During the final session of Leading for Inclusive Education — an intensive, custom-designed professional education program for Swedish educators — Lecturer Lee Teitel asked the educators to fill in the blanks of this sentence, “I came here thinking… and now I leave thinking…”
One by one, educators shared how the program had helped to inform their practice and the way they think about inclusion: “I used to think that universal design was more individual, but now I think all can be included in the classroom.” “I used to think inclusion was just something for schools, but now I think inclusion is a mindset I want to have.”
The 32 educators in attendance will bring these lessons back to their schools across several districts in Sweden, joining hundreds of their colleagues who’ve participated in the Leading for Inclusive Education program. As part of a long-term, still-growing professional education relationship between HGSE and educators Sweden, nearly 225 educators have come through the program over the past 10 years, working to shift practices on inclusion at a large scale.
It all began when Ulrika Kocken, a school psychologist from Stockholm, contacted Mitalene Fletcher, the director of preK–12 and international programs for Professional Education at HGSE, to inquire about designing a program to help expand inclusion efforts in Sweden’s schools. At the time, concerns were growing in the country’s Department of Education about a decline in school performance, while students with diagnoses of learning differences were on the rise.
Citing a unique opportunity to develop a custom program, Fletcher turned to Teitel, knowing that his background in school and district leadership and equity would enable him to help the Swedish educators bring about the changes they wanted for their classrooms, schools, and districts.
“A child’s experience is in a whole school, not an individual classroom,” Teitel says. “Part of the challenge when you are going to scale is to get the entire school system to work toward the effort.” With Teitel’s past work on instructional rounds and how to change practice at scale, his expertise was the perfect fit for the program.
Teitel reached out to Professor Thomas Hehir, an expert on inclusion and special needs, to develop the program, which incorporates in-depth lessons on universal design, visits to schools where exemplary work is being done on inclusion, like at the Henderson School in Boston, and time for the educators to reflect and work in teams.
“By giving principals, vice principals, and special education teachers tools to minimize students being separated from their peers and to develop teaching strategies to include every student in learning was our main goal,” says Kocken. “We also wanted to encourage those taking part in our program to form networks as a valuable tool for continuous improvement.”
The network-building aspect of the program is key. As Teitel explains, “Networks allow teachers to get better at their work.” As part of the program, he makes sure the educators leave with a plan and a way to find time to work together and collaborate. “We measure our success in this custom institute not just by the evaluation ratings the participants give at the end of the program,” Teitel says. “We look at the improvement that has taken place when they take these ideas home.” Teitel and Hehir, who have been to Sweden several times to provide follow-up support, have been impressed with the slow and steady improvements in these communities.
Before Kocken retired, she introduced the program to the municipalities of Lidingö, Täby, and Sollentuna in Sweden, which continue to send educators through the program to this day. “It's very rewarding to know that you all are still carrying on with this important work,” she says.
Over the 10 years, some of the educators return several times, bringing different colleagues. After attending the first program years ago, Daniel Broman, a superintendent from the Lindingo Municipality, saw shifts not only in how the children performed but also among the teachers. He attributes much of these shifts to the program, and now finds himself returning for the fourth time. Even for the educators attending for the first time, they left with a promising feeling.
“Many of us leave Harvard feeling that we are headed on the right track,” educator Aida Kotorcic agrees.