What is school about?
Think back to when you were at school. What were the most important things about school? When you think back, what was it about school and the people that made you who you are today or had the most influence? Almost certainly, it won’t be a class on algebra or geography. It is most likely to be the friends that you shared the time with and some inspirational teachers. This is not to discount the importance of the content learned at school but the fact is that most of what we do not use in our work has been lost or forgotten but the impact of the relationships has endured.
We learned how to navigate those relationships from the earliest times of shared play in the sandpit to playtimes and team sports. We were guided by adults in our lives about the boundaries and the important values to hold but much was learned by the many hours of shared experiences. For many students, including students with disability, many of these experiences are missed. Due to the pressure to segregate and avoid people with disability, shared play in the sandpit may have been minimal or non-existent. At school they may have had a segregated schooling with all their models being similarly deprived of shared social experiences. If in the mainstream classroom they may have been separated out with an aide and so be less likely to seamlessly move into shared play at recess times.
This means that we cannot just assume that all students will be able to make friends and social connections. While very young students will often not be concerned about difference, as students get older differences are more likely to be noticed and self esteem issues will play a part. Particularly in high school where all students are at risk of being socially isolated due to a falling out with a peer group, many students, and particularly students with disability, can be at high risk of isolation, rejection, loneliness and being bullied. These have high risks for mental health which we are becoming increasingly aware of.
Social inclusion is something that cannot be left to chance for any student, but particularly not for a student with disability. There are however many strategies that can be used to bring social inclusion with huge benefits for all students, not just the student with disability. In particular they can have a major impact on effectively eliminating bullying of vulnerable students if done well.
Workshops begin with an understanding of the common life experiences of people who are marginalised to give an understanding of what they are experiencing and how we can best respond with many easily implemented strategies that have academic as well as social effects.