Inclusive teaching – not just for the willing, because that would hardly be inclusive would it?


The psychologist Vygotsky emphasised the need for us to be social as both teachers and learners.

The psychologist Vygotsky emphasised the need for us to be social as both teachers and learners.

“What a child can do in co-operation today he can do alone tomorrow.”

Vygotsky (1896 – 1934)

The great Belarussian psychologist Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky developed a social theory of learning through which he suggested that the most effective way of gaining understanding was through the development of a collaborative community of learners. These communities he stated should be founded on “student-student and expert-student collaboration on real world problems or tasks that build on each person’s language, skills, and experience shaped by each individual’s culture.” In making this statement Vygotsky recognised that everyone in such a community brings their own experiences, expertise and interpretations of the world with them, and so long as they are prepared to share, they can foster knowledge, and understanding. Such an approach does, of course, require trust and a preparedness to accept joint ownership and responsibility for learning if it is to succeed. It also requires an environment conducive to learning and supportive of all participants.

Over the past few weeks I have been privileged to be a part of such community; one that has been truly inclusive, where opinions, ideas and experiences have been treated with mutual respect, and where every participant has been eager to learn and share their knowledge. The absence of ego and commitment to collaboration has been such, that it was possible to participate in a relaxed but focused atmosphere, from which I believe all students and tutors benefited. A particular pleasure for myself has been to observe the ways in which the confidence of students who initially joined the course with a certain reticence, and indeed perhaps too much deference to their tutors, has grown to a point where they recognise the important contribution they can make to all of our learning.

Within Bangalore there exists a group of dedicated teaching professionals who are now working more closely together to develop a much more inclusive teaching environment. They are sharing their knowledge, developing teaching approaches and strategies in schools and most importantly, applying learning that they have gained from each other. It is particularly rewarding for those of us who work as tutors on the MA programme, to see the leadership role that each of these individuals has adopted.

It is important that we recognise that there continues to be many teachers, and not only in Bangalore or India, who are fearful of the notion of a more inclusive education system. In India many teachers and indeed school principals perceive the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act as a challenge to their more previously comfortable educational existence. It would be easy for those of us who have worked together in Bangalore over a number of years to be critical, or to condemn these teachers as dinosaurs within the education system. However, if we adopt this attitude we will achieve little and are far more likely to alienate colleagues and further slow the progress that can be made. On Saturday at the annual Brindavan Education Seminar I was particularly moved when listening to eminent colleagues, including Dr Jayanthi Narayan and Mrs Krishnaswami, as they recalled a life time of commitment to the inclusion agenda in the country. They reminded me of colleagues here in the UK who maintained a similar focus throughout their professional lifetimes, in order to ensure a greater understanding by teachers of what can be achieved with children previously thought of as ineducable. The great achievements of these pioneers in the field came through example, by the adoption of supportive and inclusive teaching that recognised that we do not all start from the same baseline or begin with the same vision for children.

Whilst one of the greatest pleasures of working with colleagues in Bangalore is the recognition of the dedication they have towards improving the lives of children, regardless of their needs or abilities, their social and economic background, caste, culture or religion, I recognise that the real challenge lies in working with those who have not yet made this level of commitment. Over yet another excellent lunch at the Saturday seminar, a teacher from one of the local government schools commented to me that, “the teachers who really need to be here today never come.” She is probably right, but perhaps the questions we should be asking are not so much about their lack of commitment, but more about how we can make the first move to support them to become more willing to engage. There is always a danger that we believe that our way of looking at the world is the only way and that others should come and join us. Perhaps we need to find ways to meet them half way along the road and to collaborate more closely with them, – then perhaps we can prove Vygotsky’s theory, that what we learn in collaboration today will lead ultimately to greater confidence and independence. If we ignore this significant number of teachers who are yet to be convinced by the inclusion agenda, are we not in danger of ourselves becoming exclusive?

I was delighted to be taught something about inclusive learning from this group of children in  a Bangalore Government School

I was delighted to be taught something about inclusive learning by this group of children in a Bangalore Government School


16 thoughts on “Inclusive teaching – not just for the willing, because that would hardly be inclusive would it?

  1. Hi Richard,
    Truly a great sharing and learning experience from each other!! Lot more ideas to go back and work with the children!!! First day, entered inside the classroom with little apprehension that we are going to meet new people with different talents, by the end of week, got so comfortable with all of them .With no ego and only commitment and dedication to their work…Thank you
    Richard, Jayashree ,Johnson and most important our student colleagues.

  2. Hello Richard,
    Today I went back to school and put my “teacher” hat. One week of being a student made me realize how I would love to continue being a student!!!!
    Today am being a little selfish in leaving a reply — Your blog is very close to my assignment topic.:)
    But on a serious note, thank you for everything.

    • Hi Anita,
      The blogs do intend to provide food for thought in relation to assignments. Hope it does so. We should all be students all of the time (as well as doing our best as students). Good to hear from you

  3. I agree Richard that we need to try and meet the teachers who don’t participate halfway, however, the question of how to do this is a tricky one. Why is it that professionals who join teaching to work with and help children and young people are then reluctant to include all learners? Do they lack confidence? Are they scared? Do they see these learners as ‘others’/ different somehow? Can those of us who believe in inclusion be the ‘more knowledgeable other’ and guide them to the ‘right’ path? Our way of thinking? I hope so.

  4. To be inclusive, not just with students in the classroom, but to see it as part of all our interactions, with other teachers, with the community at large would probably lead to inclusiveness in the true sense. There is the pitfall of projecting a “my way is the best way” attitude which can result in being “exclusive”, while excluding our colleagues!!

    • Well said Shuba. It is important that we recognise the apprehensions of others and take them along with us. This will only be achieved when we accept that we too lack the answers to some of the questions we ask. We must however, never cease our search for these solutions, if we did so we would no longer be inclusive.

  5. Hi Richard,
    I more than agree with you in the last part of your blog.When my students come to me with stories of lack of support from teacher community,I rue the fact of my helplessness.Your blog does give me a suggestion to work on.Hope to work on it.

    • Hi Kamini,
      The more we work alone, the more helpless we feel. I think it is therefore important that we continue to build supportive networks that will enable us to move forward together. It is also important that we lead by example in order that others may see what can be achieved.

  6. Hi Meanu,
    You ask a number of critical questions here. Lacking confidence and feeling scared is certainly a factor here. I remember the first time I taught a child with a physical disability I was frightened I might hurt her when taking her from her wheelchair. I also believe that ignorance about he specific needs of children can provoke feelings of inadequacy and fear. Certainly we are all guilty at times of seeing the deficit in difference. I actually believe that we are all different, but it is when that difference challenges our understanding that we fail to respond positively. This is not only a disability or special needs issue, we can witness the Islamaphobia that has become a modern day feature of our societies. This is bred by an association of extremes with that which is a norm and in some cases a force for good in our world.
    I’m uncomfortable with the notion of a “right path” – only in so much as I fear that when we lose doubt we become zealots. I think we need to engage more people in a debate in order that all of the issue which we confront around inclusion and exclusion can be better understood.

  7. The line that has stuck with me after I heard it at the seminar, and hit me hard again when I read your article is “There are more teachers with teaching difficulties than there are children with learning difficulties…”. We really need to reach out more and make a change among our fellow teachers.

    • Hi Anupa,
      I think you are right, but we need to reach out in a positive way and not to frighten them away. If they think we are experts who have no time for them they will resent our intrusion in their lives. This relates to what I was saying on Saturday about moving away from the dependency on experts. Thanks for your comments.

  8. Hi all! I also believe that it is only ” the fear of the unknown” and also the apprehension to try to make it known. If someone asks me to go parah jumping, I’ll really need a lot of help in even thinking of trying it, the reasons are simple, I’m afraid of heights, it will take a lot of hand holding and affirmation for me to even think of doing it. So many people do it but why am I not ready for it? It is very similar. I have an Adult in my school, her name is soumini, she is an amazing Montessorian and more than that a very sensitive and compassionate human being. She was handling a child with ASDin our inclusive programme and she came and said to me ” Savitha, I still am lost while working with this boy and I’m amazed when he responds to you and Sushma, I need help in bettering myself, my attitude and become inclusive…” So, most of them are ready to take the step, they only need guidance and encouragement and a lot of hand holding.

    • Hi Savitha,
      At least this lady had the courage to admit she needed help. This is such a big step for many to take. I am pleased that she also had you as her guide. Keep up the good work.

  9. We had 2 sessions by Mrs. K (as she is fondly called), as a part of our course on SLD in KPAMRC.. What a depth of knowledge she is!!! She gave 16 of us different topics to write on and all these topics she was able to give us, from her mind.. Not a piece of paper in her hand to refer to..
    I remember walking out of both the sessions with a sense of ‘WoW’!!!

    • Hi Malathy,
      Mrs K is a truly remarkable lady. I hold her in the highest esteem and feel proud to call her my friend. I learn from her every time we meet and know that it is an honour to be with her.

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