A team approach to inclusion, Macedonia
Dimo Hadzi Dimov School Inclusion Team Members
Many teachers feel they do not have the skills to teach inclusively. Training materials on inclusive education often suggest: “Work together with colleagues and stakeholders to help you identify and solve challenges”. In this article, teachers in Skopje, Macedonia, explain how their school inclusion team ensures everyone works together to make their school childfriendly and inclusive.
Our school inclusion team started in 1998 – this was when UNICEF introduced the inclusion of children with special education needs into mainstream schools. We still have some of the original team members.
The school has a policy of accepting all children, regardless of their background. Inclusive policy has developed over time in our school; our positive environment of acceptance is the result of a long process of learning and change. We have also built the support of the general class teachers, the subject teachers and parents.
The initial vision for inclusion came from the principal. We have had four principals since the inclusion team started, but when a new principal joins we inform them about and involve them in our inclusion efforts immediately. When they see the good work that is going on, they are happy to support it. The consistent support of the school principal has been very important.
We started with a team of three class teachers, the principal, a pedagogue and a psychologist. The team is flexible and inclusive in its membership – but it is always willing to change when needed. Some members leave after a particular period, some stay a long time, some are external professionals and parents. The exact composition often depends on our current action plan, and the expertise or support needed.
It is compulsory for all teachers in our school to learn about inclusive education through workshops and mentoring. If we want change to happen then everyone in the school needs to be informed. We want our whole school to have a richer profile of professional development, to strive constantly to learn more and improve ourselves. Even though we are qualified teachers we can still keep learning. For instance, in recent years some of the team members have focused on learning more about gifted and talented children, as they too can face exclusion if their learning needs are not met.
When new teachers are recruited, the school inclusion team does not have control over the advertising and interviewing process, so an open mind about inclusive education is not a requirement for joining the school. But once a new teacher starts here, we show them what we mean by inclusion, and what is expected in our school. We do this mainly through mentoring and one-to-one support. As members of the school inclusion team, we observe fellow teachers and help them when they have problems. At first some teachers are reluctant, but when they see how other teachers work together and help each other to plan their work, they want to join in.
Identifying children’s needs
We observe children before they start school, so that we can get an idea of their potential learning needs, interests and abilities. We spend time working out effective composition of classes, so that children with specific needs are placed with teachers who have the best skills to help them. All teachers have children with special needs in their class, so we do not just place the ‘difficult’ children with those teachers who are willing to teach them. Instead, it is a genuine process of matching learning needs with teaching skills.
Inclusion at all levels
At first we worked mainly with general class teachers (grades 1-5), but gradually we started to support the subject teachers who work in grades 6-9. We also ensure that there is an effective hand-over process between lower and upper primary, so that any child who has particular needs continues to receive the same level and quality of support as they move up through the grades.
We now face the challenge of how to ensure that children receive support when they leave our primary school and go to secondary school. Not all the local secondary schools are inclusive and supportive. Some of our socalled ‘special needs’ pupils have gone on to university or to compete in the paralympics, others have sadly dropped out of school at secondary level. This is something we cannot tackle on our own as primary school teachers.
The school principal, pedagogue and psychologist are involved in observing teachers. We also have open classes where colleagues can sit in and watch each other teach. We meet to compare notes and experiences in relation to all our students, not just those considered to have special needs. The inclusion team helps to facilitate this sharing. The team also goes to train teachers in other schools, under the authority of the Ministry of Education and Bureau for Education Development.
Our team encourages teachers to ensure that the children in our school also work as teams by co-operating and assisting each other in group work. We support the teachers to use active teaching and learning approaches – no lecturing. This way they get more feedback from students, and it is more interesting for everyone. Lessons involve students doing things with their hands, not just talking and writing.
We ensure that we have a good relationship with parents and that they feel involved in the inclusive education efforts. We reach out to them with information about inclusion, and we engage them in individual planning processes for their children.
We even work together with other schools, doing what we call ‘integrated classes’, where classes from two schools merge to share lessons. When this happens our school inclusion team supports the teachers to plan for the learning needs of all children in the merged class. This also means that teachers and children from other schools get to experience how we develop more inclusive practices in our school.
We don’t have all the answers yet. We still face many challenges. We work hard to plan the learning of every child effectively, but we are not always successful. We need more help with some areas of work, such as developing individual education plans. And we know that not all children continue to make good progress when they leave our school, because other schools are not so well prepared. So we need support from beyond our school to ensure that inclusion is not an isolated thing in a few schools.
This article was compiled by Ingrid Lewis from EENET, using information provided by the school inclusion team members at a focus group in August 2011. This was part of an inclusive education project supported by UNICEF in Macedonia.
Team members: Milka Ivanovska (pedagogue and co-ordinator for inclusive education in Dimo Hadzi Dimov), Katica Dukovska Muratovska, Violeta Georgieva, Nevena Petkovska, Blagorodna Spirovska, Marika Durlevik, Aneta Georgieva, Zorka Ristova (school principal), Lela Nikolovska, Velibor Jovanovska, Olgica Stefkovska and Elena Jovanova.
Contact the school at:
OOU Dimo Hadzi Dimov
Ul. Angel Dinev, bb