This article explores the notion of a Lesson Plan for Belonging. A sense of belonging is something that all of us want and need. We want to be surrounded by those who love us, by friends, and by the members of our larger community. Our family, of course, is the closest to us. They are the first who love us and give us an unconditional sense of belonging. But there is more to belonging than the family. To feel complete and accepted we must be a part of the larger community. We need friends who care for us just because they like us. Without a circle of friends we feel incomplete. There is an emptiness that a family alone cannot fulfill. Not to be accepted, not to be included as a member of the wider community, means a life of loneliness and pain for which there is no cure. Society has known about the negative effects of loneliness for many years. Many medical and sociological studies have documented and re-documented the negative effects of loneliness. Mother Teresa may have understood these effects intuitively. She once said, “Loneliness if the most terrible poverty”.
Canadian society in general and the education system in particular do not appear aware that inclusive education is good for the health of persons experiencing disabilities. In my view, the school system approaches education and disability as a problem of “fitting in” academically and behaviourally. Fitting in is so valued by educators that many learners experiencing disabilities continue to be placed in segregated special education settings on a full or part-time basis. They are not seen as not learning in regular classes and as not benefiting from being educated with their typical peers. In popular educational thought segregation is what will benefit these students. It is believed that they will learn more strongly in the company of others about whose learning teachers have concerns. For instance, it is believed that learners with intellectual concerns will learn better when with other learners who share these concerns. Likewise, learners with behavioural or other concerns will learn better and behave better when educated with similar peers instead of mainstream students.
It is very simple. Well done, and with a solid values base, the family of Person-Centered Planning approaches can and do assist to create some remarkable, almost unimaginable futures, for people who have traditionally been written off and institutionalized. It can be a core element in a systems change strategy. So the ‘possibilities’ and power of Person-Centered planning and facilitation have only just begun, and are brimming with enormous promise.