Reflections from the Project Leader 18 Months into the Inclusive School Communities Project

Written by Letitia Rose, Project Leader at JFA Purple Orange

JFA Purple Orange started the new year with a networking event for Inclusive School Communities Project steering group members, schools, and mentors. You can learn more about the project and who is involved here. It was a successful event with sixteen of our key stakeholders gathered to hear where the project is up to and connect with others contributing to this important work. We held the event to thank everyone for their involvement in our project last year and to celebrate our achievements as a collective of local and national stakeholders actively progressing inclusive schools in SA. There was a hum of positivity around the room as guests got to know each other, shared ideas about how to progress inclusive school cultures and practices and made plans for mentors to work directly with schools this year.

At the event I was able to share some reflections on the humble beginnings of this project to how it has grown and built momentum; the following has been adapted from my speech:

A Small Group of Thoughtful Committed Citizens

It feels like only yesterday that we started meeting with Department for Education to discuss the project and recruit schools. We started with five schools (two government, two independent and one catholic) and a group of 10 school delegates, all eager to participate in the project. Recruiting the first round of schools was a challenge so I remember feeling relieved when we hooked in five and held our first Community-of-Practice (CoP) session back in December 2018.

Now 18 months into the project and ten CoP sessions down, including a full day workshop with Dr Bob Jackson on the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of inclusion and a three-day field trip visiting inclusive schools in QLD. I am proud as punch that we now have 15 schools involved in the project and a group of 25 school delegates (principals, deputies, directors, heads, coordinators, teachers, and teacher aides) all keen to lead their schools towards inclusive education. Across the school sectors and regions of Adelaide, a collaboration of this kind bringing together school leaders and young people living with disability is unlike any other work being done anywhere else in Australia. This project is making tangible changes across SA schools and the momentum for inclusive education continues to grow.

A well-known quote that is a favorite of mine is “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” (attributed to Margaret Mead in the 1960s/1970s). This quote struck me because it captures a great achievement of the project – we have a group of thoughtful, committed school leaders who have grown in their understandings of inclusion, best inclusive practice and what is needed to create an inclusive school. They have used this to lead conversations at their schools with staff, students and families from a clearer picture of what true inclusion looks like. They have led various actions back at their schools including:

  • adding ‘inclusion’ to the school values and adding ‘inclusive behavior’ to the school awards
  • consulting the school community to come up with a common perspective on inclusion
  • establishing a team of student inclusion officers
  • reviewing school policies with the ‘inclusion’ lens and developing an inclusion policy
  • employing an onsite speech pathologist to build teacher capacity to provide universal adjustments in class
  • creating a common faculty plan to document differentiation at a wave one level
  • creating an inclusive school development plan to be implemented over several years.

These actions have been the result of the CoP sessions, the huge learning on the Queensland field trip, and one-to-one coaching with inclusive education consultant, Loren Swancutt, who is also on the steering group.   

What’s Next?

In the next 6 months of the project, we’ll be facilitating links between our now strong, cohesive team of Inclusive School Mentors and our project schools. We’ve already had mentors participating in school recruitment meetings and planning with school leaders about how they can work together, but soon we’ll see mentors presenting at all staff meetings and building capacity with smaller groups of staff. Some schools have already engaged their students in their school’s work on inclusion, however the mentors will be working alongside the seven schools that have signed up so far to set up ‘Student Diversity and Inclusion Committees’. We are excited to see how the schools embrace their committees and amplify students’ perspectives and ideas to shape their school.

The focus for the next project phase is to support all project schools to accomplish the goals and actions they’ve identified and this will be through the Community-of-Practice sessions, one-to-one coaching sessions with Loren in March, and working with the mentors, and anything else we at Purple Orange can provide to support schools in their transformation to genuine, sustainable inclusive school communities. We’ll also be continually improving and adding to the Inclusive School Communities website and Inclusive Schools Toolkit, which has grown to 22 tools. We’re hoping that this becomes a ‘go to place’ for SA school staff for information and ideas around disability, access and inclusion in schools. You can read and download the tools here.

And alongside all this, we’ll be holding a conference, the SA Inclusive Education Conference, on Friday 24th of April at Concordia College for SA school staff as well as students and families. The conference will showcase the schools and Inclusive School Mentors who have engaged in the project and cover topics around inclusive education and inclusive school development. Subscribe to our mailing list for updates about the conference including when you can register here.

Thank You

I’d like to return to the quote I mentioned earlier “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” On behalf of Purple Orange, and myself personally, thanks to all those involved in this project – steering group members, schools, and mentors – for being part of this expanding group of thoughtful, committed citizens who are leading change in SA schools for the better. The power of the CoP model for school inclusion is now being unveiled as the school leaders feed off each other’s enthusiasm, ideas, and activity and they progress their schools towards inclusive education.

A great deal has been achieved in 18 months and we’re all excited to see what’s next for the CoP schools and their communities through the Inclusive School Communities Project.