This post was originally written as a part of my 2014 #BlogElul series. However, it's message is just as timely and appropriate for Jewish Disability Awareness Month.
Here are ten of the most important things to know about Jewish special needs education and inclusion:
1. Each of us is created b’tzelem elohim, in the image of God. As such, each of us is perfect and worthy of living a meaningful Jewish life. No one has the right to judge what is “meaningful” for anyone but themselves.
2. Fair isn’t equal. Fair is when everyone gets what they need.
3. Special Education is good education. The strategies, values and goals that make special education successful are actually the strategies, values and goals that will help all students find success.
4. Special education is not a place. Special education is not a program. Special education is a way of helping students to reach their highest potential. It is fluid, flexible and ever-changing.
5. Inclusion is NOT social action. We do not "do" inclusion "for" people with disabilities. Rather, it is incumbent upon us to figure out how all the things we do can be inclusive.
6. Differentiated Instruction (or different expectations) for individual students is fair. Students should not be compared to one another or to an arbitrary level of expectation. All students should be working toward progress from their current level of functioning.
7. Hebrew and Jewish Studies classes can utilize differentiated instruction. Stations can be a highly successful strategy. Likewise, using teen madrichim (classroom assistants) can be a productive way to individualize content.
8. Professional development for teachers is critical. And while a one-shot, one-day training can be helpful, teachers working with students who have a wide range of abilities and disabilities need ongoing support and opportunities to strengthen their own techniques.
9. Intentional planning is critical for success.
10. Partner with parents. Open and supportive communication with parents is essential for a successful Jewish supplemental school experience for any child, especially those with special learning needs.