In secular education there is a cry for reform in the methodology of professional development for educators. Teachers are increasingly expected to reach their learners in authentic and meaningful ways through such practices as project-based learning and innovative uses of technology. Despite this, most professional development continues to be offered in a "one and done" fashion, with someone lecturing on a given topic and no follow-up offered. Tom Murray, in an article called professional-development reform: 8 steps to make it happen illustrates this point by writing, “Every year, school districts around the country waste a tremendous amount of time and money on ineffective professional development. The traditional model of “sit and get,” where a one-size-fits-all approach is utilized, yields abhorrent results…Professional development must undergo radical reform, from a model that’s outdated and ineffective to one that’s differentiated, meaningful and engaging.” Differentiated, meaningful and engaging; that’s exactly the kind of education we want for our children, right? So why wouldn’t we want the same for those facilitating that education?
The Jewish world can benefit from this lesson, as well; particularly when the conversation shifts to the inclusion of individuals with disabilities. Jewish professional conferences are increasingly offering workshops and sessions on inclusion, accessibility and meeting the needs of diverse learners, but they continue to be offered as optional sessions. This perpetuates the notion that inclusion is a fringe issue for a select group of people to address. We need a model that includes keynote speakers of varying abilities, speaking of their own experiences. We need to incorporate sessions that address methodology and concrete strategies for everyone, not "just the special education teachers" or only "those who care about this issue the most". We need everyone to advocate for inclusion and we need everyone to feel confident in his/her ability to do so.
This very notion was echoed by Michelle Wolf in an article about a recent conference for Jewish day school educators, “I worry that these breakout sessions were attended by small numbers of already motivated educators. The main issue is that educating and including students in Jewish day schools with special needs is still viewed as a nice “optional” activity, but not a core, essential mandate of our communal schools.” Tachlis (concrete strategies) for meeting the needs of diverse Jews has to be woven into the fabric of every presentation, with all speakers and facilitators modeling appropriate ways to reach every learner.
Inclusion must be a core value of all stakeholders and accountability must be high. We have the power to lead by example so that inclusion can become part of the fabric of every school, every congregation and every Jewish community.