This blog post was contributed by Cecília Aguiar (ISCTE-IUL).
We all want to do better for children and their families. We all aim for inclusive education. Because of that, multiple initiatives, projects, actions, and agencies for the promotion of inclusive education emerge across Europe. Some organizations and projects actually cross the borders of countries, allowing us to think and learn together, sharing experiences and knowledge.
A European project
Have you heard about the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education? And have you heard of its Inclusive Early Childhood Education project? This project has made several contributions to the field. However, I focus on one: the Inclusive Early Childhood Education Environment Self-Reflection Tool .
Available in over 20 languages, this tool was designed for early childhood education professionals – those with classroom-level responsibilities and those with coordination responsibilities – assuming that an inclusive environment is built within teams and involving the entire educational community.
It raises questions that enable early childhood professionals to reflect, individually or in groups, on various dimensions of the early childhood education environment that may facilitate or hinder participation and involvement (e.g., social environment, physical environment, materials, communication, etc.). Thus, it can support in-depth individual and institutional self-assessment.
An example: Is there a family-friendly environment?
Among various dimensions, this tool invites us to consider the extent to which the environment is family-friendly. Thus, to support reflection on this dimension of inclusive education, five important questions are proposed (p. 25):
|Do parents feel welcome and are they invited to take part in the setting’s activities?|
|How is a trustful relationship with families developed?|
|Are parents well-informed about everyday activities?|
|How are parents involved in decision-making about their child’s learning, development and support needs?|
|How are parents involved in planning, implementing and monitoring their children’s engagement and learning?|
Faced with these questions, practitioners are invited to reflect, document, and illustrate their responses with examples of situations or activities. In the end, they are also invited to identify the necessary changes and to define priorities.
Finding additional strategies to support self-reflection
Of course, additional strategies can be used to support this reflection process. For example, when focusing on family-friendliness, it makes sense to listen to families (or families of children who have previously attended the setting) about their experiences and perspectives. In addition, involving a “critical friend” can be very enriching. A “critical friend” is someone who is trusted and offers an outsider’s perspective, asking provocative questions to support refection. In each early childhood education setting, practitioners or groups of practitioners will be able to think of the most relevant and feasible strategies to support critical reflection on the multiple dimensions of inclusive environment.
The beginning of a new school year is always a good time for a new challenge. Hence, we invite you to explore this resource of the project “Inclusive Childhood Education” and other projects of the European Agency. As always, we welcome your perspetives.
References European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education. (2017). Inclusive Early Childhood Education Environment Self-Reflection Tool. (E. Björck-Åkesson, M. Kyriazopoulou, C. Giné e P. Bartolo, eds.). Odense, Dinamarca.