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Inclusion is not Assimilation – RELIT2022 Part 3

Inclusion is not Assimilation – RELIT2022 Part 3

This is part three in a three part mini-series exploring my unconventional takeaways from the RELIT2022 cup-filling day!

Shelley Moore challenged perspectives about inclusion in the classroom (and in society). She shined a light on our selfish excuses, our alienating policies, and our one-size-fits-all approach.

I provide real, actually achievable steps you can enact in your classroom today to work toward true inclusion for all of your students – because the barriers are in the environment, not in the small human in front of you.

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Show Notes

You can find Shelley Moore in most parts of the internet – her website, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube channel.

And here is the Anonymous Teacher Files podcast episode and blog post about a teacher not having their environment adjusted to support their disability.


Hello everyone. This is part three in a series about my takeaways from the RELIT 2022 conference. If you missed the past two episodes, do go back and listen to them. Perhaps if you are in your car, don’t, you know, pause and skip back now. Wait until you finish this one. But if you are listening while you are doing the gardening or cleaning or doing some lesson prep, perhaps, I would encourage you pause this one and go and listen to the first two out of this series first, and then come back to this one.

I do have to apologize too. It’s extremely windy where I’m recording today. So if you hear some, some windy noises or some banging in the background, that’s what that is. It’s a super, super, super windy day. But it’s nice cuz it’s blown some of the heat away.

So RELIT was a conference that was organized and hosted by Dr. Jody Carrington. She is a child psychologist who has turned her attention to the big people that care for the little people that she has spent her career looking after. In her words, if the adults are not okay, the kids don’t stand a chance. And part one of this series explored that concept further. So this event was aimed at relighting, the spark and the joy and the love of teaching. In Jody’s words it was a cup filling day.

There were a number of key speakers at this event, and today I want to explore the talk that was given by Shelly Moore. Who I just saw today, the day that I’m recording this, she has actually just published. PhD on inclusive education practices. So I’m very keen to hopefully be able to get ahold of that and read that.

So obviously Shelley Moore works in the space of inclusion. Her view on inclusion is one that really opened my eyes and challenged a lot of my perspectives. Her visions for a truly inclusive world would challenge a lot of people’s perspectives, I think because they really highlight how ignorant, privileged, and unaccommodating we innately are when we ourselves don’t live with a disability.

I felt stirrings of guilt and shame, listening to her talk. But I think more importantly, I felt stirrings of surprise. Surprise that we don’t make the world around us inclusive. And the reason we don’t is because it’s air quotes too hard or because, air quotes, again, too expensive or the icing on the cake for me is because, well, it doesn’t affect me. And I think it’s really important as teachers to be consciously aware of this because we already have so much on our plates that sometimes we forget to make the adjustments needed for some of our students to be included, and that is a genuine misstep on our part. It’s never intentional. We never set out to exclude students because of disabilities, but because we have so, so, so much going on, it can be one of those things that does slip.

I’m sure many of you know that our system is not innately designed for inclusion. Our classrooms are not innately designed for inclusion, but we ourselves can make those little differences that will truly help our students to feel seen, feel respected, and be able to live their best life while they’re in our.

So the first thing that Shelly wanted to get across is that people with disabilities aren’t special. They’re human.

I’ll say that again because that really struck a chord with me. People with disabilities aren’t special. They’re human. Our students are human. We need to remember that. Sure. They are very small humans. They have very underdeveloped brains and social skills, but they are humans. Nonetheless, and our students and even our colleagues who are living with a disability are still human.

As soon as we deny inclusive practice. We are showing them that they are somehow less than human, that they are less than our attention deserves,

which is a real shame because. In our position as teachers, we have a real power and a real privilege to really help every single one of our students to feel seen and feel valued. And that’s something that a lot of people don’t have the power to do necessarily. They may not be getting that connection and that value in other areas of their life, for example, if they’re out in public.

But we can gift that to in our role as a teacher. Shelly talked about how our systems are often designed to make everyone equal. She showed an image of a bunch of colored dots where the green dots represented people living without a disability. She talked through how our systems are designed to slowly but surely turn all of the dots green.

The importance here, she said, is that turning all of the dots, green isn’t inclusion, it’s assimilation. People living with disabilities don’t need to be assimilated. They can’t be. They are by design of their disabilities, living a different life to those who don’t have those disabilities. So instead of trying to turn them into someone without a disability, which is of course impossible, we should simply be accommodating their needs as a matter of course, as a matter of reinforcing that they are human and not less than.

People with disabilities are dealing with a whole lot more barriers than people without. There are the obvious barriers, like physical impairments that stop perhaps specific movements or mobility. There are also the less obvious barriers like anxiety. I’m sure a lot of you listening will remember our first Anonymous Teacher Files episode where I shared the story of a teacher who is living with a fairly significant hearing disability and how even as a teacher, the system is not accommodating.

This teacher has this barrier, and their leadership team were not willing to be accommodating to address it and to help that teacher to function the best they could in their job.

And I think that segues really nicely into the next point that Shelly made, and that was that the barrier is always in the environment and not in the person. Think of it this way. If the only way to the top of a hill was via a set of stairs and a person using a wheelchair came along, what’s the barrier for them getting to the top of the hill? Is it the lack of the ability of the person to walk up the stairs?

No. The barrier is the fact that there are stairs instead of a ramp. If a child with anxiety has a sensory meltdown in a large room, crowded with noisy people, and therefore can’t engage with an activity, is the barrier in the child? No. A barrier to that child engaging with the activity is the amount of people and the amount of noise in the room.

If we think back to this teacher, Is the barrier to them teaching effectively their hearing impairment? No. The barrier was in the changes that had been made to their teaching environment that was stopping them from teaching as effectively as they have been for many, many, many years before this point,

In these first two examples, the solution is pretty obvious, right? You change the environment. If you change the environment, you remove the barrier, you remove the barrier, and that person can then have success. So Shelly asked, Why don’t we remove these barriers? It’s because it’s expensive, it’s time consuming. Most people don’t need them removed, so what’s the point?

It would be unfair to people who enjoy stairs and who enjoy lots of people together in the room. That person using a wheelchair can just find another way up the hill. Or they can just go to another hill that does have a ramp. That child with anxiety obviously doesn’t belong in that room. Their parents should know better and take them to a different place to do a different activity.

That teacher with the hearing impairment should choose a different career. These are the sorts of mindsets that we are trying to push back against because they’re unproductive and frankly they can be outright rude.

They’re just such a bunch of lovely, convenient responsibility removing excuses. Excuses that push the problem back onto the person experiencing the barrier. Excuses that absolve us of the guilt and of the shame, but also of the humanity. Because remember, the person using the wheelchair and the child with the anxiety and the teacher with the hearing impairment, they are all just human.

They’re not special, they’re just human. And by allowing these excuses, we’re showing them that we value their humanity less than people who don’t have those barriers. And as Shelly said, when we prevent someone from accessing support and strategies by using excuses like this, we become the barrier. That leadership team who were refusing to accommodate that teacher’s needs They are now the barrier to that teacher having success

This holds particularly true in our classrooms. If as the teacher we refuse to grant access to support and strategies. We are actively denying those students the ability to live a fulfilling life as a student, and that obviously has a ripple effect on the rest of their life. Nevermind all of the other aspects at play here.

If we took our job by the letter of academic instruction, if we were to deny access to support and strategies, we deny that student the ability to succeed in their academic instruction, and then we have failed our job.

And of course we know our jobs are far more than academic instruction. We are role models, emotional intelligence instructors, regulators, moral compasses. The list goes on. Imagine what we show our students when we are denying access to the needs that they have in order to be human. Shelly discussed how we’ve all been trained to think that the kid is the problem that the barriers to their success academically, emotionally, socially, mentally, even. All of those barriers are in the kid. That something is wrong with them. We remove them until they are fixed or ready, and then we graciously allow them back in.

But Shelly wants to challenge this perspective, and I encourage you to challenge it within yourself as well. What if we looked at it from the other perspective that the barrier is not within the child, but within their environment? If we look at it from that angle, we can provide real active improvements to their environment that will allow them to have success.

For example, if you have a student who flies off the rail every time the classroom gets super loud, instead of getting frustrated with them, you could try to limit the noise level in the class. Not always possible. I know. If there are students who absolutely must be loud doing particular activities, can they move into a different space?

Perhaps just outside the classroom door onto another area within the classroom. Can you offer noise limiting headphones? Can you at least warn the student that the next half hour is going to be louder than usual and work with them for a solution instead of sitting back and waiting for the explosion to happen because of these barriers that are in the environment?

Be a little proactive. And think of ways that you can bring down those barriers.

Cause that’s our duty as a teacher, it’s our duty of care. But of course, It all circles back around to the fact that we are so underfunded and understaffed that putting some of the necessary strategies in place is next to impossible.

I’m very aware of that. I’m not trying to sugarcoat that or sweep that under the rug at all, but it is your duty to do the absolute best you can when a student comes to you with a barrier. Don’t just shrugit off as them being attention seeking or lazy or being naughty. Take your focus off the child themselves and move it to the environment.

What can you control as the teacher in the room and find some solutions there? You cannot change the inner workings of a person, especially not a child, but you can support those inner workings by tailoring the environment to them.

And I know some of you are sitting there and thinking about how making adjustments for one student isn’t fair on the rest.

I challenge you to let that thought just fly right out of your head. Any adjustment you make for one child will probably benefit others. And if there are students who don’t need that adjustment, that is no reason to not enact it for others who do. If students don’t need it, they can just not use it.

It’s simple as that. Like if there’s a ramp next to a flight of stairs, I’m probably just going to use the stairs. I don’t need to use the ramp. Sometimes I may choose. If it’s not going to stop someone who genuinely needs it, but most of the time I’ll just use the stairs.

But does it disadvantage me to have the ramp existing there? No, of course not. But does it disadvantage the wheelchair user to not have it there? It sure does, and it’s not about forcing everyone to use a ramp just because some need it. You can still choose not to use it. Your students can still choose not to use the adjustments that you’ve made, but it’s about providing access. It’s about removing barriers, and those barriers are always in the environment, not in the person.

Shelly talked a lot about IEPs or whatever you call your adjustment plans for students with disabilities, learning difficulties, behavioral difficulties, et cetera. She made a really great point about these that challenge my perspective of them.

These documents and plans should be about what adjustments we need to make to the environment in order for that student to have success. They should not be about what that student needs to change about themselves. She used a really great analogy of gardening – “An IEP is the instructions on a seed packet. They tell you what environment and conditions are needed for that seed to grow. They don’t try to tell you how to change a roma tomato into an iceberg lettuce.”

So all of our documentation about students that have disabilities of any form, they shouldn’t be about what the student needs to do. They should be about what barriers need to be brought down in their environment so that they can achieve the success that they are entitled to as a human.

At the end of Shelly’s talk, I actually had to take a break away from my computer. The still had a fair while to go, but I had to pause it and walk away and look I walked around aimlessly for a few minutes and it was like a lightning strike kept running through me. Like, you know when you have that light bulb moment and you just go, Wow, oh my gosh, I get it.

It was like that, but it kept happening. It was so bizarre cuz I realized it’s all about us giving space for people to bloom, for people to succeed, for people to rise. We as teachers are in a uniquely privileged position where we can create the environment for all of our students, we can make room for them.

We can bring down those barriers and then we can let them do their thing. As Dr. Jody reiterates, we can’t tell kids how to do something, we have to show them, and then we have to give them space to do it. So I leave you today at the end of our three part series with a bit of a challenge. How can you shift your perspectives so that you are looking at the environment instead of the student.

How can you remove barriers? What is in your control, and who might you need help from?

So that does bring us to the end of this incredible three part series. I hope you’ve gained some insight and I really encourage you if they do bring back the RELIT Conference in the next few years. I really encourage you to get some tickets and attendee that obviously in person if you can, or virtually as I did.

The way it’s run is just, it’s just amazing and the insight and the knowledge and the cup filling. And the fact that Dr. Jody really makes you feel seen. I mean, that’s, that’s her whole gimmick, I guess, is to make you feel seen and it works.

And I left this, this conference thinking about not just my students, but all the people in my life and how can I make them feel seen.

So I encourage you to keep an eye out. I will link to Shelly Moore’s website and socials in the show notes. Of course. And I hope you’ve gained some insight from this little first ever mini-series that I’ve done. Enjoy the rest of your day.



Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys sharing the real and human teacher life, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine.

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