A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with another blogger who told me about her son’s experience with inclusion in school. Something she said has stuck with me ever since. She told me that inclusion wasn’t working for her son because their district had a “sink or swim” mentality when it came to inclusion. She didn’t have to say it; I could tell she meant that their district had pushed her son to sink. Their school district had given up on her son. It sounded like the school had been trying to prove that her child could not achieve, instead of celebrating his successes. “Sink or swim” mentality doesn’t work for me. I like to see my classroom as a stage, and my goal is to get every child in the spotlight as often as possible. Every child can succeed, can enjoy their moment in the spotlight. We just need to tailor our definition of success to each individual child.

My students are working at significantly different levels of achievement (especially in math, which is the subject I primarily teach). It can sometimes be discouraging to see some students struggling so much to understand a concept that others have mastered. I just have to remind myself that as long as my students know how much they have grown, and as long as I continue to celebrate that growth, we all succeed.

One thing I’ve made a point to do is eliminate any kind of competitive atmosphere in my class. In math, we do timed math drills daily. My students complete different drills– one student is learning his 7’s multiplication facts; another is still working to master 0-3; still another is working to memorize one-digit addition facts. And that’s okay! Any of my students could also tell you that their goal each day is to grow from their personal score from the previous day, not to compare their score to anyone else’s! When a student demonstrates significant improvement or “graduates” to the next level of drills, we take a moment as a class to give “snaps” to show them that we are proud of their progress. Before teaching, I never could have even imagined the grins on my students’ faces when their classmates congratulate them. It’s their moment in the spotlight to celebrate what they have learned.

It is not always easy to remind myself (and my students) that progress is the goal, but when I do, it is certainly rewarding. One of my students who struggles the most in math told me the other day, “This used to be really confusing to me, and now I’m starting to understand it. It’s actually kind of fun now! I know I’m making progress, and I’m really proud of myself.” My heart swelled–moments like that remind me what a big impact we can have every day on these children’s lives. As Maya Angelou famously said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Please join me in making the choice to celebrate your student/camper/son/daughter’s growth this year; I promise they will not forget the moment when you made them feel proud of their own progress. Happy New Year!

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.

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