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Breaking Down Barriers to Learning: Cultivating an Inclusive Community

By Kristi Dahlstrom, Director of Student Support Services at SCIS 

At Shanghai Community International School (SCIS), the pursuit of creating a truly inclusive community has been the cornerstone of our educational philosophy. The International Baccalaureate (IB) states “It is the responsibility of every teacher, as a teacher of all students, to make sure that each student is exposed to teaching and learning that reaches them as individual learners.” Since 2018, SCIS has embarked on a transformative journey of removing barriers for all students to succeed. SCIS brought in experts on inclusion that trained our teachers and administrators on best practices. This commitment was further solidified in 2021 when a dedicated team of stakeholders defined our vision for inclusion. They articulated it as an ongoing and intentional approach designed to create an all-encompassing culture of belonging.  By systematically identifying and removing barriers and harnessing the power of our diversity, all community members can learn collaboratively and achieve our greatest potential. 

The team also defined the SCIS Inclusive Learning Principles.    

Central to our approach is the recognition of learning barriers -- both internal and external. These barriers can range from low self-esteem, learning disabilities, or mental health challenges. Addressing them starts in the classroom, with our educators employing the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework. Over the past six years, our system of schools has provided staff with multiple opportunities for training and collaboration collectively enhancing our UDL practices. The UDL guidelines are a framework that improves and optimizes teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn. UDL focuses on the principle that instruction should provide multiple means of engagement, representation, and action and expression. It asks the why, what, and how of learning. It champions the idea that learning should be versatile, allowing students to engage with content, understand it through various tools and strategies, and express their knowledge in diverse ways. This approach not only caters to the unique learning of each student but also cultivates a culture of lifelong learning.  

In addition, SCIS has established robust support systems across all divisions to identify and assist students facing academic, social, or emotional challenges. Our integrated team, comprised of student/learning support teachers, counselors, psychologists, speech therapists, and more, collaborates closely with teachers, students, and parents. Together, they provide comprehensive support for short-term interventions, short-term counseling for mental health issues, resources, accommodations for students with various diagnoses, and long-term structured learning support.   

At the heart of SCIS's ethos is a growth mindset, encouraging resilience and perseverance among our students. We believe that by addressing the holistic needs of our students, we can create a nurturing and empowering learning environment for everyone.  

Creating such an inclusive community is an ongoing journey that requires the collective effort, openness, and commitment of the entire school community. It demands continuous reflection, a readiness to listen to diverse perspectives, and a proactive stance toward initiating positive changes. At SCIS, we are unwavering in our dedication, always seeking innovative ways to eliminate learning barriers and ensuring that every student can succeed. Through collaboration and shared commitment, we are making strides toward realizing a school community that epitomizes inclusivity, equity, and empowerment for all.


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