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Social Emotional Learning and Inclusion in Schools  

Laura Sokal and Jennifer Katz

Inclusive classrooms provide new opportunities for group membership and creation of effective learning environments. In order to facilitate the success of inclusion as an approach and philosophy, it is important that all class members as well as their teachers develop the skills to understand one another, and to communicate and work together effectively. Social emotional learning (SEL) is aimed at developing these skills and is generally defined to involve processes by which individuals learn to understand and moderate their own feelings, understand the feelings of others, communicate, resolve conflicts effectively, respect others, and develop healthy relationships. These skills are important to both children with disabilities and to those without, in terms of overall social development, perceptions of belonging, and promotion of overall mental wellness, as well as mitigation of the development of mental illness. Research suggests that SEL programming has the potential to effectively enhance children’s academic, social, and relational outcomes. Moreover, teachers who teach SEL in their classrooms have also demonstrated positive outcomes. Despite these encouraging findings, implementation of SEL has been hampered by some limitations, including the lack of a consistent definition—a limitation that in turn affects research findings; lack of teacher education in SEL, which erodes confidence in the fidelity of implementation; and concerns that current SEL programs are not sensitive to cultural differences in communities. Together, the strengths and limitations of SEL illuminate several policy implications regarding the most advantageous ways for SEL to contribute to the success of inclusion in classrooms and schools.

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Inclusive Educational Principles, Policies, and Practices in Italy  

Paola Aiello and Erika Marie Pace

The Italian education system has gained prominence worldwide thanks to its pioneering history in initiating the process of mainstreaming students with disabilities, in providing educational plans tailored to students’ needs, and in the gradual broadening of the vision of inclusion as a means to guarantee quality education for all. At the same time, teacher education programs have reinvigorated their key role in preparing and supporting teachers who are inclusive of all students. Several factors over the past 50 years have been fundamental in shaping the way inclusion is perceived in the 21st century. First, the theoretical frameworks underpinning pedagogy and teaching practices have undergone a complete paradigm shift from an individualized-medical model to a biopsychosocial model, bringing about a new challenge for all stakeholders involved. Second, in line with this evolution, latest reforms and ministerial provisions in initial teacher education and continuous professional development are evidence of the change in perspective regarding the teachers’ pivotal role in promoting and facilitating inclusive practices. However, this shift has not only called for a rethinking of the teachers’ pedagogical and didactic stances. It has also entailed a reconsideration of the necessary professional competencies, understood as a complex interplay of pedagogical knowledge, values, attitudes, and skills to be able to implement effective teaching methods and strategies that favor inclusion. Thus, it has placed a heavy responsibility on teacher education institutions to ensure that current and future teachers are ready, willing, and able to face the complexity characterizing 21st-century classrooms. Italian schools have also been doing their utmost to ensure better school experiences for all their students. An array of projects, both ministerially funded and school-based schemes, have been designed and implemented to create universally functional curricula to meet all the students’ learning styles and promote inclusion. One of the most important lessons to be learned from these intricate developments and initiatives is that collaboration among all stakeholders on micro, meso, and macro levels lies at the heart of effective and sustainable inclusive education.

Article

School-Based Professional Development Programs for Beginning Teachers  

Joanna Madalińska-Michalak

School-based professional development for beginning teachers must be seen as a dynamic identity and decision-making process. Teachers as lifelong learners from the beginning of their career should be able to engage in different forms of teacher education that enable them to progress their learning and development in ways that are relevant to their own individual needs and the needs of their schools and pupils. Teacher individual professional learning is necessary but not sufficient for sustainable change within groups in school and within school as an organization. It is helpful to consider three elements. First, note the importance to schools of recruiting and developing high-quality teachers. Teachers are among the most significant factors in children’s learning and the quality school education, and the questions why and how teachers matter and how teacher quality and quality teacher education should be perceived require serious considerations from academics, policymakers, and practitioners. Second, understand teacher education as career-long education, and problematize the issue of teachers and coherent professional development within schools, asking key questions including the following: “how do schools create effective opportunities for teachers to learn and develop?” Third, focus on the particular journey and the needs of beginning teachers because their early career learning and development will have an impact on retention of high-quality teachers. It is important that coherent lifelong professional education for teachers is planned and implemented at the level of education systems, individual schools, teaching teams, and individual teachers.