Inclusion: A Bird’s Eye View (Part 3 of 3 – Down to Earth)

[Image: Viewpoint from the forest floor, looking upwards at the brown-eyed Susan flowers in the late afternoon sunlight, in early September]

Welcome back! This is the third and final blog post about my use of sociometry to visualize class dynamics, with an eye to promoting inclusion.

To recap, the question posed to students was, “Name up to 5 people you would prefer to work with.” Students were also given the option of stating up to 5 people that they would prefer not to work with, but this was not required. So the sociogram represents the current dynamics of the class for that particular measure, something that encompasses much of their schooldays.

As an undiagnosed autistic student growing up, I thrived on the structure and routine of teachers giving specific tasks to me, and also thoughtfully assigning partners and groups. This was especially true when I was moved ahead of most of my peers a year in English, Math, and Science. I did not know the students in the grade ahead of me and it was very stressful to be in a new group of people with the requirement of partner and group work.

In addition to being an undiagnosed autistic girl, I had invisible disabilities of auditory processing disorder, anxiety, and depression, and I was suffering from the effects of trauma. To teachers, I was simply a straight A student, who perhaps appeared to have no needs.

I remember what it felt like to be so vulnerable in that situation, and years later as a teacher I wanted to actually know the dynamics of my different grade 7 classes so that I could play my part in contributing to a feeling of safety and belonging, from the Bird’s Eye View that I needed, as an autistic teacher.

[Image: Fictional Sociogram example of a class of 21 students. Students are labelled numbers 1 to 21. There are concentric circles representing the range of times each student was picked by their peers as a person the peer would prefer to work with. Solid lines indicate mutual choice, dotted lines mutual rejection, and dotted lines with an arrow indicate opposite choice, with the arrow pointing towards the person who was chosen]

Before we go any further, I would like to clarify expectations, because I think that everyone will be much more content with the outcomes if we are clear about what I believe inclusion is, and what it is not.

Inclusion is making sure that everyone has both safety and belonging within the classroom community.

Inclusion does not mean that everyone is in the inner circle, or that everyone is directly connected to one another, or that everyone wants to or will accept working with everyone else! (Can anyone look up the word crowded?)

In terms of this sociogram, what does this mean? Inclusion means that every single student will have the opportunity to work with someone on a regular basis who accepts working with them. Sometimes this will mean that people who actively seek each other out will work together. Sometimes it will mean that people who simply do not reject one another, will work together.

In my experience, the most vulnerable situations for specific students are the cases of opposite choice, where one student is actively seeking out another student, and the other student is actively rejecting working with that person.

I start on the outside of the circle (like an onion), and make my way in, when planning work pairs and work groups. Children who are in the inner circle are the last people I focus on, because they have lower support needs for this particular situation.

[Image: Student #19 and Student #21 are both in a situation of “Opposite Choice” in both being the one chosen and the one rejected, and they are also, at this time, rarely chosen by their peers as someone their peers would prefer to work with, as shown by their place outside the circle. Student #20 is rarely chosen as well, but has a solid connection to #14 who is also mutually connected to two other students]

The scope of this blog of course can not include all of the ways you can promote inclusion in your classroom, but I will leave you with this overall philosophy that is embraced and established by many in the education community.

Dr. Ross Greene says that “Kids do well if they can.” So during the time period between the initial data collection for this first sociogram, and the next data collection for another sociogram (if you’re up for it!), you can follow his advice. Here is a fantastic free resource from http://www.northstarpaths.com/visuals

[Image: graphic of Dr. Ross Greene’s philosophy, by Inclusion Teacher Kristin Wiens @kwiens62]

In my experience, there was always an increase in solid lines, and a decrease in dotted lines, throughout the school year. I kept a “bird’s eye view” on my students, so that I could be aware and proactively intervene to keep people safe and in a state of belonging. It wasn’t perfect, but it was helpful enough that I did it every year even though it was time-consuming for me to fully complete, understand, and apply.

Thank you for reading! I wish you all the best with your classes this year, and I hope that you get to say “no” to all the things that don’t really matter, so that you can say “yes” to what really does.

Inclusion.