Recently, in a social setting, I sat with a mother of a special education student who in a matter-of-fact way stated, “My Gr 8 daughter doesn’t have any friends.”  Then, she shrugged and repeated, “No.  She doesn’t have any friends.”

Heart-breaking.

All children struggle at times in their relationships.  However, often students with neuro-diversities affecting their communication or social interactions struggle more with initiating and sustaining healthy relationships.  That was part of the story in this situation.

In schools, we say we want to be inclusive, but what does that really mean?

I think every parent is asking the following two questions:

1. Does my child have friends?

2. Are those friendships healthy?

But, let’s not stop there!  Allow me to offer one more essential question we must ‘reach’ for as teachers and parents:

3.  Is my child’s heart growing in love towards those who are different?

I wonder, could inclusion be more than tokenism?  Could we cultivate real friendships with those who are different?  What would that look like?  How could there be mutuality embedded in the relationships?

Being in an inclusive school means we all have to ask this question,

Is my child’s heart growing in love towards those who are different?

Here are some ways parents and educators can cultivate connections in our home and school:

Design for Inclusion

Not every event has to be inclusive, but definitely both parents and schools should design some that are inclusive.  Then, we must go out of our way to invite everyone, personally!  It’s our collective responsibility to ensure every child, parent, or family feels warmly invited.  If you are different, you automatically feel like you don’t fit in, so that is your default position.  Therefore, those in the positions of power and privilege in the organization, culture, or society must go out of their way to communicate the welcome.

Be Curious

Begin with powerful questions and sincere conversations.

I was deeply honoured this fall when a mom took the time to describe their family’s Diwali celebration and connect me into the life of their home.  We smiled together about how so many religious holidays and cultural traditions incorporate candles and twinkle lights. It was a great privilege for me because I am truly curious.

Amidst the Complexity, Focus on Sameness

I want to know and understand, mostly to uncover how we are all alike.  The Learn Forward most important journeys of a child are all focused on how we are the same.  How our deepest hungers for faith, worthiness, selfhood, belonging, and changemaking all bind us together.

When we draw attention, in explicit ways, to how we are all alike, it helps create a frame for children that is inclusive.

Photo by Charu Chaturvedi on Unsplash

First Peoples Family Art, by Willowstone Academy student

Remember What Matters Most

We use memorable mantras to help us remember what matters most in our school.  Here are a few…

“Every child is a gift, so every child is welcome.”

“Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.”

“We are champions of the extraordinary potential that lives within every child.”

“We are a community, for being, becoming, and believing.”

These mantras frame our school’s policies like restorative justice, admissions, and upholding respect for all.  These policies support us when things are challenging because they will be.

Inclusion means we must hold things that aren’t ‘fixable.’  In fact, our best selves re-frame what isn’t ‘fixable’ as differences or opportunities.

Schools and parents can’t ‘fix’ children, just like we can’t make them thrive.  We can’t actually force them to do anything.  We can only cultivate the conditions for the unfolding of human potential.  An essential condition for cultivating human potential is to create inclusive environments.  Visible and invisible differences are teaching our children about how to “believe the best about others.”

So, about the students…

Are their hearts growing larger in love for those who are different?

We ARE better together.

For the sake of the children,

Karine