Achieve Equity Through Universal Accommodations | Tanya Sheckley | 4 Min Read

September 26, 2022

It’s back-to-school season!  Like mud season is accepted by the locals in mountain locales, back-to-school season is accepted by education professionals and students all over the world.  We prep and we prepare, we get excited, we decorate, we do development and team-building exercises, and we work to become the best educators we can be for this year’s group of students.  It’s important to acknowledge that, especially after the past two years, educators are tired.  As a school leader, if you’re anything like me, you walked into the building this season with renewed optimism and hope for the new year, but also still feeling burned out from the past two.  The summer wasn’t enough rejuvenation for the life force that has been lost in a constant low level, and sometimes high level, of stress.  

As we look at how to make things better for all of our students we look at how to make our classrooms inclusive, equitable, and welcoming.  Ensuring that no students feel left out, different, or othered is a major step towards creating an equitable classroom environment as well as building a positive relationship with all students and creating a culture of acceptance in the classroom.

Universal accommodations work towards accomplishing that goal.  By universal, I mean accommodations that are available to everyone.  We begin with the question, How can we, as educators, make sure all of our students feel ownership of their learning and belonging in our classroom?  We can look at individual students’ accommodations and think about ways that it may benefit all students.  There are many ways to do this. I am going to give a few examples.  

Flexible Seating:  Some students’ IEPs may call for seating accommodations. If we have one student in a wobble seat or with a kick strap and all the other students are sitting in chairs facing straight ahead, this student is made to feel and look different.  If we change all of our seating to flexible options and give all students the chance to sit in different places with different chairs, all students benefit and no one feels different.  If we look at this from an adult and workplace perspective, how many of us sit in one place every day to do our work?  We move from place to place, room to room, seating option to seating option, to do our best work.  When giving students the same opportunity their focus and work often improve.  They show us they are capable and can handle choice and we create a classroom culture of belonging.

Fidgets:  Another area where a similar challenge often happens is with fidgets.  One accommodation for many students is the ability to utilize a thinking tool, a fidget, during class to help them focus.  This approach is grounded in neuroscience and allows students who might otherwise struggle a simple solution to work towards focus in the classroom.  But the question arises, and every teacher has probably heard this one, “why does she get a {fidget} and I don’t? ”As an educator, we probably said something to the effect of making sure everyone’s needs are met and that everything isn’t always fair.  What if we could make it more fair and equitable?  What if we created a place in the room that had multiple fidgets that everyone could utilize when they needed them?  When we allow for all students to participate and we give students the agency and voice to create agreements around the appropriate use of the tools, everyone gets what they need and they learn to work together to build classroom culture.

Headphones:  The last example I will share is around headphones and this one is basically the same as fidgets.  We often have students who need headphones to focus, quiet the noise, and do their best work.  All students can benefit from having access to headphones.  The class can set expectations and agreements around their use and all students can share the benefits.  

When we create some simple universal accommodations that are available to all students, our students who really need them get to use them, our students who would benefit from them get to use them, and all students feel ownership and belonging as they get to create the rules of the class.  This builds community and a culture of acceptance.  Everyone wants to belong.  How we create inclusion in our classrooms and schools is up to us as educators and leaders.

“Do more than belong: participate. Do more than care: help. Do more than believe: practice. Do more than be fair: be kind. Do more than forgive: forget. Do more than dream: work.”

William Arthur Ward

Tanya Sheckley

Tanya Sheckley is Founder and President of UP Academy, an elementary lab school which values innovation, empathy and strength and incorporates a unique neuro-development program for children with physical disabilities. Tanya’s vision and mission show it’s possible to celebrate differences, change what’s broken in the American education system, and that all children can receive a rigorous, well-rounded education. She is an Edpreneur, Author of Rebel Educator: Create Classrooms of Imagination and Impact and host of the Rebel Educator podcast. She speaks frequently on the future of education and entrepreneurship. She is a rebel educator who works with new and existing schools to question the status quo and develop innovative student experiences through inclusion and project-based learning.

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