By Nicole Agois Hurel, Ed.M.
Teaching Artists (TAs) bring incredibly rich resources and opportunities to inclusive learning settings. However, they often receive less formal instruction and supports than other educators to meet the wide-ranging needs of their students. VSA Massachusetts’ COOL Schools Program piloted an Inclusion Support Initiative this year, which involved the development of the MICC Check for Inclusion, a self-assessment and coaching support tool to improve inclusive practice. The tool provides a set of best practices under four categories: Materials and space, Instructional techniques, Collaboration and Classroom management. It allows TAs to assess their practice in each area and provides a framework for targeted coaching support. Based on the process we followed, here are five tips to support TAs to improve their inclusive practice:
- Create a system of training and support. Developing a system (group meetings, one-on-one meetings, feedback mechanisms) that is consistent and predictable allows for meaningful discussion and sustainable growth. Consider your staff and TA capacity when designing it. The system will allow for reliability and focus, and will help you get a clearer idea of common growth areas and how you can best support them.
- Describe and model best practices upfront. Setting expectations of what quality inclusive teaching and learning looks like upfront allows TAs to visualize those practices in their teaching and consider them in their planning. Getting input from TAs during the process of naming and defining these practices is essential to keep them relevant and useful in their teaching. Make sure these practices are articulated in a space TAs can access on a regular basis, such as a tool, website, or handout.
- Employ TA-relevant language. Avoid academic jargon and practices that are not relevant to the contexts in which your TAs work. Keep the language concrete and understandable. Again, include TAs in the process of articulating the language to avoid confusion and frustration later on. If you plan to use a framework such as Universal Design for Learning or Differentiated Instruction to guide the language, be sure to spend enough time unpacking it together and checking for understanding.
- Allow space for self-assessment. The MICC Check asks TAs to reflect on their strengths and growth areas and to identify the supports they would like to receive. This allows for coaching that is targeted and relevant. Make sure you are providing a mechanism not only for the self-assessment to happen, but also for meaningful conversation around it.
- Provide in-person coaching supports and articulate action steps. Be sure your system involves coaching supports that are grounded in real work. Visit your TAs in the classroom often and let their self-assessment on best practices guide the conversation. Focus the tone of the discussion on growth rather than evaluation. Furthermore, work together to articulate action steps for the TA to focus on and follow up on how they are being incorporated.
“Creating inclusive environments is an ongoing process of principled design and action, problem-solving and responsive teaching”
~ Glass, Blair, and Ganley.
Nicole Agois Hurel, Ed.M. is the Director of COOL Schools at VSA Massachusetts, where teaching artists and classroom teachers collaboratively design inclusive, arts-integrated learning experiences for students with and without disabilities.