14 March 2024

14 March 2024 panel on Scalable initiatives involving parents and communities

Chair and Executive Facilitator of Parents Alliance for Inclusion remarks on a panel at the IFIP-UNESCO Global Schools’ Inclusive Forum at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France.

IFIP-UNESCO Global Inclusive Schools' Forum 14 March 2024 session on Scalable initiatives involving parents and communities. Photo of panelists before session start (left to right): Leo Thompson (standing), Clemmie Stewart, Cheryl Chalkley, Jasmane Frans, and Jon Springer.

Question from panel moderator Leo Thompson, an Advisory Board member

Jon, you primarily advocate for expanding inclusion opportunities at international schools, private schools around the world most often delivering American or British curriculum educations. How does the work you do relate to scaling up inclusion access for all families globally?

IFIP-UNESCO Global Inclusive Schools' Forum 14 March 2024 session on Scalable initiatives involving parents and communities. Leo Thompson speaking to introduce the panel.
Jon Springer speaking as part of a panel at the IFIP-UNESCO Global Inclusive Schools' Forum 14 March 2024.

Text of answer from Jon Springer

Right. Let’s take an inclusive stretch and shake it out before I start.

It says I’m from the United States on the panel bio, however for the last 10 years our two sons, since the ages 2 and 1, have schooled at international schools, places where my wife teaches secondary school, in the United Arab Emirates, China, and Austria, where we live currently.

The international schools I am advocating for inclusion in typically operate under a status where they do not have national standards of inclusion to meet. We’re talking about a cohort of almost 15,000 schools around the world according to ISC Research, of which my own two Autistic-ADHD children have less than 50 schools globally they could receive high school diplomas from, if those schools had capacity for them. They are private institutions that myself and others have to convince to be more inclusive of neurodivergent and disabled learners, by choice.

Advocating in a space that has no legal obligation to be inclusive means we have to know and build a case for “why” inclusion is better for every child, not why it’s better for the students with additional needs, but for all learners.

With and without legislation backing, I believe we need to scale up understanding of the “why” of opting in toward more inclusive schools on a global scale. 

National legislation is not enough when recent reports are 48 out of 50 states in the United States have a shortage of student support services educators. 

Jon Springer speaking as part of a panel at the IFIP-UNESCO Global Inclusive Schools' Forum 14 March 2024.

It’s not enough when school refusal rates, missing more than 10% of school days, has doubled in the UK in the last 5 years.

Legislating that our neurodivergent and disabled children should have the right to breathe the same air and be in the same building as their peers is not the cultural shift we need. We need belief from all educators and community members that being inclusive of all learner profiles raises the standards and outcomes for each and every learner.

We have institutions to move forward that have professionals working in them with over 40 years experience down to newly trained educators. To bring about institutional cultural changes in education takes embracing discomfort and change across ages and systems.

When we set up our programs that train educators to believe inclusion works, when the leaders of our school believe inclusion works, when we have palpable videos of the model schools where inclusion works, when the public has a majority buy-in that inclusion of all learners benefits every student, then we move forward.

I like my niche working with international schools that don’t have to be inclusive due to legislation. It’s hard, and as we figure it out, the lessons should mirror back into national systems where, unfortunately, legislation and policy, is often not enough to ensure opportunity and education for all.

Slide titled "Ending the narrative of the difficult parents and their inspirational children." 3 images. Image 1, 4 arrows in a circle with the words "advocacy" and "support" alternating between arrows. Image 2, Parents Alliance for Inclusion logo and website link. Image 3, triangle displaying "Multi-Tiered System of Advocacy" with "individual families" at the base, "school community" in the middle, and "global" at the top.

Slide 1 is titled “Ending the narrative of the difficult parents and their inspirational children.” This is my third conference in four weeks. We come. We hear inspirational stories of the success stories of children and adults with disabilities. Then we go home to societies, schools, workplaces, and governments that keep accessibility and inclusion difficult, and create space for those inspirational stories as outliers. The stories are only inspirational because there was an adult, or adults, often a parent, that kept pursuing opportunity against the current. The stories are only inspiring because inclusion of all is not normal, and we know how many children and adults never get the opportunity to be an inspirational story.

At Parents Alliance for Inclusion, we distinguish ourselves as an advocacy organization and distinguish the separate value of the safe space parent support communities provide. 

We believe it’s a scalable reciprocal process, parents needs to find support networks and resources before they have the capacity to become vocal advocates. And, the more parents are vocal and advocate, the more space there is for parents that realize there’s lots of us, and more parents are able to find support networks faster.

We have a Multi Tiered System of Advocacy model. First, individual families needs to find support for themselves and learn how to advocate for themselves in parent conferences with schools and governments and so on. Second, we need our parent communities to come together at the school or local level to collectively advocate for better services where they are locally. Third, we need systems to come together as allies with all the diversity of our communities for national and global action and voice.

This rolling system of connecting parents to support systems and resources, then building advocacy capacity, has to become more efficient. Wait lists for testing and services have to get shorter. Whether we are parents, educators, policy makers, or bureaucrats, we need a sense of team, like we’re all lined up passing water buckets to one another to put out a fire before another child and their family is burned by lacking services, segregation, or exclusion.

Access to support networks, testing, and intervention options has to become streamlined. Peer parent support groups can be part of speeding up this process as collectives motivated to help each other.

There’s moments when parents know their child is different, then there’s the delay to when they test their child, and another waiting to get the test, and another for services to be approved and then implemented. 

Parents can be part of the scalable process. When we know our children need better support, we want it now… not after months or years, waiting.

Slide titled "Building parents' capacity for community engagement and community education." One open access online journal and one open access online book referenced. Links to both (Squeaky Wheels; and School Family and Community Partnerships) in text of speech.

With Slide 2 I wanted to share some resources. The journal article about Squeaky Wheels and Mothers from Hell by Priya Lalvani and Chris Hale discusses how parents who advocate are often seen as difficult, and as not trusting schools. We need to be seen as education collaborators who often obsessively research the needs and possibilities for our children. Lalvani and Hale also highlight how in the United States, as everywhere, inclusion is inequitable, and a mix of financial means, societal status, parent skills at research, and public speaking skills in meetings, has far too great an impact on whether or not children’s needs are met. This is a global inequity not unique to the United States.

School, Family, and Community Partnerships lead author Joyce Epstein is a John Hopkins professor that is a leading voice of school-community partnership. We need more belief and trust across the table to construct our inclusive tomorrows. It’s my belief that as our world become more technological, the human connection of community building, the humanity of inclusion, is also going to be more valuable to our future.

Slide 3 titled "Connecting the inclusive narrative. Better Social Emotional Learning for all students. Better academic for all students. Better for governments. Better for Workplaces." Slide images references chapter by Jon Springer (hyperlink in text), quote from Szumski et al (quote and link in Community Hub section Pithy Quotes), quote by Cecilia Mezzanotte (hyperlink in speech text), and graphic from Accenture 2018 inclusive workplace report (link to report in Pithy Quotes) that shows inclusive workplaces are more profitable and productive.

Slide 3 is about: Connecting the inclusive narrative. Better Social Emotional Learning connects to Better academics connects to Better for governments and Better for workplaces. There’s my own and others research on this slide. We have to connect these dots with more research again and again until it’s an undeniable waterfall. It costs society too much to not be inclusive.

The three data points around the slide are part of the data in the pictured chapter I wrote last year that is open access. There are smarter people than I in this room that can connect the data on social emotional learning and well-being becoming better when children are included, and then connect that with discrete data that when social emotional learning is high in schools, academic results also go up, as Joseph Durlak published a meta-analysis study about in 2011. 

We can connect the huge economic costs to governments of children not being included, when those children grow up to be adults with reduced, less, or no, opportunities to be productive workers as adults, as Cecila Mezzanotte did with an OECD Education Working Paper in 2021. We can connect the positive productivity data and positive work climate data noted by workplaces when they are inclusive.

We need more transdisciplinary research, that includes parent expertise and voice, that moves us beyond silos of specialized information to a global data bank showing everyone will receive rewards and benefits from more inclusive schools and societies. The specialized data is there, connecting information and distributing publicly to all community members, as my nonprofit does, is how we scale and advocate better.

Thank you. 

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