Key Takeaway:

As special educators, we likely spend a lot of energy seeking the best inclusive practices within the school setting, but what happens after our students transition to other educational or work settings? Young people face significant barriers when attempting to transition from school due to low expectations, employer discrimination, and a lack of opportunities and support to develop key skills. In order to address this issue, the development of an inclusive alumni network could enhance social inclusion of people with learning disabilities and guide current students with disabilities the right path to their future. —Michael Ho

Blake, Hanson, and Clark (2021) examined the effectiveness of including young people with learning disabilities as alumni, with reference to Law’s (1981) community interaction theory,1 and considered how educational settings could create alumni networks that are socially inclusive of people with learning disabilities.

The Challenge

Blake et al. (2021) quotes Martin et al. (2011),2 “Young people with learning disabilities face complex barriers when attempting to transition from school which include low expectations, a lack of opportunities and support to develop key skills, and employer discrimination.” Currently, there is a lack of evidence showing alumni networks include young people with learning disabilities.

The Potential Solution

Blake et al. (2021) refer to Simplican et al. (2015)3 that social inclusion consists of two domains—interpersonal relationships and community participation. It is hypothesized that having an inclusive alumni network will boost both interpersonal relationships and community participation.

The rationale for the awareness of an inclusive alumni network is based on the community interaction theory, which states that “communities do not just mediate or moderate structural influences on individuals, they also directly influence them through five different modes: expectations, feedback, support, modeling, and information.”1 Engaging alumni with current students with disabilities will enhance each mode.

Focus Group Study

Six focus groups were used to generate discussion between participants around the topic of alumni networks. Staff from a mixture of mainstream and Special Educational Needs and Disabilities secondary schools and colleges that were members of the Leeds City Region SEND Careers Hub participated in the focus groups. Each focus group lasted for approximately 30 to 45 minutes.

The following research questions were addressed: 

  1. What would be the value and nature of an alumni network for young people with learning disabilities? 
  2. How viable is such a network; what might the enablers and barriers be? 
  3. How might alumni networks be established and made purposeful?

What would be the value and nature of such a network?

In response to the first research question, the value and nature of an alumni network for young people with learning disabilities are as follows:

  • The focus groups identified increased confidence in young people with disabilities, as well as for them to recognise their own abilities.
  • A value could be to explain to both students with learning disabilities and their parents who gives them support should they need it and where it can be accessed.
  • “The young people with learning disabilities were also aware of how they could be helped by alumni visiting their setting.”
  • Participants understood how an alumni network could improve self-confidence by giving them the courage to acknowledge they can explore employment, training, or further education.

Is this viable?

In response to the second research question, the enablers and barriers of setting up an alumni network of young people with disabilities are as follows:

  • The two main enablers include the enthusiasm and engagement from the staff participants and the availability of the resources to develop an alumni network.
  • The main barriers include the alumni’s relationship with family members; sensitivity issues around singling out alumni with learning disabilities; and the lack of knowledge, time, and organizational culture among support staff.

How might this be established?

In response to the third research question, alumni networks can be established and made purposeful by the following:

  • Engagement with businesses should focus on “realizing the worth in the young people.”
  • Educators should not be the only ones making the push for inclusive alumni networks, but so should the wider community, including businesses, workplaces, and colleges.
  • “The most important thing that needs to take place is raising expectations of the young people with learning disabilities by their community, including their parents, peers, teachers and businesses.”

The Limitations

The sample in this study was limited to the research for Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership. Additionally, a sample of only six educational institutions was due to the restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic and to the feasibility of schools/colleges accessing the relevant technology in order to take part in the research.

Summarized Article:

Blake, H., Hanson, J., & Clark, L. (2021). The importance of an inclusive alumni network for ensuring effective transitions into employment and future destinations for people with learning disabilities. British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 49, 445–455.

Summary by: Michael Ho—Michael supports the MARIO Framework because it empowers learners to take full control of their personalized learning journey, ensuring an impactful and meaningful experience.

Additional References:

  1. Law, B. (1981). Community interaction: A ‘mid-range’ focus for theories of career development in young adults. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 9(2), 142–158.
  2. Martin, K., Hart, R., White, R., & Sharp, C. (2011). Young people with special educational needs/learning difficulties and disabilities: Research into planning for adult life and services. (LG Group Research Report). NFER.
  3. Simplican, S. C., Leader, G., Kosciulek, J., & Leahy, M. (2015). Defining social inclusion of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities: An ecological model of social networks and community participation. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 38, 18–29. https://

Key Takeaway: 

Students with disabilities continue to be excluded from meaningful participation in physical education. However, structured and guided efforts to apply inclusion theory to practice at the teacher training stage has been shown to open up educators’ attitudes towards inclusion and equip them with the skills necessary to challenge ableist notions. —Akane Yoshida

Teacher Training for PE Inclusion

While inclusivity is a key feature of educational policy and legislation, physical education (PE) remains a curricular area that perpetuates the idea of able-bodiedness as the norm.1 This leads to the development of PE programs that neglect to offer the diverse learning experiences necessary for students with disabilities to fully participate in learning about and through movement.2

In this paper, authors Alfrey and Jeanes propose a model for initial teacher education that can substantially improve the experiences of students with disabilities in PE class, examining the impact of a unit of study co-created between one university and a local disability organization in Australia. 

The participants were third year student PE teachers undertaking a bachelor degree program. A 10-week unit of study was designed, beginning with the theoretical underpinnings of inclusion based on DeLuca’s framework for inclusion and leading to the co-design and implementation of lessons with young people connected with the disability organization.

Data was collected in the form of carefully timed written reflections from the teacher participants as well as recorded interviews. Both sets of qualitative data were then analyzed via a coding process. 

According to the authors, the teacher training unit “served to disrupt the [student teachers’] pre-existing normative and ableist assumptions, and better prepared them to teach students with a disability in PE. Importantly, the findings also suggest that the unit provided opportunities for [pre-service teachers] PSTs to explore and enact alternatives to the ‘disability as problem’ discourse that has circulated PE in the past.”

Success Factors 

Alfrey and Jeanes identified the following factors as being key to the success of the teacher training unit:

Impact on Knowledge and Practice

Student teachers reported that the opportunity to delve into definitions of inclusion and put Universal Design for Learning principles into practice, as well as interact with young people with disabilities for the first time (for many), was instrumental in widening their perspectives on inclusion.

Pedagogization of Theory

The unit of study was conceptualized through DeLuca’s interdisciplinary framework for inclusion (2013),3 which sets forth four stages of inclusion: 

  1. Normative, in which teachers seek to assimilate, rather than accommodate, students with differences;
  2. Integrative, in which teachers recognize differences and address them through formal modifications;
  3. Dialogical, in which teachers move away from labeling and categorizing, and instead celebrate diversity and individuality; and
  4. Transgressive, in which teachers dismantle the idea of the “dominant group” altogether and involve students in creating shared learning experiences.

Supporting the student teachers in the pedagogization of DeLuca’s theoretical framework allowed them to move away from “traditional ableist approaches” to PE, instead allowing them to “expect and celebrate diversity, avoid labels, and amplify the voices of their learners.”

Sense of Safety

Creating a supportive environment that allows student teachers the freedom to explore through trial and error was identified by participants as being a critical component of their learning.

Partnerships for Authentic Learning

Collaborating with the local disability organization lent an authenticity to the teacher training experience that participants valued.

Student Voice and Co-design

Participants stated that the opportunity to co-design lessons and collectively reflect with young people was instrumental to their training in centering student voice.

Summarized Article:

Alfrey, L., & Jeanes, R. (2021). Challenging ableism and the ‘disability as problem’ discourse: how initial teacher education can support the inclusion of students with a disability in physical education. Sport, Education and Society, 1-14.

Summary by: Akane Yoshida — Akane believes in the MARIO Approach because it puts student agency at the heart of the learning and goal-setting process. She loves how the MARIO Framework operationalizes this process and utilizes systematic measurement of student learning and teacher effectiveness to guide interventions.

Academic researcher Laura Alfrey participated in the final version of this summary. 

Additional References:

  1. Lalvani, P. & Broderick, A. (2013). Institutionalized ableism and the misguided “Disability Awareness Day”: Transformative pedagogies for teacher education. Equity and Excellence in Education, 46 (4), 468 – 483.
  2. Fitzgerald, H. & Stride, A. (2012). Stories about physical education from young people with disabilities. International Journal of Disability Development and Education, 59, 283 – 293. 
  3. DeLuca, C. (2013). Toward an interdisciplinary framework for educational inclusivity. Canadian Journal of Education, 36 (1), 305 – 347.

Key Takeaway

While equal rights of participation of children with disabilities in education is uncontested from an ideological standpoint, the degree to which it succeeds in any context is highly dependent on a number of factors. In Israel, “higher perceived knowledge of inclusion policy and higher perceived school support of inclusion were both related to higher [teacher] self-efficacy regarding inclusion, which, in turn, was related to more positive attitudes about inclusion.” (Werner et al., 2021) —Akane Yoshida

Effects of Teacher Self-Efficacy 

Self-efficacy—an individual’s belief in their own capacity to demonstrate the behaviors necessary to achieve their goals1—has significant implications in teaching, where it affects teachers’ abilities to create a positive learning environment and provide effective instruction. Teachers with low self-efficacy are more likely to blame students for poor progress and be less adaptable with their teaching methods.

For their study, Werner et al. surveyed over 300 teachers working in general education and special education settings in Israel, with the aim of examining the following issues in relation to inclusion (here, defined as the “modification and preparation of the school system in order to accommodate for the needs of children with disabilities”):

  1. Are there associations between teacher self-efficacy and attitudes towards inclusion?
  2. Are there differences in attitudes towards inclusion between general education and special education teachers?
  3. Would greater knowledge of local and national-level policy in relation to inclusion, as well as school support for inclusion, have a positive association with teacher self-efficacy and attitudes towards inclusion?

Teacher Attitudes Towards Inclusion and Self-Efficacy

The researchers’ findings were as follows: 

  1. “Greater familiarity with local- and national-level inclusion policy was associated with greater self-efficacy, and the latter was associated with teacher perception of their professional roles and functions, cognitive, affective and behavioral attitudes.” 
  1. This association between self-efficacy and positive attitudes towards inclusion might also associate in the opposite direction, meaning that teachers who reported more positive attitudes had a tendency to report greater self-efficacy.
  1. Greater school support of inclusion is directly associated with greater teacher self-efficacy and more positive teacher attitudes towards inclusion, suggesting the importance of leadership in fostering competence in school staff through ongoing training in inclusive education. 

While these findings show encouraging links between the factors that lead to teacher self-efficacy, additional findings demonstrate that more proactive steps must be taken in the Israeli context in order for these connections to prove fruitful in furthering inclusive education. Only 21% of participants reported receiving any inclusion training. Furthermore, teachers rated their attitudes towards students with disabilities in inclusive settings, as well as the efficacy of inclusive practices, as “relatively low” and rated their knowledge of inclusion policy as “quite low.” 

As Werner et al. conclude, “there can be no policy without a supportive ideology, and no praxis without supportive policy.” The researchers suggest that future studies not only examine teacher attitudes towards inclusion but also their actual practice.

Summarized Article:

Werner, S., Gumpel, T. P., Koller, J., Wiesenthal, V., & Weintraub, N. (2021). Can self-efficacy mediate between knowledge of policy, school support and teacher attitudes towards inclusive education?. PloS one, 16(9), e0257657.

Summary by: Akane Yoshida — Akane believes in the MARIO Approach because it puts student agency at the heart of the learning and goal-setting process. She loves how the MARIO Framework operationalizes this process and utilizes systematic measurement of student learning and teacher effectiveness to guide interventions.

Additional References:

  1. Carey, M. & Forsyth, A. (2009). “Teaching tip sheet: self-efficacy”. APA.

Key Takeaway: Teacher language within general and special education classrooms differs for students with autism, resulting in potentially negative impacts. Numerous studies have shown that open-ended questioning and language-rich environments are linked to positive academic achievement and communication development, especially for students with disabilities like autism who may struggle in these areas. —Amanda Jenkins

By analyzing six types of teacher language (open-ended questions, language models, close-ended questions, directives, indirect requests, and fill-ins), Sparapani et al. (2021) found that teachers generally use more directives and close-ended questions when interacting with students with autism, “potentially limiting their opportunities to engage in rich exchanges that support learning and development.”  

The study looked at teacher language in kindergarten to 2nd grade general and special education classrooms and found that while special education classrooms had more language usage overall, both settings had language that consisted primarily of close-ended questions and directives (69% in special education classes, 60% in general education). Open-ended questions were rarely asked in either setting to students with or without autism. Numerous studies and research have shown open-ended questioning fosters active engagement, improves communication skills, decreases problem behaviors, and increases academic growth. 

As Sparapani et al. state, “These data might suggest a need for teachers to include scaffolds, modifications, materials, and/or other adaptations into classroom activities rather than rely on oral language, such as the use of directives and/or close-ended questions, for students with limited language and lower cognitive skills.” More research and development needs to be done to provide teachers with an understanding of the impact their language and questioning practices have on their students.

The authors also indicated that teacher language is related to the individual student’s symptom severity, vocabulary skills, and cognitive ability. The study used multiple standardized tests to determine base-line levels of functioning and skills of the individual participants. Then the researchers focused on the individual student experiences in general and special education settings through the use of video observations and analysis. In both settings, students exhibiting more severe autism symptoms were addressed with mostly directives and significantly less open-ended questions. Special education teachers were more likely to address individual students and general education teachers addressed students in groups more often. As Sparapani et al. state in the findings, “the language environment within special education classrooms may not adequately prepare students for the linguistic and social pragmatic directives within general education classrooms . . . [and] may create an instructional barrier for learners with autism who transition between settings.”  

As special education policy focuses on creating a least restrictive environment and as inclusion/collaborative classroom models increasingly become the norm, students with autism are spending more of their academic time in the general education setting.  This study highlights that it is the teachers and paraprofessionals responsibility to monitor the language used in their teaching practices and to ensure a language-rich classroom experience. Best practices, such as using open-ended questioning and language models, give all students the opportunity to develop academic and communication skills vital to success.

Summarized Article:

Sparapani, N., Reinhardt, V. P., Hooker, J. L., Morgan, L., Schatschneider, C., & Wetherby, A. M. (2021). Evaluating Teacher Language Within General and Special Education Classrooms Serving Elementary Students with Autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Published.

Summary by: Amanda Jenkins—Amanda strives to help students effectively communicate their strengths, weaknesses, and goals, and believes the MARIO Framework provides the structure and foundational skills for students to take ownership of their learning, inside and outside of school.

Key Takeaway: School climate is a critical component for successful school outcomes. The type of engagement occurring between students, faculty, and the community, the level of safety, and environmental factors all affect school climate. With school-wide programs focusing on specific domains, like School-wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports for discipline and social and emotional learning for safety, schools can change the perceptions and overall climate. – Ashley Parnell

A safe, supportive school climate is critical for school effectiveness. From teacher longevity, satisfaction, and stress to student academic achievement, problem behavior, and social-emotional health, the impact of school climate on all stakeholders is well supported by research. 

The association of school climate and key school outcomes supports the need for educators to be concerned with creating and sustaining a healthy school climate. Yet, evidence regarding ways to implement change remains limited and reviews focusing on the effects of intervention to improve school climate have not been conducted.

In this systematic review, Charlton, Moulton, Sabey, and West examined methodological quality and findings from 18 experimental studies evaluating the effects of schoolwide intervention programs on teacher and student perceptions of school climate.

Specifically, school climate refers to the comprehensive social and physical conditions, which involve three critical/core domains (DoE, 2014): 

  • Engagement. Relationships between students, teachers, families, and the broader community.
  • Safety. Schools and school-related activities where students are safe from violence, bullying, harassment, and controlled substance use.
  • Environment. Facilities, resource & technology access, teacher-student ratios, and teacher-student retention.

Researchers summarized and analyzed all available experiential research on the topic while prioritizing the highest quality literature when drawing conclusions.

Evidence identified supports the following key conclusions:

  • Careful, systematic implementation of schoolwide programs is likely to improve multiple domains of school climate, specifically the engagement and environment domains for School-wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS) and social and emotional learning (SEL).
  • Findings suggest that programs targeting specific domains of school climate (e.g.., SWPBIS for discipline, SEL for emotion safety) seem effective in changing perceptions. 
  • School climate improvement is amenable to change. This review identified evidence supporting the malleability of school climate and the finding that schoolwide intervention can improve school climate.

While these findings are encouraging, some limitations and recommendations of the current study as they relate to: a) the quality of literature, b) definitions of independent variables, and c) measures of school climate warrant consideration. 

Summarized Article:

Charlton, C.T., Moulton, S., Sabey, C.V., West, R. (2021). A systematic review of the effects of schoolwide intervention programs on student and teacher perceptions of school climate. Journal of Positive Behavioral Interventions. 23(3), 185-200.

Summary by: Summary by: Ashley M. Parnell—Ashley strives to apply the MARIO Framework to build evidence-based learning environments that support student engagement, empowerment, and passion and is working with a team of educators to grow and share this framework with other educators.

Key Takeaway: Prevailing research on the experiences and learning outcomes of typically developing peers in inclusive settings present more questions than answers. Lack of agreement regarding the definition of inclusion, as well as poor methodological rigor, can be said to account for at-times contradictory findings. There is an acute need for empirical data collection, based on a common understanding of inclusive education, in order for this area of study to yield findings that would be valuable to decision-makers in the international educational community. —Akane Yoshida

Dell’Anna et al. conducted a systematic review of studies published within the last 12 years as part of a wider project aiming to determine the impact of inclusive education and to “foster a constructive dialogue at the international level and offer a foundation for future directions in implementation and research.” Specifically, the authors sought to explore the “attitudes, perspectives, behaviors, academic achievements and noncognitive outcomes” of students without special educational needs (SEN) in inclusive educational settings.

Once eligibility criteria were accounted for, the research team identified 37 studies that met the conditions for inclusion in the review. Of these, 23 used quantitative methods, eight used mixed methods, and six used qualitative methods. Study locations were primarily North America and Europe, with a minority conducted in Asia and the Middle East, and the age ranges of the students spanned from early childhood through to the secondary years. The disabilities of the classmates with SEN involved in the studies included cognitive disabilities or learning differences, developmental disabilities, sensory differences, and physical disabilities.

The research team’s analysis found the following:

  • Gender and age are the most important individual covariables in influencing typically developing peers’ attitudes and behaviors towards their classmates with SEN.
  • Attitudes and behaviors are more positive towards students with physical disabilities than those with intellectual disabilities and are positively correlated with severity of disability.
  • Peers who have had previous experiences with persons with disability are more likely to have positive attitudes and behaviors towards classmates with SEN.
  • Peers expressed concerns about the possibility that the behaviors and difficulties of their classmates with SEN could negatively impact their own learning.
  • Academic and noncognitive outcomes were, in some cases, adversely affected by the presence of peers with SEN. In other cases, there were no reported effects.

While these findings were the initial objective of the review process, the research team stresses that “other epistemological issues emerged as much more compelling.” Specifically, they state that the dearth of experimental studies on the effects of inclusion in a controlled environment meant that they could not “infer a causal relationship between the use of inclusive practices and peers’ attitudes and achievement . . . it was not possible to obtain an accurate portrait of the phenomenon of inclusion in different countries from the perspective of peers.”

The researchers identify the lack of a common definition for what inclusion means in practice as being one of the most significant barriers to the implementation and evaluation of inclusion. With a “narrow and ambiguous view of the concept of school inclusion” and no agreement on the qualities that define success, the team argues that it is impossible to say whether other contextual variables may or may not be impacting results.

Dell’Anna et al. concludes thus: “[due to the] importance of research for policy-making, there is a need to increase the number of experimental studies that can inform on the impact of inclusion, and establish the criteria for methodological quality for both quantitative and qualitative research in inclusive research . . . within the discussed barriers, the risk is to give misinforming and misleading information to stakeholders.”

Summarized Article: Dell’Anna, S., Pellegrini, M., & Ianes, D. (2021). Experiences and learning outcomes of students without special educational needs in inclusive settings: a systematic review. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 25(8), 944-959.

Summary by: Akane Yoshida — Akane believes that developing supportive and nurturing relationships with students is key to helping them to attain their personal benchmarks for success. She loves how the MARIO Framework operationalizes this process, and utilizes systematic measurement of student learning and teacher effectiveness to guide interventions.

Article Abstract

Designers have traditionally focused on enhancing the look and functionality of products. Recently, they have begun using design tools to tackle more complex problems, such as finding ways to provide low-cost health care throughout the world. Businesses were first to embrace this new approach – called Design Thinking – now nonprofits are beginning to adopt it too. 

MARIO Connections

MARIO utilizes the Stanford IDEO model of design thinking, which is described in Brown and Wyatt’s work. This article also personifies the intentionality of design thinking applications within MARIO.

Key Takeaway: Families should be valued, and we should reconceptualize families as central stakeholders, seen and treated as significant contributors who have authority to influence and impact the trajectory of content and research decisions. This happens when teachers learn from parents who are actively involved in research, design, and inquiry. It shifts the focus by taking into account the family’s popular knowledge and wisdom—expertise that comes mainly from hands-on experiences based on their daily lives, experiences, and needs. —Jay Lingo

Summary: In this research article, Graff explores the Family as Faculty (FAF) approach which emerged out of family-centered care. The idea is to capitalize on the comprehensive knowledge that the families of children with disabilities possess about the children’s needs and strengths. This would create teachable moments for professionals through their personal stories as a way to better understand how to provide the best overall care for the child. This program is an intentional movement for teachers to communicate with families with a respectful understanding that there is value in learning more about the child’s disability through the family’s lens. This program aims to not only provide increased empathy but also effective communication, tolerance for diversity, and extraordinary commitment to partnership.

Despite the numerous advantages of the FAF program, Graff also recognizes that working together is often a complex and difficult process. Some of the main concerns raised in the article are: 

  • Anxiety or being defensive because of previous negative experiences
  • Continuous language and cultural barriers 
  • Being less successful in navigating special education systems for emerging multilinguals

These complexities are even amplified in the multiply marginalized families—families of color who have been historically minoritized on top of having children with disabilities. When assessments are often based on dominant Westernized notions of what educational progress and success looks like or when predominately White, non-disabled monolingual English-speaking teachers are assessing why their child is struggling, they are often viewed through deficit perspectives. This is also why the adaptation of FAF is treated with much urgency. Graff suggests that FAF will provide a platform for families to challenge the existing traditional power hierarchies in education and to question educational power structures that are directly impacting their children.

By making families co-investigators and co-educators, the family is repositioned as active agents of change rather than passive recipients. This partnership is critical when measuring educator impact and reflecting on our own power and privilege in relation to the students and families we are collaborating with.

Article Summarized:

Santamaría Graff, C. (2021). Co-investigation and co-education in ‘family as faculty’ approaches: A repositioning of power. Theory Into Practice, 60(1), 39-50.

Summary By: Jay Lingo