CA Dept. of Education


On Haitus

Inclusionary Educational Practices 2018-19


Shannon Johns, M.S.
Education Specialist

Shannon Johns, M.S. has worked in the field of special education for over 18 years.  She taught elementary-aged students with moderate to severe disabilities in a public school setting for 13 years before beginning her work at the Diagnostic Center, North. Shannon specializes in working with students with moderate, severe, and profound disabilities and has special interests in inclusion, assistive technology, and positive behavior support.



Cecelia Timek, M.A.
Education Specialist

Cecelia received her Master’s in Education from the University of San Francisco. She specializes in curriculum and instruction, inclusive education, the use of technology to improve educational outcomes, and adapting and modifying general education curriculum for all learners. Cecelia also has extensive knowledge in best practices for positive behavior supports, differentiation, and Universal Design for Learning. She has been serving children with special needs in the bay area for over a decade.

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  • new!Inclusive Autism resources


Hello. I am a principal and trying to increase inclusive opportunities for students in my school. My teachers are great at supporting students with learning disabilities in their general education classrooms, but lack confidence and training to include students with Autism. Do you have suggestions and resources that could help?


Great question! Increasing LRE for students with Autism is not only a state initiative, but it also improves outcomes for both students with Autism and students without. The key is to use Evidence Based Practices (EBPs) for students with ASD.

The first step is to look at what tier one supports are already in place. Do your classrooms use clear, defined, and posted daily schedules that are referenced by the teacher throughout the school day? Are classroom free from clutter and organized in a way that promotes a clear understanding of designated work spaces? If yes, great! If not, this is a good place to start.

The next thing to look at is how students are being taught systems and routines. Effective EBPs for teaching classroom management expectations are through the use of Visual Supports (VS), Social Stories (SS), and Video Modeling (VM). You can find online modules for these EBPs by visiting This website offers online training for implementing EBPs with fidelity.

Once teachers have effectively learned to teach students with ASD how to successfully participate in the classroom routines, they will be ready to move on to learning about EBPs for academic instruction. The use of Video Modeling (VM), Reinforcement (R+), Technology Aided Instruction and Intervention (TAII), and Peer Mediated Intervention and Instruction (PMII) are a great place to start. You will find more resources at

  • Supporting a middle school student in general education classrooms


I’m a special education teacher and the case manager for a middle school student with an Intellectual Disability. This student spends about half of his school day in general education classes. While we ensure that he has access to paraprofessional support when he is in these classes, he is resistive to this help. He seems embarrassed to have an adult checking in with him throughout the period. He needs help the help, though. Do you have any recommendations for ways to support him that don’t involve having an adult stand next to him during class?


This is an issue that comes up often, especially as students start middle school and high school. We want to help them in class, and they want us to leave them alone!

There are a couple things I would try.

First, I would identify several students in the class who could be peer buddies for your student. You may even want to ask for volunteers. With the permission of your student, his family, and the permission of the peer buddies’ parents (as needed per your administrators) meet with these general education students. Tell them a bit about your student – how he learns best, the best ways to prompt him, the kind of help he typically needs, things he is interested in, tips for communicating with him, etc. Then set up a schedule letting your student and his peers know who his peer buddy is each day. The peer buddy can check in with your student at the beginning of class or during transitions between activities. He/she can provide prompts as necessary and answer any questions your student might have about what he is supposed to be doing. If the peer buddy isn’t sure, she/he can always ask the teacher or the paraprofessional (who could still be in the room working on another task for the teacher or helping another student). Check in with your student periodically to see if he has questions or concerns about working with his peer buddies, and check in with the peer buddies, too, to see how things are going. Often our students are more receptive to getting help from their classmates than from adult staff members.

Secondly, make sure that the student has visual supports available that help him remember what he is supposed to do, rules he should follow, steps to common procedures, etc. If he can read, these visual supports may be written checklists or lists of rules. If reading is difficult for him, provide pictures (paired with words) showing the steps to complete a classroom routine/project or behavioral reminders. He will most likely need some direct instruction in how to utilize these visual supports to be more independent, but once he gets the hang of it, it can help him be more successful in class without depending on someone to assist him.

Hope this helps! Thanks for the question, and good luck!


  • Inclusion support for executive function and organization difficulties


Good morning. I am a 7th grade resource specialist and support students that attend several different classes. I am trying to help my students that struggle with executive functions, specifically organization and keeping track of their assignments. Do you have a recommended strategy that is easy to implement and can work for a variety of learners?


Thank you for your question! This is such an important topic that impacts a wide variety of learners. My favorite strategy is using a check-in/check-out system using a student planner. Here are some general guidelines for implementation:

At the beginning of each class period:

  • Check in regarding previous assignments and if the student was able to complete them.
  • Ask the student how long his/her homework took her the previous night
  • Provide feedback and accommodations regarding timelines and modify workload or extend due dates as needed.

At the end of each class period:

  • Check to see that the student has their assignments written down and knows when they are due.
  • Help the student prioritize assignments to work on what is due immediately vs. what can be worked on at a later date.
  • Help the student write short and long term ‘to-do’ lists

Thank you so much for your question,


  • Ensuring paraprofessionals know what students should be working on throughout the day


Hi. I’m an Inclusion Specialist who supports students with disabilities in many different classrooms at schools all across the district. Most of my students are supported by paraprofessionals during the school day. Can you recommend a system or form I can use to ensure the paraprofessionals know what their students should be working on throughout the day? Thanks!


This is a great question! Thank you for your e-mail.

Here at the Diagnostic Center, North, we usually recommend using Activity Matrices for this very purpose.

An Activity Matrix is a collaborative tool a school team can use to ensure that a student is working on his/her IEP goals throughout all of the activities of the school day. IEP goal areas are listed across the top of the matrix, and all of the activities of the school day are in the column along the left side of the page. An example is included here:

All specialists who work with the student help fill out the document. You, as the Inclusion Specialist, may complete the columns related to Academics and Independence with feedback and information from the general education teacher, as well. The Speech-Language Pathologist may help fill out the Communication and Social Skills column, and the Occupational Therapist or Adapted P.E. teacher may help fill out the Motor column.

Referring to a student’s Activity Matrix, a paraprofessional should be able to see exactly what goals the student is working on for each period of the school day. Remember, ALL activities of the school day are included, so it is clear that even at recess the student is working on IEP goals. This helps ensure a focus on meaningful activities and learning throughout the day.

When I work with school teams who are using Activity Matrices, I encourage staff to view the matrices as working documents. They can be a helpful communication tool. Let your paraprofessionals know that they can write directly on the documents, making notes to share with you later. For example, they can circle something on the matrix that the student can already do to remember to ask you for the next step or they can highlight something they are unsure about so they can ask for clarification. Most paraprofessionals I know who have access to a student’s Activity Matrix find it to be a very helpful tool.

And – as a bonus – sharing the Activity Matrix at an IEP meeting can be an easy way to show a parent exactly how you are focusing on a specific skill throughout the school day. Parents love the Activity Matrix, too!

A copy of an Activity Matrix can be found by following this link:

Good luck!


  • First steps for setting up an inclusion program


I am a middle school SDC teacher looking to increase my student’s opportunities for inclusion with their general education peers. My students have difficulties with academic performance and social skills. My goal is to increase their opportunities to build meaningful friendships and work on appropriate work in the same environment as their peers, but I don’t know where to start.


Thank you for your e-mail.

It sounds like your district has exciting plans for next year! It always makes me happy to hear about school teams working to provide more inclusive opportunities for students with disabilities.

Your question is a good one… but it’s also one that I could talk about for days.

I would say that my first piece of advice is to set up a schedule of check-in meetings and systems for communication among team members right from the very beginning. Inclusion won’t work without close collaboration and a lot of communication. Most challenges also stem from a lack of planning in this area. It will be important for the special education teacher/inclusion specialist and general education teachers to have time to plan adaptations and modifications for upcoming units and for specialists to share strategies for communication, fine motor, behavior, etc. It’s also important to ensure communication between any paraprofessionals who will be working with the students and the teachers designing the instructional programs. The paraprofessionals need to know exactly how to support the students in the general education environment, and how to best communicate with the teachers when they have a concern (or to share when the student is thriving and needs new tasks). These would be my first recommendations.

Please keep in touch and send us more specific questions as they come up, and we can share other resources and ideas.

Best of luck to you and your team!


  • Bridging the gap between special education and general education programs to support inclusive education.


I am a middle school SDC teacher looking to increase my student’s opportunities for inclusion with their general education peers. My students have difficulties with academic performance and social skills. My goal is to increase their opportunities to build meaningful friendships and work on appropriate work in the same environment as their peers, but I don’t know where to start.


I am so glad to hear that you are thinking about ways to increase inclusive opportunities for your students! The first step is a dedicated teacher that understands the importance of bridging the gap between special education and general education programs.

The first step is to talk with your administrators. It would be helpful to start by meeting with your program specialist and principal to create a game plan for gradually increasing participation. In my experience, successful inclusion programs start small and slowly add new components.

With student in middle school, student centered planning is a great place to start. This means considering each student individually rather than as a group. Think about what each student brings to the table, as well as his or her interests and preferences. This will ensure the student is excited to participate in the classroom lessons and ensure their participation is meaningful. Peers are also a great resource and setting up a peer buddy program can be very useful.

After classes are selected for participating students, it will be important to collaborate with the general education teacher to discuss upcoming units so you can help accommodate or modify lesson demands to ensure they are accessible. Scheduling ongoing planning meetings will be important. If there are paraprofessionals supporting students in their classes, it will be necessary to meet with them and discuss the student’s goals, the level of support needed, and what their role in each classroom will be. The goal is for students to participate as independently as possible.

Good luck! Keep us updated on your progress.

  • Inclusion


I am a 4th /5th grade Mild/Moderate SDC teacher looking to increase my student’s opportunities to be included with the grade level peers. We currently are including all students for recess, lunch, field trips, PE, music, and library. Do you have any suggestions for how to involve my students in other curricular areas?


I am so glad to hear that you are already including your students for parts of their instructional day. This is an amazing first step! Two key factors in starting inclusive practices for academic instruction are collaboration and common planning time. Do you participate in your grade level Professional Learning Community (PLC) meetings, typically held on early release days? Do you have common planning time within your contracted day, perhaps before or after school?

I would suggest beginning by setting up a time to meet with one grade level team at least once a week. Plan an upcoming unit together. During your planning time, discuss ways to include all students together. Talk with each other about specific student needs, both from your class and the general education classes. As a group, brainstorm ways to support different learners and talk about appropriate modifications for specific learner needs. You might offer to work on adapting specific lessons to make them accessible for certain students in the class, or run a small group during independent work times. Another idea is to create an instructional choice board (Tic-Tac-Toe) for students to use during the unit. Taking small steps can lead to wonderful increases in co-teaching opportunities and benefit both the students and your teaching team.

As the education specialist/teacher of students with special needs, you offer a unique skill set that can provide much needed support to your co-teachers. In return, general education teachers offer great knowledge about content, unit development, and project based learning. Together, you will make an excellent team and be able to learn from each other and support one another. 

Keep up the great work!


  • A Paraprofessional’s Role in Supporting an Included Student


I am a paraprofessional who is working with a 3rd grade student with disabilities that is included in a general education classroom this year. The student’s case manager/special education teacher is very busy supporting students in many different classrooms, and I don’t get to talk to her often. The general education teacher is also extremely busy, and I feel that I am being asked to adapt and modify lessons and activities for my student without much guidance. Is this okay? Do you have any recommendations for how we can address this issue?


First of all, know that you are not alone! This is an issue facing many paraprofessionals and many school teams as busy teachers learn how to best support students with disabilities in general education classrooms.

The teachers can, of course, ask for your help in adapting and modifying classroom materials, but they should always be providing you with guidance for how this should be done. It is important that the special education teacher work closely with the general education teacher to discuss upcoming units and lessons and to plan for how your student will participate. They can then ask you to adapt materials and to instruct the student in a particular way, but again, this should always be under their guidance.

I encourage you to voice your concerns directly to the teachers. Schedule a meeting to discuss these issues and set up a formal communication system. Determine the best method for you to communicate with each other – through e-mail? In person at a certain time of the day or day of the week? By text message? Through a communication notebook? Once you have determined how and when you will communicate, try your best to stick to the plan. Communication and collaboration truly are the keys to making inclusion work!

Best of luck to you, and thank you for the work you do. It is very important work.