When we consider the idea of holding high expectations, we could go in two distinct directions:
The first, of course, is to hold high expectations for our students. This is quite similar to the notion of what it means to expect competence. To expect competence is “to assume that a child has intellectual ability…and assume the child wants to learn and assert him or herself in the world. To not...is to assume that some individuals cannot learn, develop, or participate in the world.”
This is critical for a conversation of inclusion. If we are not able to expect competence, if we can't see the value in each and every person, we have stalled before we have ever really gotten started.
But the direction I want to go is the second; it’s to focus on the bigger picture. We need to explore what it means to hold high expectations for ourselves.
Inclusion is one of those things that can so easily get bumped down our list of priorities. If we haven’t yet done the work of embracing inclusion as anattitude and a mindset, we will find ourselves moving through each day checking items of that endless list of to-do’s, forever sending the ones that make our classrooms and communities more inclusive to the bottom.
I think it's because so many people still tend to think about inclusion in terms of the “really big stuff”. The knee-jerk reaction continues to be to focus on the resources needed to make a building fully accessible, to hire additional staff or to purchase things like new furniture, technology and the like.
To be sure, those are important ideas and necessary items.
But far too many get stuck when they say, “We don’t have the resources,” because it's usually said with a finality that puts up an impenetrable wall. I don't have the resources so this isn't even worth talking about; period. These are the people who never wanted to have the conversation in the first place. They aren't asking for help or advice, but rather they are stopping the discussion in its tracks. We need to be gentle and remember that we are in the faith business, after all. We are charged, day in and day out, with nurturing people's souls and helping them to find spiritual connection, supporting them as they do. We need to really listen and understand that there is fear or some other emotional wall in their way. We can help them to recognize that those big things can be long-term goals while also helping them to understand their own personal issues and fears. I have said it before and I will say it again – it’s ok to start small.
This is where holding high expectations will come in. Starting small does not mean insignificant. Quite the contrary, actually. Starting small means you have identified those things that are both meaningful AND attainable and that you are willing to take action. Hopefully those steps will become a springboard into more. That’s really the key: that all of us consistently and continuously take steps toward greater inclusivity.
Here’s an example:
You may find yourself thinking that you can’t possibly find the resources to hire an expert to serve your community in an ongoing capacity. And maybe you can’t right now.
But you can find the resources to bring in a consultant to train teachers, staff and lay leaders. And while many offer great “one-off” sessions, the right consultant will work with you to build in periodic check-ins and/or support you to create your own process for ongoing development and improvement. (Yes, this is something I offer. Be in touch if you want to explore this together.)
Here's another example:
You may not be able to afford to replace all of the furniture in a classroom or in a school.
But there are ways to adapt, modify and utilize existing furniture in ways that promote greater inclusivity. Maybe you have an architect and/or someone who works in construction in your congregation willing to volunteer. Maybe you have students working toward becoming Eagle Scouts who would help. We had an Eagle Scout regrade our parking lot to move our accessible parking closer to the synagogue's front door!
You have to be willing to discover what is practical and attainable for your community and start there. Hold high expectations for everyone involved and make it a priority to move the work to the next level when you are able. I'd love for you to share some of the ways you hold high expectations for yourself around inclusion.
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