#148 – Leading for Inclusion, with Adra Davy

Unpacking Education January 11, 2023 27 min

Our guest, Adra Davy, describes inclusion as “a promise to our students that each one of them will be a valued, expert learner and a contributing member of the school society.” Yet, this promise does not always translate into intentional action. Davy adds, “We like to say ‘all means all,’ but when we look at segregated classrooms, do we mean it? There’s a mismatch between what we believe and what we’re doing.”

In this episode, we unpack the concepts of inclusion, ableism, and bringing students at the margins to the center. We also explore ways to ensure that all students are academically and socially included in our classrooms.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

True belonging begins with a seat at the table. It develops with access to the same rigorous content and thinking routines. And it becomes truly inclusive when all students make a valuable contribution to one another and to the classroom and the school community.

Jennifer Spencer-Iiams and Josh Flosi, authors of Leading for All: How to Create Truly Inclusive and Excellent Schools


The following resources are available from AVID to discover more about the various components of the AVID Open Access website:

A Benefit for All

Adra Davy points out that there is over 80 years of research supporting the benefits of inclusion. She states, “The outcomes for students are better in inclusive settings, and that’s not just for the students who have typically been excluded; it’s for the students who are also already included, to have everybody’s voice at the table. Everyone learns more, both socially and academically, in an inclusive setting.”

Still, classrooms are often segregated, with some students being pulled out of general education classrooms. When this happens, students often get less than they deserve. Adra reminds us, “Separate is not equal, so our students in segregated classrooms are not getting the same rigorous education that students in general ed are.”

Throughout this episode, Adra helps us better understand the current reality for students at the margins as well as strategies for bringing these marginalized students to the center. Here are a few highlights from this episode:

  • Our Guest: Adra Davy is the Director of Just Education and Adaptive Technology at Northshore School District. She has over 30 years of experience in education, with 20 years as a teacher and eight years as a special education director before joining the teaching and learning department. Adra is also an instructor in the Danforth Educational Leadership Program at the University of Washington.
  • Unique, Essential, and Multiple: Adra explains, “All bodies are unique and essential. All bodies have strengths and needs that must be met, and we are powerful, not despite the complexities of our bodies but because of them. All bodies are actually combined by ability, race, gender, sexuality, class, nation, state, religion, and much more, and we can’t separate those things.”
  • A Shift From Disability Rights to Justice: Originally, the introduction of disability rights was a political strategy to garner civil rights for those with disabilities. It focused mostly on the bureaucratic sector, service agencies, and membership organizations. However, this was limiting, and it inequitably put those who were White and physically disabled at the center of the movement. It didn’t recognize the intersectionality of disability, race, poverty, and language challenges. Disability justice shifts the focus to the people who have disabilities rather than the bureaucracy.
  • Ableism: Adra defines ableism as “a system that places value on people’s bodies and minds based on socially constructed ideas of normality, intelligence, excellence, desirability, and productivity. It is also the beliefs or practices that devalue or discriminate against people with disabilities based on that assumption that people with disabilities need to change or be fixed, thereby neglecting the responsibility to adapt or design for various disabilities.”
  • The Importance of Language: Many common sayings bring negative connotations to those with disabilities. Statements like, “That’s so lame,” “You’re so blind,” and “That’s so crazy,” negatively reference people with disabilities. We need to think carefully about the words we choose and consider the impact on others, whether intentional or not.
  • Fitting Into an Able-Bodied Standard: Schools are typically built on the way that able-bodied people act and think. Because of this, says Adra, “The standards that we have in schools and societies ask people to conform to a non-disabled way of thinking, or being, or doing. When you have that narrow of a focus, you are, by default, excluding people who don’t fit into that standard.”
  • Focusing on Strengths: Adra reminds us, “We all have patterns of strengths and weaknesses.” Instead of categorizing people by their weaknesses, we should ask, “How do we draw on the strengths of all people?”
  • Centering Those on the Margins: As educators, it’s important that we continue our own personal learning journeys. Adra emphasizes, “We are activists. When we know better, we need to do better. And so we need to be activists for the voices from the margins.”
  • Intentionality vs. Intend to: Adra talks about inclusion being “a promise to our students” in ensuring that each one of them becomes “a valued, expert learner and a contributing member of the school society.” Our actions toward this goal must be intentional. She says that inclusion is “a package of things that educators intentionally put into practice, so not just intend to, but are intentional about putting practices into place—and they’re put into place to ensure that all students have a sense of belonging and are also meaningfully accessing the core instruction, so it’s high access and unconditional belonging.”
  • Strategies: Three strategies that are good starting points on this journey toward inclusion are: Universal Design for Learning, a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), and co-teaching that brings special education students into the general education classroom.
  • Students Most Pulled out of General Education: Students most commonly pulled from general education classrooms include those with significant disabilities (intellectual and health-related) as well as those who are multilingual learners, those living in poverty, and those who demonstrate challenging behaviors. Negative behaviors, not understanding a language, and having challenging life experiences are sometimes misunderstood as learning disabilities.
  • More Work to Do: Our guest leaves us with a final thought-provoking question: “I think for a long time we’ve been trying to do a seat at the table, and we’re still not even there, so how do we just move beyond that to the belonging part?”

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • What is the difference between disability rights and disability justice, and why is this distinction important?
  • How do you define ableism?
  • What phrases or statements do you hear in your daily life that might be unintentionally hurtful to those with a disability?
  • In what ways do schools and society ask people to conform to a nondisabled way of thinking, being, or doing?
  • What are the educational implications of recognizing that all people have patterns of strengths and weaknesses?
  • How can we be voices for those at the margins in our schools?
  • In what ways can all learners benefit from an inclusive classroom experience?
  • What are some action steps that you can take to improve inclusion practices in your school or system?