Delighting in Inclusion

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TL;DR:

  • Melinda Arnost is an educator, author/illustrator, and inclusion specialist. She was recently a guest on the Good News, Brad News Podcast. Her advocacy for inclusion started in high school inviting other students to join their Breakfast Club.
  • As a teacher, Melinda trusted her gut and started teaching outside of the box in order to meet the needs of students.
  • Consider what is in your teacher toolbox: Empathy. Kindness. Acceptance. Belonging. And patience. Lots of patience.
  • Inclusion includes true community involvement—for every student, staff member, or visitor to the building. Delight in inclusion. The more you practice inclusion, the more it happens around you…it’s contagious!

Delighting in Inclusion

Hello again, reader! Teacher and author Melinda Arnost smiles as she shows a copy of her book, "Empowering Inclusion".

This is Brad Hughes, school principal and Chief Encouragement Officer from Ontario, Canada.

So glad you’re here to preview Episode 25 of The Good News, Brad News Podcast, with my guest, Melinda Arnost, from Ohio, USA.

Melinda is an educator, inclusion specialist, and author/illustrator of Empowering Inclusion: The Tool Teachers Need to Help All Students Succeed

In for the Long Run

Melinda loves pushing boundaries and challenging herself to do almost anything that might seem impossible—in teaching and beyond.

She is an ultramarathoner that runs extreme distances—up to 100 miles at a time. She’s also a non-profit co-ordinator, a caricature artist, and an avid gardener.

My mind was racing as I dug into Melinda’s book to prepare for our chat. I recalled a conversation with my Episode 18 guest, Shelley Moore, who’s also an inclusion specialist in British Columbia, Canada. Shelley told me that we can presume and believe that educators can be inclusive, but that’s not enough. We have to teach the mindsets and strategies so inclusion can be realized.

That kind of teaching is exactly what Melinda strives to offer. And she’s in it for the long run.

Kids will live what they learn, and learn what they live. Our responsibility is not only to model desired attitudes and behaviors, but also to delight in them when they’re reflected back to us by the young people we serve. Click To Tweet

Delighting in Inclusion: The Breakfast Club

Melinda’s journey as an inclusionist, interventionist, and advocate started long ago. She reveals the back story in the beginning of her book—a story that informs conversations and relationships with students to this day. 

In high school, a light in Melinda’s life was a group of girls that came to be known as The Breakfast Club. Each member came from different backgrounds and walks of life, and ended up coming together quite by chance every day in the cafeteria or study hall.  They formed a unique friendship where they would look around and begin to pull students in to join their table—students that were sitting by themselves or that may have appeared different. It didn’t matter the grade, how they looked, or how they acted. They would just make sure they felt included, warm and welcome. They created and continue many close friendships because of The Breakfast Club. 

I think it’s remarkable that as adolescents—at a time when it’s understandable to look out for and protect oneself in an uncertain world—Melinda and friends made the choice to reach out and bring other people in. 

Melinda continues to feel that draw to students not yet included, and champions that welcoming mindset in her teaching and professional learning she leads with others.

Trust Your Gut

As she began her journey as an educator and interventionist, Melinda found there wasn’t a lot of advice or practical support to help her get started to improve inclusion for her students, nor to motivate and empower colleagues to examine their practices and really embrace inclusion.

So Melinda decided to trust her gut and break out of the ‘box’ of traditional instruction. Reaching kids and colleagues would require new methods and new tools—just-in-time tools that she hoped would make an immediate impact.

She started adapting and modeling lessons that met kids’ needs in different ways. She helped introduce and refine routines, visual schedules, individualized instruction, and remediation. And she strengthened relationships with colleagues that positioned students’ learning and well-being as a shared responsibility that could be figured out together. 

What’s in Your Toolbox?

Those tools, as it turns out, are essential for some, but good for all.

Some of the most important tools in the box?

Empathy. Kindness. Acceptance. Belonging.

And patience. Lots of patience.

There’s so much science behind the fact that if you are comfortable and feel confident in your environment, you will do well. As children and youth return to schools from the isolation and interrupted learning of the pandemic, Melinda reminds us of the need to anticipate the effects of trauma and patiently mold students back together so they feel confident and are able to grow as learners again.

True Community Involvement

My definition of school inclusion boils down to true community involvement—for every student, staff member or visitor to the building.

Does each person have opportunities to add and receive value in our classrooms and learning spaces? Does each person leave feeling a sense of contribution and belonging, and that people around them are just a little bit better because they came to school that day?

Delighting in Inclusion

In our schools, it falls to us as educators to create the conditions where inclusion can be realized, and to constantly ask, “Who is not yet being included?” Are there ways we can empower kids to take up that challenge and grow inclusion along with us?

Melinda and I both believe that kids will live what they learn, and learn what they live. As adult educators and caregivers, our responsibility is not only to model desired attitudes and behaviors, but also to delight in them when they’re reflected back to us by the young people we serve.

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Delighting in Inclusion: Inclusion is Contagious

We also believe that inclusion is contagious. Once people experience the difference it makes, they love to embrace the differences and want to learn even more.

As an experienced practitioner, Melinda now has the frameworks and resources, and the opportunities to coach others to leverage them. She still trusts her gut, and she’s always learning and changing what she does depending on the need.

Be sure to check out my full conversation about Delighting in Inclusion with Melinda Arnost, coming soon in Episode 25 of The Good News, Brad News Podcast. I know you’ll leave feeling empowered!

Questions for You, the Reader

  • What delights you about your interactions with children and youth?
  • In spite of your best efforts, who might not yet be or feel included in your learning community?
  • What small but important step might you take towards greater inclusion, and what learning and support might you need?

Questions for Children in Your Care

  • What could I do to make school something you look forward to even more?
  • Do you leave school feeling that you somehow made a difference? Why or why not?

About Brad Hughes

Brad is an elementary school principal in Ontario, Canada with over 25 years’ experience in education. He is currently at Forest Hill Public School in the Waterloo Region District School Board. Prior to becoming a school leader, Brad taught for 16 years in classrooms from Kindergarten to eighth grade, most recently teaching middle school Visual Arts, French and Special Education.

Brad is a certified Self-Reg School Champion and has an ongoing commitment to reframing the joys and challenges of school life through a Self-Reg lens.
He is passionate about improving kids’ lives by loving and supporting the adults that serve them.

Brad is a Teach Better Ambassador and Mastermind Mentor, and hosts The Good News, Brad News Podcast on the Teach Better Podcast Network.
You can also catch Brad with Rae Hughart every Friday morning at 7ET/6CT on the Teach Better Daily Drop In morning show.

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