There is no magical formula in teaching students with Special Educational Needs or struggling students, as Marie Delaney, an educational consultant and educational psychotherapist, writes in her book on special educational needs, but as she adds: ”Most strategies which help students with SEN are simply good teaching strategies and teachers know many of them.” This means that sometimes teachers don’t have to develop a new way of teaching but simply apply their own teaching strategies more consistently and consciously help these students.
Inclusive teaching means giving students a choice to be educated alongside their peers, no matter their individual needs and abilities. Most schools in the world and EU tend to adapt to the social model of inclusion which assumes that human differences are normal, and that society must adapt to the needs of the person, rather than the person having to change to fit in the society. This social model also implies that teachers, students and parents need to work together in order to overcome barriers of working with SEN students.
It goes without saying that inclusive education is extremely challenging to be achieved. The biggest challenge is set upon teachers who need to adapt teaching strategies and schools accordingly. To make lessons inclusive, teachers need to try and imagine what barriers prevent struggling and SEN students from taking part in a particular lesson.
Sometimes struggling students are able to participate in the same ways as other mainstream students, in many others, teachers need to adapt materials or tasks to keep these students engaged and to help them in achieving lesson outcomes. The most important thing a teacher can do is to see their students as individuals to get to know each student very well, to try to recognise their interests and strengths.
In an Inclusive Classroom, teachers must be aware of the different learning styles which also means being aware of changing their teaching styles. It is very important to develop empathy in the inclusive classroom to prevent bullying of SEN students. The systems need to be implemented to teach students to be aware of different needs and abilities.
You can set Classroom rules or even have a „buddy” system by asking a supportive peer to help those in need. Make sure not to allow any laughing and praise those students in class who emphasize kindness and empathy!
All these inclusive education challenges and teaching strategies help us create an inclusive classroom, but what are the most important skills a teacher should have?
Patience is the main quality for a teacher to deal with students and parents about the same questions and problems repeatedly. Empathy is also important to make a connection with the students and impact their learning in the classroom. A teacher should be able to create a confident and respectful atmosphere during classes for every student to be able to feel comfortable and accepted by the others. A teacher should be able to establish rules in class to ensure mutual respect and goals for her students. A teacher should also have digital competencies to be able to create or use digital teaching materials that appeal to students. Ability to communicate clearly and comprehensively is crucial for a SEN teacher or as a matter of fact, interpersonal communication skill is one of the basic skills required to be in any teaching profession.
In addition to academic knowledge, SEN pupils require extra attention and focused education to help them cope with their growth seamlessly. And teachers are responsible to impart such knowledge in a most understandable way. They will also require emotional support and hence require teachers to understand them, verbally and through their actions. Teachers should be able to generate a sense of a safe environment for them to reach you without hesitation.
Ensuring the special needs education to a SEN pupil is a collaborative effort. For instance, as a SEN teacher, you must be in regular touch with other teachers, the parents, and healthcare personnel.
To put it in a nutshell, a teacher must be an extraordinarily complex person, with a versatile personality and an elevated level of stress resistance.
Strategies for differentiating instruction are an important part of every teacher’s curriculum. It is not a matter of giving advanced students more attention or better resources, only of meeting all students’ unique learning needs.
Delaney, Marie, Into the Classroom: Special Educational Needs, Oxford University Press, 2016
Packer, Natalie, The Teacher’s Guide to SEN, Crown House Publishing, 2017
Sobel Daniel &Alston Sara, The Inclusive Classroom, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021