Recently, I had a series of meetings with parents as we talked about how we could better assist their kids at school and at home. Our conversations were within the sphere of what I expected from them to share, but I remember a parents’ story that truly struck a string in my heart as an educator.
The parents shared with me that their child dealt with a sharp remark from students outside Keys. “You’re studying in a progressive school? You must be special.” The child seemed to know the cultural nuance of being special, as being different from others, especially those who study in traditional schools.
“They are right. You are special,” the parents affirmed. “Each child is special as you have your unique gift as a person. Your gift complements other kids’ gifts and that makes you perfectly suitable to the school that you belong to–Keys.” These lines linger in my mind until now, making me feel how fortunate I am to work with parents who understand and uphold inclusion.
I have encountered people who think that progressive education is synonymous with special education. While it is true that progressive schools accept and care about children with special needs, they also think about the welfare of kids without learning disabilities, as they also need to be nurtured to become well-rounded human beings. This is what our school, Keys School Manila, is striving for—inclusive education for all our students.
Based on Department of Education (DepEd) Order No. 72 s. 2009, inclusive education “embraces the philosophy of accepting all children regardless of race, size, shape, color, ability or disability with support from school staff, students, parents, and the community.” In addition to this, the United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF) provides a brilliant definition of inclusive education that I think, as an educator, truly encapsulates what we aim for at Keys. According to UNICEF, inclusive education values the “unique contributions students of all backgrounds bring to the classroom and allows diverse groups to grow side by side, to the benefit of all.” This is aligned with the idea that “all children are part of the constructive process of knowing and being democratic citizens as they live amidst diversity” (Santos, 2020, p. 157). On a global and even on a national scale, inclusivity is a pressing issue among educational institutions. I strongly believe that Keys, as a growing community and a firm believer of progressive education, strives to provide an inclusive environment to every child enrolled.
Building Strong Relationships in Teaching and Learning
Keys educators ensure that each student receives quality instruction that will meet his/her individual needs and challenge his/her current level of competencies or abilities. We, educators, are conscientious in delivering instruction in whole class setups and providing opportunities for students to work collaboratively. We take into consideration how the students can complement each other’s strengths and help one another when faced with challenges.
Over the years, I am a witness of how Keys teachers connect with students who have different abilities positively. We have conversations in and out of the classroom that allow us to get to know the kids better through the lens of strength and with genuine care when helping them better their work. This is in line with what progressive educators Ani Rosa Almario and Tina Zamora state in their article A Culture of Care (2020): “Progressive teachers are usually in tune with this connection [with the children] because they develop the socioemotional domain first, having the child as the center of the curriculum” (p. 214). For example, as a teacher of Writer’s Workshop, I maximize my writing conferences with the kids not just to teach them certain writing points but to understand more what they love to write about. Their written outputs give me inklings about their interests so I leverage those as conversation starters, treating them as fellow human beings with beautiful minds and hearts. I also get to know which parts in writing they need help with because of those chats, and I check if I can group them with other kids who have the same interests and needs; hence, a group conversation where everyone experiences involvement in learning.
Every child is involved and celebrated in our writing class!
Kids connect with their peers strongly because they find their own sets of uniqueness vital to keep learning and friendship going. During peer conferences in my class, I notice that the children are so engaged in reading each other's works and supportive of how each one of them has an interesting story to tell or an inspiring writing idea or process. I think several of my students have become closer because they discovered through those conferences that they have similarities with their classmates or their peers have excellent perspectives that were not in view to them before.
After our Writer’s Workshop class, some girls from sixth grade posed with bright smiles! I think their smiles mean great ideas for our current unit of study. ????
Jonellie Santos, the author of Inside Daniel’s Head (2018), shares in her article titled Play Together, Live Together (2020) about one doctor’s insight on inclusivity. “I appreciated early on that children were created differently but were still equally important and special and deserving of respect…Inclusion gave us the venue to be caring, to be accepting of others’ differences and to help where we can…It fostered mutual respect, appreciation and friendship, regardless of any challenges” (p. 161). Going back to the parents’ story, they are right to say that their child is special—each child is special with or without disabilities. Each Keys child has a gift and is a gift. Together, these children are an inclusive community that celebrates their unique gifts.
Almario, A.R. & Zamora, T. (2020). A culture of care. School is life: progressive education in the
Philippines (pp. 214-217). Bughaw.
Department of Education (DepEd) Order No. 72 s. 2009 Inclusive education as a strategy for
increasing participation rate of children
Santos, J. (2020). Play together, live together. In A.R. Almario & T. Zamora (Eds.), School is life:
progressive education in the Philippines (pp. 156-167). Bughaw.
United Nation Children’s Fund (n.d.). Inclusive education.
Kendra Caramat-Servaña, or Teacher Kendra, is a proud faculty member of Keys School Manila. She teaches Writer’s Workshop and Grammar to fifth and sixth graders. Because of Keys, Teacher Kendra has witnessed how a nurturing learning environment looks like.