered questions of mine about children’s medications when one of my kids was really sick. Another friend watched my kids for 10 minutes when I was running late for pick up. These needs don’t seem like much but they were life savers to me in the moment. They are simple but require us to be aware of others and open to offering some little bit of help once in a while. And for that matter, it requires receiving help once in a while too, which I think can be equally as hard for some of us:)
Other parents are valuable resources, sometimes the most valuable. Parents can often bring each other great comfort in sharing stories about our kids or offering little services like picking up a child from school or setting up a play-date.
Advocating for All Children
Parents of students with special needs or differences are not always represented on councils, boards, or PTA’s. It’s important that when we come together to make decisions for our school, we consider all the students and families, not just ours.
No matter how old we are, it still stings to be excluded, yet parents do it on simple occasions like going to the park after school. While you don’t have to always invite the whole school to every event, sometimes it’s important to invite others that may need a friend or who are different from you. Remember, if you want your child to do this on the playground with others when you aren’t around, you have to model it for them when they are around. It’s amazing how much people that are different from you, inspire, challenge and empower you.
Considering our Words
Is it okay for parents to gossip? Sometimes, it seems like adults think it’s okay because they’re adults and they can make their own choices. While this is true, our choices still have consequences. Kids are always listening, especially when you’re whispering. Let’s consider what we say about others, especially when our children are present.
*A note on other guardians
They should be included too. They may not be in the same experience or situation as you but they want to be a part of the community also. I was so sad to hear a nanny once tell me that after nearly a year of participating in the school events and pick up, that many of the other parents still didn’t know her name or acknowledge her as a peer. Consider how that effects the nanny or the child for that matter. That child had less play-date requests because the mom was working and the nanny wasn’t being included. The community includes everyone that in involved in the child’s school community and experience.
How do Build Authentic Relationships with other Parents in your Child’s Class/School
- Set-up play-dates: Use this time to get to know other parents and families.
- Ask questions: “How are you doing?” “Which child is yours?” “Do you want to talk about it?”
- Acknowledge others when you see them outside the classroom environment. It feels good to be recognized and remembered.
- Volunteer and attend school events. Make yourself available.
A great way to get involved in your child’s education is to become involved in building connections and communities with the families within your child’s academic environment. How can we expect our children to include other children in their play when we exclude their parents or families from our own social groups and play? We don’t have to be friends with everyone and that’s an important lesson and distinction; however, allowing everyone an opportunity to show who they are, rather than judging them by appearance or status, is critical to being role models to our children.