Budgetary Worm in the Inclusive Apple

By Andrea Gringhuis, Cindy Matheson and Tammy Nicks


About the Authors 

Andrea Gringhuis teaches middle school humanities and is an inclusion coach in Red Deer Catholic Regional Division at Ecole Mother Teresa School in Sylvan Lake, Alberta.

Cindy Matheson is a Student Services Coordinator with Red Deer Public Schools, supporting educational programming for students with exceptional needs.

Tammy Nicks is a Student Support Facilitator and teacher with Wild Rose School Division, supporting education programming for students with exceptional needs at Ecole Rocky Elementary.



Current educational directives in Alberta dictate that all students are educated within the least restrictive, age-appropriate environment possible. In many districts, this education includes a move towards a full inclusion model that sees all students supported within general education classrooms with their same age peers. This article begins by reviewing components and strategies that have been identified in research as effective supports for inclusion. Second, we share the findings of a mixed-methods study we completed to identify what strategies or supports graduate level teachers believe are important to provide effective instruction within the inclusive classroom, given current budgetary restraints. Within the context of budgetary restraints, our research found that opportunities to work with peers in collaborative, co-teaching, and mentoring situations to support inclusion were most valued.



Canadians value human rights, so much so that basic human rights and freedoms are entrenched in the highest law of the land in Canada - our constitution. We live in a country that values the rights of all; we are an inclusive society. In Alberta, inclusive education reflects a value system of diversity and equity. Therefore, inclusive education cannot be viewed as a top-down government initiative; alternately, it must be viewed as a pedagogically sound way to structure an education system that reflects an inclusive society.

In their literature review, Alquraini and Gut (2012) found multiple studies that spoke to the positive outcomes for students in inclusive settings. When inclusive practices are used effectively, students are able to achieve academic goals and increase their social and academic skills in the process. Research supports the theory that inclusion benefits society and provides effective learning opportunities for all students; however, we wanted to deepen our understanding of how to close the gap between theory and practice. We sought to identify the practices and components that lead to effective and meaningful inclusion and to identify the barriers stakeholders face in implementation.


Attitudes towards inclusion

When teachers are active participants in inclusion and positively work to provide a rich learning environment for all students, their supportive approach enriches opportunities for both students and teachers. Research suggests negative attitudes towards inclusion and lack of self-efficacy in teachers can be barriers to including special needs students in classrooms. Kasa-Hendrickson and Kluth (2005) conducted a qualitative study of five teachers who were currently practicing inclusion in their classrooms. Teachers who participated in this study built community and caring environments, working through barriers to benefit all students in their classrooms. Special needs students were valued members of the classroom and community was built with students contributing to the success of all.

Alternatively, Jorgensen and Lambert’s (2012) research analyzed improving teacher efficacy using the Baseline Access Model of Inclusion (BAMI) as an approach for classroom inclusion. The BAMI model of inclusion used for special needs students proved to be an effective model from a collaborative and team perspective, with teachers and specialists collectively providing input about how to support students. They provided methods of supporting classroom teachers to minimize their stress and workloads, as well as methods to include all students across the curriculum. Positive teacher attitudes towards inclusion allowed more effective communication and collaboration, which provided quality approaches to inclusive ideas to benefit all students.

Teachers can deter student success if they are unwilling participants or look negatively on inclusive practices. Montgomery and Mirenda (2014) found that both veteran and beginning teachers with various instructional practices and attitudes towards students with disabilities in their classrooms could be unwilling practitioners of inclusion. Such unwillingness and lack of collaborative effort suggests veteran teachers felt their efficacy might be called into question by a specialist teacher. McGhie-Richmond, Irvine, Wilkins and Netfield (2004) also concluded that teachers’ attitudes could become increasingly averse to inclusion after trying inclusion in their classrooms. Considering that their research was conducted in the United States when inclusion was in a neophyte stage, it stands to reason that teachers without experience in an inclusive classroom took a more positive approach to classroom climate than those who had previously tried inclusion without support or training. At this time, the gap between inclusion in theory and inclusion in practice would have been much wider; fewer supports for inclusion were in place, having a negative impact on teachers’ attitudes.

In stark contrast to inclusive practices, Grosche and Volpe (2013) envisioned a model for Response to Intervention (RTI) that focused on segregated, pull-out interventions to support disabled students in tier two and three categories. This approach was a response to teacher concerns and attitudes surrounding the difficulty of full inclusion; however, this approach to RTI could potentially have a negative impact on special needs students because it fosters a segregated mindset and a lack of collective responsibility. Teachers’ attitudes impact whether inclusive practices will be successful in schools. The research we reviewed highlighted a variety of barriers to inclusive education, not least of which were teachers’ attitudes towards inclusive practices and collaborative efforts with their colleagues.


Effective Components of Inclusion

The research literature outlined specific critical components of effective inclusion. Below we will discuss several of these components.


Role of Administration

One essential component of inclusive practices is having an administration with a vision to include focused goals and support teachers to develop strong inclusive practices. Monsen, Ewing, and Kwoka (2013) found that teachers who did not feel supported by administration were less accommodating towards students with special needs in their classrooms. Loreman (2014) concluded that effective leadership had a positive impact on establishing strong inclusive practices. Administrators who set aside time for collaboration, outlined goals, provided professional development, and ensured resources were available created an environment where teachers felt they could work together and find effective methods of inclusion. As well, Alquraini and Gut (2012) summarized the importance of administration providing time for co-planning, allocating useful resources, facilitating professional development, reflecting on program progress, and even providing emotional support (Bartlett, Weisenstein, & Etscheidt, 2002). Not only do staff who currently work with high-needs students require support, so do those who are training to be educators. University programs must prepare future teachers to meet diverse needs in inclusive settings by creating specific courses that focus on educating students with severe needs. Requiring lesson plans with adaptations for severe needs built in would be a practical suggestion. Both pre-service teachers and teachers with experience need to be supported with ongoing, quality, professional development that help enrich the skills needed to build inclusive classroom practices.


Instructional strategies

Multiple researchers identified strategies that are effective within inclusive classrooms. The use of adaptations and modifications is an important first step (Alquraini & Gut, 2012; King-Sears, 1997; Lohrmann & Bambara, 2006; Matropieri & Scruggs, 2001; Shaw, 2008). Obviously, students require adjustments to the learning materials that address their area of disability if they are to experience success. Changes made can be as simple as differentiating what activities or assessments are used to show learning of a particular concept or as complex as providing a student with a parallel program that matches class content but is at an instructional level that matches student’s the cognitive abilities (Alquraini & Gut, 2012; King-Sears, 1997).

The learning needs of all students should be considered when planning instruction. Kasa-Hendrickson and Kluth (2005) explored the particular learning needs of non-verbal autistic students. Teachers purposefully created concrete manipulatives that allowed non-verbal autistic students to show their understanding of the concepts in a different way, learn curricular content, and demonstrate their learning abilities. Flem, Moen, and Gudmundsdottir (as cited by Loreman, 2014) outlined how instruction for different learning styles and engaging multiple intelligences not only benefits students with special needs, but also supports the different learning styles of all students.

Research also identified many evidence-based instructional practices currently being used within schools that supported inclusion. Two examples of these practices were cooperative learning and inquiry learning (Alquraini & Gut, 2012; King-Sears, 1997), which allowed for the utilization of adaptations and modifications and helped foster the development of positive peer interactions (King-Sears, 1997; Matropieri & Scruggs, 2001), which was an important component of inclusion. The implementation of cooperative and inquiry learning, however, required that teachers provide a higher level of support and guidance. Explicit, direct instruction surrounding appropriate social interactions and communication skills was needed to support both typically developing peers and students with disabilities (King-Sears, 1997; Shaw, 2008).

King-Sears (1997) and Shaw (2008) also further emphasized the need for concrete, explicit instruction in all subjects, specifically to help students in connect prior knowledge and generalize new information and skills. Often students required additional practice of new skills and help developing their own individual strategies and tools to be able to apply new ideas. Overall, the wide variety of strategies and supports shown to be successful can feel particularly overwhelming and daunting to a classroom teacher. This reality points to the reason why, throughout the literature reviewed, the vital factor identified for successful inclusion was collaboration.



The dominant factor that emerged as essential to effective inclusion was the importance of collaborative mindsets and processes that support effective inclusion practices. Liasidou and Antoniou (2013) noted that, when a system of pull-out interventions was used, communication tended to break down between special education and general education teachers. This communication breakdown negatively impacted developing inclusive practices in schools. Students were often forced out of general classrooms into segregated classrooms with special education teachers. However, this type of pull-out between general education teachers and special education teachers created a culture of distrust, which often caused special education teachers to be looked upon negatively and prevented a lack of collaborative efforts to benefit classroom teachers, special education teachers, and most importantly students.

Cross, Traub, Hutter-Pishgahi, and Shelton (2004) identified a need for collective responsibility of all adults to support the inclusion of special needs students in the regular classroom. General education teachers, special education teachers, therapists, and parents all need to work together to provide supports and adaptations for the academic, social or functional goals of individual students. All adults should move fluidly between the roles of implementer, informant, planner, developer, and trainer (p. 180) to effectively support individual children.

Cross et al. (2004) added that the collaborative relationship between parent and program staff was “critical to the success of the inclusive experience” (p. 176). Cummings, Sills-Busio, Barker, and Dobbins’s (2015) study of the Partnerships in Early Education: Relationships with Supports (PEERS) program found that dialogue and collaboration between parents and educators served as a powerful form of professional development enabling educators to support successful inclusion.

A final significant collaborative relationship necessary for successful inclusion was between therapists and the classroom teacher (Cross et al., 2004). As more students with significant disabilities are included in an inclusive classroom, their physical and developmental goals will need to be implemented within the classroom environment. Therapists and educators must work together to ensure solid coordination of services and ongoing communication between all stakeholders.


Barriers/Special Considerations

Despite proven positive benefits of inclusion and widespread understanding of the factors that lead to successful inclusion, barriers remain for teachers. Teachers experience unique challenges to inclusion, particularly in higher grades because secondary education is unique compared to elementary education. Mastropieri and Scruggs (2001) noted that challenges to inclusion at the secondary level link to higher emphasis on content knowledge, the need for more developed independent study skills in students, and the generally faster pace of classroom instruction. Additionally, the focus on high-stakes testing adds pressure to secondary teachers, and some teachers may even abandon certain instructional strategies as they push to cover test content.

Hardy (as cited by Mastropieri and Scruggs, 2001) reported that a co-teaching model in which the general education teacher and the special education teacher could plan for adaptations together and then split the instruction of content and strategies was successful in a study of four high school Biology classes. However, a general education teacher indicated that, without this collaboration and in-class support, she would discontinue the adaptations and new teaching practices outside of the co-teaching framework. If an educator chooses to abandon proven practices, one must ask why? It might come down to the simple fact that one effective person can never be as effective as two effective people.

McGhie-Richmond, Loreman, Cizman, and Lupart’s (2013) research noted that overcoming negative teacher attitudes was especially vital at the secondary level in rural Alberta. In their study, elementary teachers held more positive attitudes towards inclusion than their secondary counterparts. A possible reason for this discrepancy could be that elementary teachers see education more holistically, whereas secondary teachers may focus more on content delivery with less flexible curriculum. Considering this study took place in a school division known for its prominent policy of inclusion, which provided extensive professional development to teachers on differentiated instruction, response to intervention, assistive technology, and assessment for learning, one must take the recorded negativity of secondary teachers to heart.

O’Rourke (2015) took a business approach looking at inclusion through the lens of consumerism; he used consumers’ resistance to new products to understand why inclusion has been such a tough sell to classroom teachers. He stressed that the sticking point is putting inclusion into practice, not the theory of inclusion itself. Inclusion is a time-consuming undertaking and teachers are the on the front lines of this undertaking. Without including teachers in the benefits, the full adoption of this practice could be delayed. Possibly, if inclusion is perceived by teachers to be a top down initiative, the drive to implement strategies may continue to be elusive. O’Rourke recognized the need to market inclusion to teachers better so they have the impetus needed to move forward over the barriers to effective inclusion

Lohrmann and Bambara’s (2006) research found that, even when secondary teachers had positive experiences with inclusion, they could also envision a student with needs too severe for them to handle in an inclusive setting. Teachers involved in their study had in-class support personnel who assisted them with adaptations or provided one-to-one assistance when needed. Despite positive changes in teacher attitude and the desire to meet diverse learning needs, most teachers involved in the study said they would not be able to successfully include the focus student in the absence of the in-class support of a special education teacher.

Although extensive research confirms how to successfully implement inclusion, barriers between theory and practice still exist - the main barrier being that teachers need a team player by their sides on the front lines of diverse classrooms.


Purpose of our Study

Considering the current economic downturn in Alberta, tough fiscal decisions are pending in many divisions and schools about how to allocate limited dollars. The purpose of our study was to determine, given current budgetary constraints, what areas the limited dollars should be spent on to support inclusive practices.



A survey was conducted with a cohort from the University of Alberta Masters of Education program based in Red Deer, Alberta, during the summer of 2016. The participants from this cohort had taught for an average of 11 years. The longest serving teacher had taught for 24 years, and the shortest serving teacher for five years. The cohort consisted of two elementary teachers, four middle school teachers, and four high school teachers. The gender breakdown was eight females and two males.



Participants completed a survey questionnaire asking them to rank inclusion practices in order of importance to provide quantitative research data and also participated in a small focus group to further engage their perspectives (see Appendix for a copy of the survey). Qualitative data were collected by participants individually providing their ideas to an open-ended question. To build our survey instrument, we selected inclusion practices based on the information gathered through the initial literature review. These practices were placed in alphabetical order to limit any researcher bias that may be present.

Participants completed both components of the survey independently in 15 minutes. The cohort separated into focus groups of three, three and four; focus group conversations were audio recorded as they discussed their responses to the open-ended question for up to 20 minutes.



When analyzing the results, the data was added for each column as a way to rank the importance from highest to lowest. These totals were converted into percentages to determine what participants viewed as priority practices (see Table 1). The written responses and audio recordings were reviewed to identify common themes.

Analysis of the data found that collaboration (including spending time with a special education coordinator, co-teaching, and scheduled time for collaboration) was a priority for teachers. These areas were ranked in the top three (see Table 1). Professional development for instructional strategies was also a preference for teachers. The study found that classroom sensory materials, adapted classroom support, and assistive technology were less important to classroom teachers, although teachers still found merit for the use of supportive materials for some students if these were used effectively.


Table 1


Priority Practices

by %

Scheduled Time for Collaboration


Planning time with Special Education Support Teachers


Co-teaching - Team Teaching


Professional Development on instructional strategies


Professional Development on Specific learner profiles


Adapted Classroom Resources


Educational Assistant Support


Assistive Technology


Classroom Sensory Materials


Other (Less Paperwork)















Analysis of the qualitative data revealed three themes. Collaboration and planning between multiple teachers was the budgetary priority. The majority of participants spoke to the importance of cross-grade and cross-curricular collaboration as the primary need in schools. The pooling of materials and lessons was also seen as valuable, with one teacher suggesting the provision of a common space for all teachers to house their resources. The final theme was the idea of multi-grade organization of students based on needs versus age.



The literature review and data supported collaboration as a priority when considering budgets. Special education teachers supporting classroom teachers and co-teaching practices were also identified as priorities for supporting an inclusive model. Interestingly, educational assistant support was less of a priority to teachers than we expected. This lack of support was due to inconsistent skills and training of educational assistants and an inability to rely on having a classroom assistant due to budgetary constraints districts face. This lack of skilled educational assistants implies the need, especially in rural schools, for re-evaluation of minimum training or professional development provided for educational assistants. In conclusion, a small sample size limited the data. Consulting a broader range of stakeholders including parents and administrators would provide further direction as to priorities. Supporting collaborative efforts through funding will ensure inclusion remains effective during economically difficult times.



Alquraini, T., & Gut, D. (2012). Critical components of successful inclusion of students with severe disabilities: literature review. International Journal of Special Education 27(1), 42-59. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ979712

Bartlett, L.D., Weisenstein, G.R., & Etscheidt, S. (2002). Successful inclusion for educators’ leaders. Columbus, OH: Merrill Prentice Hall.

Cross, A., Traub, K.E., Hutter-Pishgahi, L., & Shelton, G. (2004). Elements of successful inclusion for children with significant disabilities. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 24(3), 169-183. doi: 10.1177/02711214040240030401

Cummings, K. P., Sills-Busio, D., Barker, A. F., & Dobbins, N. (2015). Parent-professional partnerships in early education: Relationships for effective inclusion of students with disabilities. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 36(4), 309-323. doi:10.1080/10901027.2015.1105329

Flem, A., T. Moen, and S. Gudmundsdottir. (2014). Towards inclusive schools; a study of inclusive education in practice. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 19(1), 86-98.

Grosche, M., & Volpe, R. (2013). Response-to-intervention (RTI) as a model to facilitate inclusion for students with learning and behaviour problems (English). European Journal of Special Needs Education, 28(3), 254-269. doi: 10.1080/08856257.2013.768452

Hardy, S.D. (2001). A qualitative study of the instructional behaviors and practices of a dyad of educators in self-contained and inclusive co-taught secondary biology classrooms during a nine-week science instruction grading period. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, George Mason University.

Harrington, S. A. (1997). Full inclusion for students with learning disabilities: a review of the evidence. The School Community Journal, 7(1), 63-71. Retrieved from http://www.adi.org/journal/ss97/harringtonspring1997.pdf

Jorgensen, C. M., & Lambert, L. (2012). Inclusion means more than just being "in:" planning full participation of students with intellectual and other developmental disabilities in the general education classroom. International Journal of Whole Schooling, 8(2), 21-36. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov.login.ezproxy.library.ualberta.ca/contentdelivery/servlet/ERICServlet?accno=EJ991531

Kasa-Hendrickson, C., & Kluth, P. (2005). "We have to start with inclusion and work it out as we go": purposeful inclusion for nonverbal students with autism. International Journal of Whole Schooling, 2(1), 2-14. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov.login.ezproxy.library.ualberta.ca/contentdelivery/servlet/ERICServlet?accno=EJ854552

King-Sears, M. E. (1997). Best academic practices for inclusive classrooms. Focus on Exceptional Children, 29(7), 1-21. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/234597844_Best_Academic_Practices_for_Inclusive_Classrooms

Liasidou, A., & Antoniou, A. (2013). A special teacher for a special child? Reconsidering the role of the special education teacher within the context of an inclusive education reform agenda (English). European Journal of Special Needs Education, 28(4), 494-506. doi: 10.1080/08856257.2013.820484

Lohrmann, S., & Bambara, L. M. (2006). Elementary education teachers’ beliefs about essential supports needed to successfully include students with developmental disabilities who engage in challenging behaviors. Research & Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 31(2), 157-173. doi: 10.1177/154079690603100208

Loreman, T. (2014). Measuring inclusive education outcomes in Alberta, Canada. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 18(5), 459-483. doi:10.1080/13603116.2013.788223

Mastropieri, M.A., & Scruggs, T.E. (2001). Promoting inclusion in secondary classrooms. Learning Disability Quarterly, 24, 265-274. Retrieved from http://ldq.sagepub.com/content/24/4/265.short#cited-by

McGhie-Richmond, D., Irvine, A., Loreman, T., Cizman, J.L., & Lupart, J. (2013). Teacher perspectives on inclusive education in rural Alberta, Canada. Canadian Journal of Education, 36(1), 195-239. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/canajeducrevucan.36.1.195

Monsen, J. J., Ewing, D. L., & Kwoka, M. (2014). Teachers' attitudes towards inclusion, perceived adequacy of support and classroom learning environment. Learning Environments Research, 17(1), 113-126. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org.login.ezproxy.library.ualberta.ca/10.1007/s10984-013-9144-8

Montgomery, A., & Mirenda, P. (2014). Teachers' self-efficacy, sentiments, attitudes, and concerns about the inclusion of students with developmental disabilities. Exceptionality Education International, 24(1), 18-32. Retrieved from http://ir.lib.uwo.ca.login.ezproxy.library.ualberta.ca/eei/vol24/iss1/3/

O'Rourke, J. (2015). Inclusive schooling: if it's so good – why is it so hard to sell? International Journal of Inclusive Education, 19(5), 530-546. doi: 10.1080/13603116.2014.954641

Shaw, S. R. (2008). An educational programming framework for a subset of students with diverse learning needs: borderline intellectual functioning. Intervention in School & Clinic, 43(5), 291-299. doi: 10.1177/1053451208314735

Wilkins, T., & Nietfeld, J.L. (2004). The effect of a school-wide inclusion training programme upon teachers’ attitudes about inclusion. Journal of Research in Special Education Needs, 4(3), 115-121. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-3802.2004.00026.x



Question: Given budgetary constraints, what areas should the limited dollars be spent on to support inclusive practices?

Please rank the following in order of importance from 1-9 (or 10) with one being highest and nine ten being the least budgetary priority.


Adapted Classroom Resources


Assistive Technology


Classroom Sensory Materials (fidgets, wobble stools, stand-up desks, etc)


Co-teaching - Team teaching


Educational Assistant Support


Planning time with Special Education Support Coordinators


Professional Development on specific learner profiles


Professional Development on instructional strategies


Scheduled time for collaboration





Open ended question: What creative solutions can you suggest that could be utilized to work around restrictive budgets for inclusion?



Key words

Inclusion, inclusive strategies, budget restraints, collaboration, effective.