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Hi, I’m Josh.
Module 9 Josh 5

M9 Creating Inclusive Classrooms

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Creating inclusive classrooms

Why this module?

Teachers are responsible for creating learning environments that support all learners. Teacher aides are responsible for helping teachers create the conditions that enable this. In inclusive classrooms, all students are as independent as possible, connected to others and self-determining in their everyday decisions.

This module is about the ways that teacher aides can help create inclusive classrooms. The teacher aide practices that the module covers are:

  • supporting students in the classroom
  • reducing one-to-one time with a teacher aide
  • reducing excessive teacher aide proximity.

One-to-one may limit teacher involvement

International research has found that when a teacher aide works one-to-one with a student, the amount of engagement between the student and teacher can be reduced. Giving students access to high-quality teaching is the best way to positively influence their education. Therefore, anything that jeopardises this – even well-intentioned support – can be problematic. The research also found that when teacher aides work more flexibly within the classroom, teacher–student engagement reaches higher levels (Giangreco, Broer, & Edelman, 2001).

How close is too close?

Teacher aide proximity refers to how close the teacher aide is to the student. Examples of excessive teacher aide proximity are:

  • sitting very close to the student
  • staying with the student throughout the school day
  • staying with the student everywhere in the school
  • maintaining physical contact with the student (holding hands, having the student sit on their lap).

If an adult maintained this level of proximity to a student who did not have additional learning needs, people would think it was a little odd. So why is it OK for a student with additional learning needs to have this level of contact?

Keeping close to students who need some extra support is borne out of good intentions. But staying too close can interfere with the relationships between the student and the teacher, make a student over-dependent on adults, get in the way of peer interactions and reduce a student’s personal control (Giangreco et al, 1997).

Staying in the classroom

Students who receive one-to-one support from a teacher aide are more likely to be separated from their classmates than other students. This happens when a student:

  • works with a teacher aide at the back of the classroom
  • is removed from the classroom because they are disrupting other students
  • leaves the classroom for personal or physical care
  • receives a reward for positive behaviour when engaging in an independent task that is separate from their peers.

Again, these practices have good intentions but result in students spending less time in the classroom and with their peers, which reduces the student’s access to their teachers, peers and, ultimately, learning.

Using natural supports

‘Natural supports’ are the everyday relationships and opportunities that exist in schools and communities to help people participate and be included. Everyone relies on natural supports. We may think of ourselves as ‘independent’, but actually we are ‘interdependent’ – we rely on people and systems in our lives and communities. There is a growing emphasis on using natural supports and promoting interdependence for people with disabilities or additional learning needs.

Peers are an important natural support. Rather than aiming for a student to complete a task independently or with minimal adult support (from a teacher aide), why not aim for the student to complete the task by asking a peer for help? This presents a two-way learning opportunity where each student learns different things from the other.

Working together

Teachers have responsibility for the learning programme for all the students in their class, as well as the strategies and teaching approaches. The way a classroom environment is set up can support students to participate or it can provide a barrier to participation. Similarly, the strategies used can enhance or inhibit student opportunities to participate in learning and be successful. This means thinking about teaching and learning in new ways and accepting that practices that suit one student may not suit another.

It may be that specialists or specialist teachers are also involved in identifying specific strategies to support students or the whole class. Some schools use parent-teacher conferences, planned meetings or Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings as opportunities for students and their families and whānau to share their preferences for support. These discussions enable teachers to use teaching strategies that explicitly reflect family and whānau preferences.

Teachers have responsibility for discussing plans and modelling strategies with their teacher aides. Regular feedback and meetings are beneficial in order to compare knowledge about student preferences.


Egilson, S. T., & Traustadóttir, R. (2009). Assistance to students with physical disabilities in regular schools: Providing inclusion or creating dependency. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 24, 21–36.

Giangreco, M. F., Broer, S. M., & Edelman, S. W. (2001). Teacher engagement with students with disabilities: Differences based on paraprofessional service delivery models. Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 26, 75–86 (Summary available) and (Full text available). Posted with the permission of TASH

Giangreco, M. F., Edelman, S., Luiselli, T.E., & MacFarland, S. Z. C. (1997). Helping or hovering? Effects of instructional assistant proximity on students with disabilities. Exceptional Children, 64, 7–18. Reprinted with permission of the Council for Exceptional Children

Giangreco, M. F., Yuan, S., McKenzie, B., Cameron, P., & Fialka, J. (2005). “Be careful what you wish for …”: Five reasons to be concerned about the assignment of individual paraprofessionals. Teaching Exceptional Children, 37(5), 28–34. Posted with permission of the Council for Exceptional Children