10/12/2012 06:39 pm ET Updated Dec 12, 2012

Hope for Inclusive Education for Kids With Special Needs

This is the fourth and final installment of a serial blog that describes the Hybrid Teacher. I offer you my vision of what it takes to make "inclusion" happen well, and how we can best help kids with LD, ADHD and Asperger syndrome who are educated in the "mainstream." (If you missed the first three installments, click here to catch up. Then join the discussion.)

Like Letterman's "top ten," I hope these final five characteristics grab your attention. Do you know this teacher? Are you one of them?

The Hybrid Teacher...

...Is willing to take a risk when it comes for advocating for a student with special needs in her classroom. It takes courage tell an administrator that "This kid will just not be successful without some significant supports -- more than I'm able to give in this classroom even though I'm awesome."

...Examines his classroom practices to identify what works and what doesn't. These teachers are more likely than other teachers to want to work with another adult, ask for feedback about performance, go to professional conferences and in-service training with the needs of individual students in mind, and be willing and able to teach others what they know.

...Knows how to work as a team with the student as the key member. Building and maintaining relationships with the family takes time and a sincere desire to hear the family's story. Giving the family the time to tell a teacher what worked and what didn't in the past, or what the struggles are around homework, yields data that may be more important than any test score. Reaching out to physicians to get and give information if medication or health issues are involved is an important skill. Working with ancillary personnel in the school (speech therapists, occupational therapists, etc.) and helping them help the teacher incorporate therapeutic interventions in the classroom is critically important.

...Understands that cultural and language factors play an important role in learning. Just because a student "speaks good English" doesn't rule out the possibility that there is confusion between the first and second language or that delays in language processing or reading are related to the simultaneous translation that's going on in the student's head. Hybrid Teachers are able to read subtle but important behaviors such as eye contact or physical proximity, and accurately interpret them in the social/cultural context of the child. They know how to differentiate a language difference from a learning disability or know who to ask.

...Is able to "cover the curriculum" by understanding the child. To consider each child as a unique individual is for these teachers not just a euphemism; this belief is acted upon minute by minute, even in large and diverse classrooms. Each child is connected to the teacher by a line. For some students, it's a gossamer spider's thread that registers every movement of the learner; for others it's a large ship's cable that takes a powerful action to get it to move. The Hybrid Teacher is connected to kids and kids are connected to this teacher most of the time. This allows the teacher to be responsive to not only the student with LD, but to all learners in the classroom.

I know that there are other traits that distinguish this kind of teacher. I invite you to add to this list, and to say why you think these traits in a teacher might help to improve teaching and learning when it comes to kids with special needs (and others).

By the way, I forgot to mention: The Hybrid Teacher is always a twin, or has been cloned, so that one of them can sleep, eat, do research on best teaching practices and go to the toilet while the other teaches.

In all seriousness, it is a delight to watch these teachers in action. If you know what you are looking for, you'll find them in every school. They may be young or old; they can be professionally trained or "natural" teachers. Parents need to seek them out, reward them, advocate for more time, money and resources to support them, praise them for their work and bring them flowers. If a child gets one of these teachers every two or three years, he or she is probably going to be ok. Administrators need to pay these people more money, heap words of praise upon them and show them off more. They are the hope for children with LD, ADHD and other special needs. in these changing and challenging times, my experience suggests that we have reason to be hopeful.

Stay tuned for future blogs.