As Virginia continues to build a unified early childhood system, additional opportunities exist for children with disabilities to attend regular early childhood classrooms. When building inclusive classrooms, Early Childhood (EC) and Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) practitioners must combine efforts to provide access, participation, and support to all children. In this context, “support” refers to the system-level infrastructure that makes high-quality inclusive practices possible (DEC/NAEYC, 2009). Examples of broader system-level supports include program policies and procedures, professional learning and support for staff, and data systems to support decision-making.
One way to establish the foundation of inclusive practices is to build a decision-making team to address system-level supports and document those decisions. Documenting final decisions in a handbook or guidance document, accessible to all program staff, allows for consistency across classrooms and minimizes the need for individual decision-making. Handbooks developed by key stakeholders increase buy-in to the decision-making process and improve sustainability for inclusive programs. ECSE leaders can determine if they have the foundational infrastructure needed to support inclusive programming by asking some of the questions below, documenting that information, and having the final product easily accessible to program staff.
Program Policies and Procedures
- Have you created a vision statement to guide the development and use of policies and procedures that support inclusion?
- Have you developed written policies and procedures supporting the use of evidence-based practices with children with disabilities?
- Do you have a leadership team that meets regularly to develop and monitor a written inclusion action plan developed by stakeholders?
- Have you made these written documents available to staff and are they accessible?
Professional Learning & Support for Staff
- Have you developed personnel policies that demonstrate alignment with inclusive beliefs and practices?
- Is there a training system in place for onboarding new staff?
- Are you creating cross-sector, meaningful, evidence-based, ongoing professional learning activities for staff?
- Are personnel able to request individualized learning and are they aware of local technical assistance and supports available for training and consultation?
Data-Driven Support Systems
- Does your program collect and use data, including ongoing observation and authentic assessment, for decision-making?
- Do you have a structure in place for considering and reviewing data on an ongoing basis and assessing progress on your program inclusion goals?
- Does your program have a curriculum-based measurement in place that can be used to check and probe a child’s development?
- Do you have a way to assess and report progress on individualized IEP goals?
Without developing and revising local policies and procedures, creating, and monitoring structured support for professional learning, and establishing data systems that inform and lead decision-making, the culture of inclusion in your district may not be sustainable. By creating handbooks that include important details about your program structure and procedures, staff members are clear about program expectations, building a stronger foundation for supporting children with IEPs.
If you would like additional support to help build these internal structures with your teams or receive support in better understanding how these structures influence inclusion, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cate, D., Diefendorf, M., McCullough, K., Peters, M. L., & Whaley, K. (Eds.). (2010). Quality indicators of inclusive early childhood programs/practices: A compilation of selected resources. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, FPG Child Development Institute, National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED512722.pdf
DEC/NAEYC. (2009). Early childhood inclusion: A joint position statement of the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, FPG Child Development Institute.
Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center, & National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations (2020). Indicators of High-Quality Inclusion. Retrieved from https://ectacenter.org/topics/inclusion/indicators.asp
Reichow, B., Boyd, B. A., Barton, E. E., & Odom, S. L. (Eds.). (2016). Handbook of early childhood special education. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.
Virginia Department of Education. (2016). Inclusive placement opportunities for preschoolers manual. Retrieved from https://ttaconline.org/Resource/JWHaEa5BS76DY3ONBvM4zA