Creating a Culture of Inclusion in Pre-Kindergarten: An Integral Analysis of Beliefs, Understandings, and Practices of Early Childhood Educators

Creating a Culture of Inclusion in Pre-Kindergarten: An Integral Analysis of Beliefs, Understandings, and Practices of Early Childhood Educators

Natalie Anne Prytuluk (Edmonton Public Schools, Canada)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 32
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5873-6.ch011

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to understand how beliefs, understandings, and pedagogical practices of early childhood educators affect, and are affected by, their relationships with children, classroom team members, parents, and colleagues, as they create an inclusive culture in a pre-kindergarten classroom. To explore this research problem from multiple perspectives, integral theory was selected as the conceptual framework, and a multi-methods exploratory sequential design was employed using integral methodological pluralism. Data about educational experiences, culture, behaviors, and systems, were collected from five early childhood educators in pre-kindergarten classrooms in four urban schools, followed by a questionnaire of classroom practices, document analysis, and a focus group. Findings revealed that important factors for creating an inclusive classroom culture included: early childhood educators' positive beliefs toward inclusion; a social constructivist theoretical perspective; and the ability to build strong relationships with children, parents, and colleagues.
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Introduction

The provocation for this research study emerged from questions surrounding challenges to implement inclusive education within early childhood classrooms in the province of Alberta, Canada. In Alberta, the transition from segregated special education programs toward inclusive education is relatively new. A framework for inclusive education in all schools was not published by the Government of Alberta until 2010, and schools are still coping with what inclusive education looks like within the classroom. A Blue Ribbon Panel on Inclusive Education in Alberta Schools (Alberta Teachers’ Association, 2014) concluded that effective implementation of inclusion in Alberta has not been realized due to inadequate support and resources in the areas of shared vision, leadership, research and evidence, teacher professional growth, and community engagement. While these issues are not isolated to Alberta, they exemplify the problem of systemic change without providing adequate resources and time to connect policy to research and practice (Fixsen, Blasé, Metz & Van Dyke, 2013; Odom, Buyesse & Soukakou, 2011; Lieber, Hanson, Odom, Sandall, Schwartz, Horn, & Wolery, 2000). Despite these challenges, Alberta school districts continue to forge ahead to make inclusive education a reality in their schools and classrooms albeit with varying degrees of success.

Schools in the province are faced with considerable complexities in regard to inclusive education for students in grades 1 to 12, but inclusion becomes increasingly difficult to implement prior to kindergarten. While kindergarten is universally funded by the provincial government and available to every child, what is lacking for pre-kindergarten children are inclusive programs in which all children have access to an environment that is flexible and can respond to support a diversity of needs, rather than a segregated special education model that includes children who require specialized supports, interventions and services based on a medical diagnosis, and excludes those who don’t (Leiber et al., 2000).

The main challenge to providing inclusive pre-kindergarten programs is that provincial grants are given to school boards to support children with medically diagnosed disabilities or delays and those who are learning English as a new language, making it financially difficult for school boards to create programming that is inclusive and representative of a range of learners. This funding model also requires a process of assessing, labeling and sorting children into those who are defined as normal and don’t require support and those who are viewed as lacking, deficient and needing extra services to get them ready for school. This deficit based concept is grounded in principles of developmental psychology, and has come under fire from postmodernist thinkers as a limiting perspective that presents problematic assumptions about children and does not address the complexities of working with children and families in the 21st century (Manning, 2011; Pacini-Ketchabaw et al., 2010; Pence & Pacini-Ketchabaw, 2008). School boards must also make sense of conflicting government requirements that “educating children with special education needs in inclusive settings is the option of first choice” for families and the provision of “systematic and planned contact with children who do not have special education needs” is to be part of the program design (Alberta Education, 2006, p. 15).

These challenges, alongside changes in thinking about how young children learn and develop, have created a need for Alberta school boards to reconceptualize how programming prior to kindergarten is provided for children. What is emerging from this shift is juxtaposition between a traditional, medically informed, deficit based and segregated provision of pre-kindergarten programs for children with special education needs, and a postmodern, progressive vision of pre-kindergarten programs that represent a democratic, inclusive and strengths-based model for all children. Early Childhood Educators (ECEs) are in the midst of this disequilibrium and are key players to influence and be influenced by these discourses.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Understandings: Defined from an ethnographic view as; how an individual uses the cultural frame of the classroom to interpret their own understandings of early childhood and inclusion that emerge from day to day life in the classroom.

Children With Diverse Needs: The government of Alberta defines children with “diverse needs” as children who require special education programming because of their behavioral, communicational, intellectual, learning, or physical characteristics or a combination of those characteristics, and children learning English as a new language who benefit from enhanced language programming to support growth and development. Postmodern thinking views diversity as an approach to building a learning community that is inclusive of varying identities and abilities so that difference “becomes part of the social structures and practices within the environment” and that children and families “do not feel stripped of their ‘being and belonging’ or put into marginalized situations.”

Culture: This term is used in conjunction with both inclusion and classroom such as “culture of inclusion” and “classroom culture.” From an ethnographic perspective, culture is defined as the beliefs, behaviors, and characteristics of a specific social group, in this case the ECEs. The ECEs are also part of a larger culture sharing group which encompasses people who are part of the immediate classroom context including children, and the classroom team who may consist of an educational assistant (EA), speech language assistant (SLA), speech language therapist (SLP), occupational therapist (OT), physical therapist (PT) or family-school liaison (FSL). The culture sharing group may also include those on the periphery, such as parents and other colleagues, whose beliefs and behaviours could influence how the classroom context is shaped.

Beliefs: Defined from an ethnographic view as how an individual perceives events and phenomena in the context of their cultural setting which is the school and classroom, and how this viewpoint and attitude influences ideas, values, emotions and perceptions of other members in that cultural setting.

Early Childhood Educators (ECEs): ECEs are defined as certificated teachers with the school board and directly responsible for designing the environment, learning and assessment of pre-kindergarten children within their individual classroom context. They may or may not have a specialization in early childhood education, but as professionals, they are responsible for learning about and acquiring dispositions, knowledge and skills to enhance their pedagogical practice with young children.

Pre-Kindergarten: Within Alberta, children are eligible for two years of pre-kindergarten programming beginning as young as 2 ½ years of age by September 1 of the school year if they have significant educational needs, or one year of pre-kindergarten programming at 3 ½ years of age if they have mild or moderate educational needs or if they are learning English as a new language. Pre-kindergarten funding is provided by the government of Alberta for various supports, services and educational programming for children who meet these eligibility criteria.

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