It’s true, genuine inclusion can be hard work. But our communities are always better for it.
Our diversity gives us strength; it’s what makes us interesting and it’s what makes us real. Working hard to ensure that each and every community celebrates its diversity isn’t easy, but it’s oh so powerful.
As a leader (in a classroom, school, youth group, camp, organization, etc.)
you can teach the value of diversity:
For younger children - Teach Diversity and Inclusion with The Egg Activity.
For older children and teens - Teach Diversity Using Oranges.
Here’s the hidden truth that no one really shares: The classrooms, schools, camps and congregations that do it right recognize that inclusion defines them, that it is part of who they are.
For them, the hard work comes naturally. They don’t actually see it as hard work – they see it as a necessary part of what they do.
I have had this experience. Last year I brought a student with severe dyslexia on an overnight trip that has a significant academic component, heavy on the assumption that everyone involved can read & write (and at a fairly quick pace). I spent nearly two hours in advance of the trip with this student, reviewing with her what would happen in various sessions so that she would be able to keep up. When I wrote about this at the time I shared, “I didn’t think twice about it, really; at least not until she reminded me. She told another member of our staff who popped in to say hello that I was “so great” for “giving up” my time to make sure she was ready. Gave up? Trust me. I gave up nothing.”
And that’s the point. When we work hard to be inclusive WE GIVE UP NOTHING. We create spaces that are meaningful for EVERY student, not just those with disabilities or those who need the extra effort. We build communities that welcome EVERYONE, not just those who have felt marginalized.
So yes, we need to work hard, but we also need to shift our thinking. Rather than perpetuating the myth of teachers “working harder” when they have students with diverse needs, we need to shift their focus to doing the work that is necessary to help every student find success. Rather than perpetuate the “woe is me I work so hard already,” mantra many teachers have adopted we must help them to recognize that it’s not harder, it’s just shifting the priorities to do what is necessary.
And finally, a nod to the parents who work so hard each and every day. Those parents who fight the systems that refuse to include their children, those parents who fight the administrations who tell them no, those parents who push for what they know is right for their child. Don’t stop.
So to everyone with the ability to make a community more inclusive (that's all of us!) - keep at it. Keeping working hard. Mistakes will happen, but success will come, too. The hard work is ALWAYS worth it.