Preparation of teachers for inclusive education in Lebanon
Continuing professional development is one facet of the teacher training programme at Al-Mabarrat Association. It aims to prepare teachers for inclusive education as the main vehicle to address diversity in classrooms. In parallel, teacher training contributes to learners’ acceptance of diversity and the right of education for all. This example will stress how professional development is implemented for the inclusion of learners with special needs. Professional development includes formal and informal models, and targets both experienced and newly qualified teachers.
As regards new teachers, the process includes an induction programme and a coaching process to determine training needs and refine skills.
For experienced teachers, professional development is conducted through workshops at school and at universities and various organisations inside and outside Lebanon. Workshops cover a wide range of topics.
The major learning outcomes of professional development are to:
- promote a coaching process in accordance with professional development;
- equip teachers with the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes to align practices with Al-Mabarrat Association’s mission;
- apply active learning strategies, such as critical thinking, co-operative learning, inquiry and problem solving;
- contribute to strengthened collaboration with various learning institutions;
- ensure that the school environment is responsive to an increase in scientific developments and research-based strategies for teaching;
- train learners on self-regulation and self-evaluation strategies.
The main goals of the programme are to:
- ensure continuous professional development as a main facet of sustainable development;
- apply a coaching process for professional teacher development;
- educate teachers about inclusive education and special education;
- equip teachers with the necessary tools and strategies to teach learners with learning disabilities, and other diverse populations, in mainstream classrooms;
- keep teachers abreast of new research in teaching learners with learning disabilities, and thus minimise the gap between theory and practice.
Professional development programmes aim to train all teachers on how to accept diversity and deal with learners with learning disabilities. They include teachers from all Lebanese areas, because Al-Mabarrat Association schools are located in both urban and rural areas. Workshops are conducted at schools and/or at Al-Mabarrat Association centres for educational guidance. University professors and staff from Al-Mabarrat Association schools run the workshops. Professional development also targets teachers from other schools to better disseminate knowledge and skills on how to work with learners in inclusive settings.
Professional development constitutes part of Al-Mabarrat Association’s mission to continuously train teachers to better serve diverse children from different socio-economic classes, especially orphaned, marginalised and destitute children. A wide variety of professional development programmes is offered, including in-service teacher training, workshops, dialogue and coaching and mentoring programmes. Al-Mabarrat Association’s 15 academic schools and six vocational education centres are all inclusive schools. As a result, the professional development programme for teachers working with diverse learners, and especially learners with learning disabilities, is pertinent.
This aspect of professional development coincides with a plethora of research that emphasises the crucial role of professional development in ensuring equity and quality in inclusive education. This is important since inclusive education cuts across all aspects of education, so every teacher should know how to make education more inclusive. This means learning how to improve the presence, participation and achievement of all learners, and how to support the inclusion of learners with disabilities in particular (Lewis, 2013). Lewis also highlighted that teachers need to embrace inclusive education from day one of their training, so that it is seen as vital to their work.
The European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education (2012) reported that professional development helps teachers to take responsibility for their lifelong learning. Professional development is important to equip teachers with the competencies, skills and attitudes needed to work in inclusive settings.
There were positive correlations between teachers’ professional development and classroom management in the 21st century. This included creative and innovative skills, communication, information and media awareness, computer literacy and information technology. The correlation coefficients were at .295, .349, and .408 respectively (Ninlawan, 2015).
Good basic education is the result of the interaction of multiple factors, the most important of which is increasingly recognised to be quality teachers and teaching (ADEA, 2004; ADEA, 2005; Anderson, 2002; Boyle et al., 2003; Craig et al., 1998; Lewin and Stuart, 2003; UNESCO, 2004; UNESCO, 2006; UNICEF, 2000; USAID, 2002; USAID/EQUIP1, 2004; Verspoor, 2006).
A 2002 study of teacher education reform projects in East Africa outlines the factors that contribute to teacher professional development (Anderson, 2002). In this study, the author maintains that teacher development activities are a cornerstone of all the projects reviewed. The author also stresses the importance of in-service learning aimed at improving teachers’ instructional practices. The UNESCO strategic plan (2014–2021) states that the first strategic goal is to deal with the shortage of trained teachers by providing support for professional development for teachers (UNESCO, 2013).
A study by Almakanin et al. (2018) found a positive relationship between field training programmes for special education teachers at Jordanian universities and the collaboration of mainstream classroom teachers.
For new teachers, the professional development process includes several steps, starting with an induction programme that introduces special and inclusive education. It continues with coaching for new teachers by the co-ordinators, to determine training needs and refine skills.
For more experienced teachers, professional development is conducted through workshops during professional development days at schools and participation in other workshops at universities and various organisations inside and outside Lebanon.
The workshops cover an array of topics, such as:
- phonemic awareness and reading;
- teaching gifted and talented learners;
- classroom management;
- active learning strategies;
- differentiated instruction;
- student-centred learning;
- learning in early childhood;
- feedback strategies;
- effective communication strategies;
- use of technology in the teaching-learning process;
- brain-based learning.
The implementation process includes the following steps:
- Identification of training needs.
- Application of the coaching process by co-ordinators for new teachers to determine training needs and refine skills.
- Model demonstration lessons, where both new and more experienced teachers attend classes to observe and learn new teaching techniques.
- Coaching between experienced teachers to clarify training procedures and teaching methods for inclusive education.
- Training teachers on the active learning strategies of co-operative learning, inquiry learning, differentiated instruction and problem solving.
- Teachers attending each other’s classes to exchange expertise in applying active learning strategies.
- Training on effective communication skills and active listening.
- Final evaluation for the teaching-learning process and of teachers, based on a comprehensive approach that is flexible and quick to administer.
- Applying the co-teaching model. This is a service delivery model in which the general education teacher and special education teacher or other specialists combine their expertise to jointly teach a heterogeneous group of learners, some of whom have disabilities or other special needs, in a single classroom for part or all of the school day.
As for time scale, professional development is an on-going process and takes place throughout the school year. It targets all teachers in schools, in collaboration with experienced teachers in schools, co-ordinators and universities.
- Learners with special needs were prepared to sit the Official Examinations at 12th grade, which are mandated by the Lebanese educational system. Consequently, they successfully pursued university or vocational education.
- Teachers participated in drafting the National Plan for Inclusive Education, initiated by the Ministry of Education, in order to start implementation of inclusive education in public schools.
- The Director of the Inclusion Programme at Al-Mabarrat Association participated in the Expert Meeting on Creating Tools for Inclusive Education in the Arab States.
- The Director of the Inclusion Programme at Al-Mabarrat Association participated in the International Expert Meeting held at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris on 19–20 June 2014. The meeting was entitled ‘Moving towards inclusive approaches to learning: Addressing learners’ diverse expectations and needs’.
- Al-Kawthar Secondary School, one of the Al-Mabarrat schools, has become a training site for practicum in special education for different universities, including the American University of Beirut, Lebanese American University and Lebanese University.
- The inclusion initiative has succeeded in promoting a culture of tolerance and co-operation in the inclusive classes, which gradually affects the whole school culture.
- The teachers admitted that inclusion has added to the human dimension of their profession.
- The teachers have become more knowledgeable about learning and teaching, mainly in managing multi-ability classes, planning differentiated instruction and adapting the academic curriculum and educational materials.
- Responsible staff in the Special Education division at one of the Al-Mabarrat schools (Al-Kawthar Secondary School) have prepared Likert scale checklists to measure learners’, teachers’ and parents’ views about the effectiveness of the special education programme.
The results revealed a positive effect:
- 89% of learners expressed the view that inclusive education helped them to develop friendships with peers without disabilities;
- 88.7% of teachers expressed the view that inclusive practices have enriched their teaching experience;
- 100% of mainstream teachers expressed the view that inclusive education improves academic achievement for learners with special needs;
- 83% of parents acknowledged the positive effect of inclusive education on their children, and none of them would take their children out of Al‑Kawthar Secondary School.
- Teachers are able to:
- plan for classroom management with clear rules and regulations for learner participation;
- create a safe, non-threatening yet challenging emotional climate in the classroom, using brain-based learning;
- give clear, simple and relevant clues to help guide learners to discover the information required or generate knowledge. This makes teaching ‘learner-centred’ rather than ‘teacher-centred’;
- focus more on learners’ active learning and on their development of problem-solving skills through co-operative learning and inquiry learning;
- direct the way questions are asked to:
- encourage the use of higher-order thinking skills (application, analysis, synthesis and meaningful evaluation) to enhance experiential learning;
- encourage learners to ask questions and search for answers. For example, posing controversial questions in order to identify the conflicting views and to study any subject in terms of pros and cons; asking questions to raise issues about the relationship between variables (e.g. climate change), views and facts, causes and consequences and the link between a phenomenon and its parts; and asking questions that relate to making judgements, evaluation and prioritisation;
- engage with learners in all activities, such as presentation skills, use of interactive boards, project-based learning and problem-based learning;
- participate with learners in extracurricular activities that reinforce concepts and help to build knowledge through actual immersion and application of simulation to explain educational objectives;
- give learners the chance to express their feelings and to respond to their questions through active and effective listening.
There is an action plan that includes the procedures for evaluation. The procedures include the following steps:
- Teachers who attend workshops fill in a form that covers the main learning objectives, lessons learned and how they are going to apply what they have learned in the classrooms.
- Co-ordinators regularly review teachers’ preparation and work samples in their portfolio to make sure that they are using the information that was learned.
- Co-ordinators and school principals attend/observe in classrooms.
- Sessions are held between teachers and observers to offer appropriate feedback about implementation in the classrooms.
- Further classroom observation is carried out to make sure that teachers have taken feedback into consideration.
Professional development is an on-going process. As such, there is always a need to ensure that new topics are introduced to keep teachers abreast of new evidence-based research related to teaching diverse learners, and to bridge the gap between theory and practice.
- how to change mind-sets and attitudes to working with learners with learning disabilities, due to high teacher turnover;
- acceptance by all mainstream teachers of the need to attend workshops on inclusive education (which may need intervention from the principal);
- ensuring continuous attendance of teachers at professional development due to school schedules. This required communication with responsible staff to reduce the number of teaching hours;
- providing enough opportunities to observe teachers and ensure that they apply what they have acquired in training in the classroom. Re-planning the schedule for co-ordinators was necessary to overcome this challenge;
- reviewing training materials and making necessary changes.
Future plans include:
- introducing a teaching diploma programme in special education at Siraj Centre. This would provide teachers with a formal degree in teaching learners with special needs and thus professionalise teaching on an equal basis with other professions;
- planning and implementing further training at respective schools to serve local communities;
- arranging more professional development on parents’ involvement in their children’s learning process, and promoting their role as advocates for their children’s right to quality education;
- planning training on topics such as self-determination, self-advocacy and resilience (first phase started);
- training on assistive technology and respective uses in special education;
- training teachers on engagement indicators to ensure adequate involvement of learners in the teaching-learning process;
- including social and daily life skills learning outcomes in the programme, based on types of learning disability and across all age groups;
- training teachers on action research to enable them to be reflective practitioners on the conditions and grade levels at school. They should be able to:
- take decisions related to education management and classroom management;
- learn and improve through professional development programmes, advocacy and application;
- be role models for learners in applying active learning strategies – problem solving, critical thinking and dialogue, inquiry and the use of higher-order thinking skills;
- conduct more training to apply active learning strategies to reach out to all learners;
- preparation of training modules on diversity education, special education and curriculum and instructional adaptations.
- Teachers need to embrace inclusive education from day one of their training, so that it is seen as vital to their work. Experienced teachers also need to participate in on-going professional development to help them constantly reflect on and improve their attitudes and practices.
- Professional development programmes should firstly aim to prepare teachers to accept change as inevitable in order to ensure equity and quality in education.
- Teacher training needs to offer a balance of learning about the concept of inclusive education and observing and implementing these theories in practice, with support from experienced colleagues.
- Teacher training needs to be relevant to the local context and culture and well-managed so that teachers do not feel overwhelmed.
- There needs to be a link between professional development programmes and teacher training programmes at universities to ensure more job opportunities.
- More training is needed on applying active learning strategies to reach out to all learners.
- Training is needed on action research to enable teachers to design studies to answer any questions relating to daily practices in the teaching-learning process.
- More training is required on reflective practice, as it assumes that teachers are professionals capable of reflecting on the school and classroom situation and, thus, capable of making a large number of instructional and classroom management decisions. Training for teachers to be reflective practitioners would enable them to take part in school reform initiatives.
- There is a need to mobilise the support and involvement of teachers’ unions and associations.
- Professional development must be planned as a continuum to develop a community of professional learning.
- Finally, start simple, as inclusion is a process and requires time to be adequately implemented.