Special Educators’ Experiences of Change Through Inclusive Education: The Development of the Inclusion Continuum of Change
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This phenomenological case study explored the change experiences of special education teachers who have transitioned from teaching in self-contained classes to inclusive class settings. Ten educators completed surveys and participated in a focus group. Of the original ten, five chose to participate in individual interviews. Descriptive statistics and focus group themes indicated that all ten of these educators had experienced shifts in their pedagogy and their overall beliefs and teaching methods for students with exceptionalities in inclusive classrooms. Data collected from the five individual interviews was combined using a descriptive phenomenological method, to create a single collective description that illustrated the change experience of special education teachers from segregated education for students with exceptionalities to inclusive education settings. The overall findings indicated that despite their special education training, these educators were challenged by their own beliefs and expectations, the attitudes of others and systematic barriers in the education system. They were equally surprised by the academic and social performance of students with exceptionalities in inclusive classes, as well as, the growth and development of the other students, and the overall pedagogical shifts they recognized in themselves. These findings suggest implications for professional development and training with special education teachers for inclusive practice. As well, opportunities to maximize the skills of these educators in a Professional Learning Community (PLC) and in mentorship opportunities within their schools where they serve as experts working with their colleagues is recommended. Consideration is also given to how these implications affect all educators as schools become more inclusive environments. From examining the literature on inclusion and teacher change and the findings of this research, a graphic representation titled The Inclusive Educators’ Continuum of Change was developed to illustrate the change experience of these special educators. This figure can provide special educators with a framework for which to map their own change experience. Further research to establish whether this graphic representation applies to all educators in inclusive settings is needed.