On our most recent podcast episode, I had the privilege of speaking with educator and Think Inclusive founder Tim Villegas about the necessity and importance of inclusion, especially for those with disabilities.
We had a compelling conversation, but you may be wondering what this topic has to do with leadership.
Too often, people view leaders as those who are out front and in charge. However, over the years I have had the opportunity to lead in many different fields and I have found that this isn’t always the case. Whether you are out front or behind the scenes is not what makes you a leader; it is your ability to effect change in the lives of others. Leaders are not necessarily those who take charge, but those who create a culture of collaboration where everyone is supported, included, and set up to succeed.
This reminds me of one of my favorite authors, Jim Collins, and his book about leadership called Built to Last. In this book, he discusses the difference between “time tellers” and “clock builders.” Time tellers tend to be leaders who take charge, while clock builders are those who create a collaborative culture which can last beyond them. They ensure that everyone has access to the tools they need, so that the group as a whole can grow and succeed.
In my mind, Tim Villegas is a clock builder. He is the kind of leader who does not just charge ahead, but makes sure everyone around him can move forward as well. Throughout his 16-year career as a special education teacher, Tim has advocated for the inclusion of students with significant disabilities in general education classrooms. His deep conviction and passion for the subject have made him the kind of influential leader many of us strive to be.
Inclusion is not just about helping those with disabilities. Everyone needs accommodation and inclusion, and we have become acutely aware of this during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has given everyone a taste of the exclusion and isolation many people with disabilities experience on a daily basis, and has not made that experience any easier for those with disabilities.
A recent study on the impact of COVID-19 on individuals with disabilities found that isolation was the largest reported cause of stress for respondents, with 79% of respondents feeling isolated during the pandemic and 31% feeling very isolated. The study also found that stress from isolation has led to mental health challenges at five times the level experienced by people without disabilities.
On the contrary, Tim and I discuss how the outcomes for included people with disabilities are better all around—in friendships, in finding a job, in stress, and especially in feelings of belonging.
As leaders, we are tasked with the role of thinking differently and innovatively, and this includes thinking inclusively. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Tim as much as I did, and that it helps you think for yourself how you can create a culture of inclusion in whatever position of leadership you hold. Together, we can build a more inclusive world.
- Erick W. Carter, Vanderbilt Professor – Including People with Disabilities in Faith Communities: A Guide for Service Providers, Families, and Congregations
- The Beyond Access Model: Promoting Membership, Participation, and Learning for Students with Disabilities in the General Education Classroom 1st Edition by Cheryl M. Jorgensen Ph.D. (Author), Michael McSheehan (Author), Rae Sonnenmeier Ph.D. (Author)
Russ Ewell 0:25
welcome to Lead different today we have an incredible guest, someone who I’ve known now as Twitter friends for about, I think about a decade of interacting on the internet. And we both started out talking about inclusion. And now, when you look around the country in the world, inclusions made giant steps. I’m not saying it’s because of my guest tonight, but it’s because we’re part of a large group of people who really believe in this and I guess it’s to Vegas and he is the director of communications in Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education is a nonprofit that envision society where neighborhood schools welcome all learners and create the foundation for Inclusive Communities. Throughout his 16 year career as a special education teacher. That’s right 16 years, folks, Tim advocated for the inclusion of students with significant disabilities in general education classrooms, and continues his work with MCI II to empower inclusive systems to change in schools and districts. He studied at Azusa Pacific University than California state university Fullerton, he’s the founder of thinking inclusive, and the host of this inconclusive podcast, we want to encourage you, we’ll put links in the show notes to be able to go over and check out Tim’s podcast. And he’s got a bunch of new guests that I was fortunate enough to be one of them that will be appearing on there. And I want to highlight an article for you as well, that Tim wrote, it’s called the biggest barriers to inclusive education, you’re going to want to get your hands on that article. It’s incredible. And if you don’t have any idea about inclusion, or if you’re really a big fan of inclusion, it’ll it’ll do a lot for both. But I want to welcome Tim today as our guest, first time guests, longtime Twitter friend, and from the LA area now living in Atlanta, but we’ll forgive him for the LA part because I’m in Silicon Valley. But thanks a lot for joining us, Tim.
Tim Villegas 2:15
It is my pleasure, Russ. And again, I forgot to wear my Dodgers cap. But, you know, I’m always, I’m always wearing a Dodgers cap. In my mind.
Russ Ewell 2:24
I’ve seen it, I’ve seen it. I’ve seen the Dodgers gap. What I want to do for our listeners today. And we have a lot of listeners that there around the country and some around the world. And a lot of them are in the technology industry, but many are not. And I want to give them an idea of how did you just want to start them off. And we talked about this last week a little bit. How did you get into special education? What What led you to that?
Tim Villegas 2:49
Well, you know, rest, like you said in the intro, I went to Azusa Pacific University. I graduated with a degree in psychology. And my intention was to become a counselor or therapist. And that last semester of college, I took a class called the psychology of the exceptional child, right. And I thought I was gonna learn about gifted kids. And I had no prior experience in special education. I went to private school, actually Christian, private school, from preschool all the way, you know, up through, up through college. And when I was given an assignment to visit a special education classroom in the local school district, I realized that there was this thing called Special Education, right, and that students with disabilities actually were separated from, you know, your regular typical student into other classes. And I thought that was really interesting and strange. I didn’t, didn’t know how much that would have affected me. But that is kind of my first exposure to special education. And then out of college, I was trying to find a job and not a lot of jobs for Bas and psychology. Right. Something caught my eye as a behavior therapist for for kids with autism. And so I applied and realized I loved working with kids with autism and decided to change my trajectory. And you know, from being a counselor to a special education teacher, so I went to Cal State Fullerton for my teacher training. And you know, the road goes on from there.
Russ Ewell 4:39
Oh, I love the road. So here’s the thing that really fascinated me when I first came. I can’t remember how we first came in contact with each other. I don’t either. I just I just remember going thinking collusive. Wow, that is such a cool idea. What made you because you know my mom was a teacher. She taught for four decades I think And she was exhausted after a school day. And so, and working with kids, and so I’m wondering, What motivated you to take undertake such a incredible endeavor, like a podcast? And, uh, well, I think a site because of site which had tons of articles, podcasts, you built a network of relationships I know on Twitter of all kinds of teachers and psychologist and like, what would motivate you did? Why didn’t you just go home and sleep?
Tim Villegas 5:33
That’s a great question for us. Maybe? Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know. Um, so the that. All I can say is that that was that whole process, what has been so serendipitous and blessed and I’m so fortunate to even be doing what I’m doing right now. Because at the time, you know, at the time, I wasn’t doing really anything that exceptional. I mean, there’s a lot of people, you know, working towards inclusion, including students with disabilities, more significant ones in general education. And I had an opportunity to work with the, because at the time I lived in Georgia, I guess I should, I should preface this, I used to live in California. I now live in Georgia moved in 2008. And then in 2008, I was a teacher for students with significant and profound intellectual disabilities. That’s what we call it here in Georgia. Okay, so I was approached by the Georgia Department of Education to do an inclusion project. And so the district knew my stance on inclusion, and you know, how I wanted to promote it, and I advocated for it. And so this opportunity came up and they said, Oh, I know, Tim, you know, Tim’s the inclusion guys, so why don’t you just talk to him. And so, so I was able to, I had the great opportunity to work with a consultant, Gail Wilkins, who’s still my mentor, we still, you know, while still talk, we still she still encourages me. So thanks a lot, Gail, make sure to send this along to her. So worked with her on including a student with multiple disabilities in general education, and that was in the students first grade year. And we did that project through his fifth grade year. And by that he was in fifth grade. He was included for 80% or more of the day. So that’s your, you know, quote, unquote, gold standard of, you know, inclusion and placement time. But the so the real reason I started everything was because we were starting, we had prepared to present at a conference in Atlanta called TASH and it’s a it’s a national conference, it just happened to be in Atlanta that year. And so in preparation for the conference, I said, Well, you know, maybe I should get on Twitter, you know, and start talking to people before this conference, because I wanted to, I wanted to connect with more people who were like minded and stuff. So actually, it was a it was a Tumblr account first, and then a Twitter account. Okay. And that that’s kind of how I got my started that was even before the website and thinking cluesive The name actually is a play off of a sticker. And I wish I had it, actually, it’s somewhere. It’s somewhere around here. I should put it up. But it’s a sticker. It says Thinking conclusively. And it was from I got it a conference when I went to I was at Cal State Fullerton. I forget what the conference was, but Lou Brown spoke. I don’t know if you know who Lou Brown is. But
Russ Ewell 8:54
yes, I think so. He he
Tim Villegas 8:57
was a little brown rest in peace. He was a professor at University of Madison, Wisconsin, one of the cofounders of TASH, the organization and a huge influence on my life. Wow. And one of the first times I ever heard him speak was at this conference. And so I had this i i kept this sticker. For years. I mean that I’m that conference was probably in 2000 started in 2004 or five minutes, probably 2005. I got that. And I just held on to it because I thought this was really cool. Yeah. And D 1008. I was like, Oh, I wonder what I should wonder what I should, you know, make my Twitter handle and I was like, think conclusive. So that’s it. That’s the extent of it. And I was like, This is really nice. I like this. And so maybe if I start a website, I had no idea how to make make websites or anything. I had my buddy Mickey Mellon who lives here in Marietta. He has a web design firm. And he I told him my idea on my own thinking about starting a website. And so Mickey like, he’s like, Well, I’m gonna come over. Wow. And so, like, he came over one night, he pulled up the computer, he pulled up Bluehost. And he’s like, you know, didn’t know. What do you want? Alright, so what do you want this to be? Alright, okay. All right, done. I’m like, What are you talking about? He’s like, he’s like, yeah, don’t worry about I got it. I got it. That’s incredible. So he just handed over this WordPress site to me. And all I did was just, I was like, I learned everything I could about website design. Yeah. And just start throwing articles up there. I didn’t have no idea what I was doing, Russ?
Russ Ewell 10:48
Well, I’ll tell you that to me. That’s why, you know, we’re speaking with Tim Villegas, Director of Communications, the Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education, nonprofit, 16 years of teaching special education. And one of the reasons I wanted to have him on is is is, first of all, our relationship has been built over a long time of being advocates for inclusion. But also, because I’ve seen you as a leader, I saw you as a leader from the very beginning, when I was on social media, your posts, your thoughtfulness, your growth, your effort to learn how it was obvious, you were learning how to use the tools, but then also your ability to connect with influence and inspire other people. And when we talk about leading different a lot of times people think of leaders as you know, who’s out front who’s in charge, and they think in terms of power. And I, what I love about what you’ve done is you took a passion for helping people, particularly people with special needs, and I think, a love for teaching. And you turn that into an ability to lead change. And I’m not sure whether or not you know, it doesn’t sound like you plan on going out and leading change. But to me, the greatest change that happens in society is when someone like you says, I’m going to take what I believe I’m going to advocate for it. And when you know, you’ve talked about the Georgia Department of Education coming in and finding you I think that’s how it happens. And I’m saying that because whatever industry someone may be in, and today, especially education, if you have a spirit of innovation, which you did, I think that can lead to great changes. So as you’re listening, if you maybe you work for any of the companies here in Silicon Valley, and you’re thinking, well, how can I take what Tim’s done in education and apply it to what I do? Well, it comes down to finding that passion, it seems to me, and then being willing to learn new things, and and just going ahead and doing the good you can do. And you’re good. It’s been a significant when you look at teaching in sort of how it’s helped you grow, and your ability to have influence and impact. What are some of the lessons that you learn in teaching, especially a special education because I My mom always tells me, she always says the most skilled teachers she’s met are those who’ve had some experience in special education. Of course, she had some experience in herself. So, you know, she was she was alluding to the fact that one year, they put a number of special education gets into her class or gen ed class, and gave her no help and no guidance on what to do. And of course, this was many years ago, decades ago, and she said, I had to learn and figure everything out on the spot. She goes, but I this is my mom, you know, she was like, I was not going to fail those kids. You put a kid in my classroom, I’m not gonna fail him. What are three of the lessons you’ve learned that might help our listeners, whether they’re a teacher, they’re a software engineer, they’re an entrepreneur launching their own business? Just what are three lessons you learned from teaching? Cuz I think teaching is a great place to gain the ability to influence and help other people.
Tim Villegas 13:46
Well, yeah, I’ve been thinking about this idea. And I think you’re the story that you just shared about your mom, I think it it highlights one of them is that the kids in her class were just kids. Yeah, you know, right. That’s right. Oh, they so it did doesn’t sound like she was, you know, she’s committed to teaching all of the kids. Yes. And so I think that that is a big lesson, that I learned that no matter who I’m trying to reach, you know, and this, I guess this would apply to the teaching that I tried to do, you know, with, with communications is that no matter who is the audience, you really want to treat them as, as humans, right? Everyone has a story. Everyone has a reason why they’re there. And, and so that was a big mindset shift for me when I was an educator, that I did have a special place where I taught, but when I started learning about inclusive education and reading realizing that kids are kids. Yeah. And adults are adults too, because, you know, we, but we just love our labels, you know, we just love. Oh, the, you know, the, the AAU kid, like, we were just talking about this within our organization about how we use labels all the time. And when I was an educator, and I taught in an autism specific class, you know, I was the AU teacher. No, and these are my au Kids. Okay, and like, oh, how many au Kids Do you have? You know, we got to get those au Kids in the general, you know, it’s like, right, you know, like, we just got, we just gotta stop, you know, stop, we gotta stop labeling. Because when we do that, we really, you know, even if we have good intentions, we really are just segmenting and segregating. Students, even just in our mind, you know, boy
Russ Ewell 15:56
about that, you know, you’re going a direction, it’s really great. So when I ask you a question, sure. Talk disappearance, I’m not sorry, parents, talk to teachers, I’m a parent that talk to teachers. And sometimes they’ll say, it’s really tough because I have these two kids. And I love what you said about people love their labels. I have these two kids with, you know, significant disabilities, and it’s really hard. And they might have a class in this can be in a private school, they might have a class with like, tickets, and they may have the aid in there as well. You know, but there still is there’s a tendency, I think, and I don’t know why, and I’m not a teacher, and I’ve not had to do the hard work that teachers have done. So this is not a judgment, a negativity, it’s more me pursuing, how would you help someone who’s very focused on the difficulty they’re having with the kids who have special needs, and almost getting annoyed by the difficulty of it in comparison to the generally kids? And and kind of kind of not liking it, you know, like, because they have to do that extra work? Like, how do you help someone like that?
Tim Villegas 16:59
Well, I mean, it really does go come down to, you know, this idea that, you know, every single student in your classroom is your student, right? And, and there’s a diverse range of abilities in every single classroom. Those abilities, it might be in my, there might be a larger spectrum in some classrooms than another classroom. But it really comes down to planning. And so what we try to, we try to convey the educators is that as long as you’re planning, in a collaborative way, with someone who knows how to modify and accommodate curriculum, as long as you’re in partnership, and sharing that responsibility, then it’s no longer Well, I have to do all this extra stuff for these kids. So that’s why we really focus on collaborative relationships between, you know, quote, unquote, General, and special education teachers, because, you know, in teacher training, you know, there’s some programs that have dual licensure, but most the vast majority of teacher education programs are, you know, you go to become a general education teacher, or a special education teacher, there isn’t a whole lot of overlap, right? So we need each other. Right, you really do need to people, whether that is a all day collaboration, or it’s just, you know, an hour or two a week, yeah, like, when I was a when I was a special education teacher, in when I taught in a for an autism classroom. Our kids would go into, like, let’s say, a social studies class, a fourth grade class. And so I would make sure that I spent time with that fourth grade teacher planning for when my students would go into that classroom, what they would do, what they would learn and how we’re going to accommodate, you know, their needs. If I expected for that teacher to do all of that work by themselves, that would cause a lot of resentment. Because, because of that very thing of what you said, Now, you know, ideally, I’d want for them to take responsibility for for the learning of the students, but especially at the beginning, when I’m trying when we’re just trying to build relationships and trying to build the expectation that students should even be in the classroom. Right. You know, I have to build a relationship with that teacher. Yes. So I’m really including myself into that relationship, and developing that relationship. And I think that’s It’s it’s integral. So if, if you have an educator who feels that way, I’m wondering how, how are how is the educator feeling supported? Like, how are we supporting that teacher, so that they don’t feel like it’s just an extra thing for them to do. You know,
Russ Ewell 20:19
you know, it’s interesting because my oldest two oldest, and they have special needs, they’re out of school now of out of like, elementary, middle school, the that that’s that that period of time. But I was invited a number of times to come in. And because I involved in technology, I was invited to come in and train teachers, at their schools, the teachers would find out what I did. And so they had me come in and do a whole presentation on how to use technology in the classroom. And then also, I added, of course, on my own, how to use that same technology in the classroom for kids with special needs. And you find a group that was a principal who actually drove it and invited me in, you find cultures, I think, that are collaborative, and then you find cultures that maybe aren’t collaborative. And a lot of that’s about leadership, I think. And I think it’s the true whether it’s in technology, it’s in general business, it’s in education, it’s in sports, it’s are you going to be, are you going to be collaborative, or not, and I guess important for everyone to understand. But it’s a great insight for educators that, can you sit down, and, and and look at it as, okay, we want the kid to be successful, the same way you would in a in a company, not everybody in the company comes with the same talent, same personality, same background, same choices of how they want to do whatever they want to do, but it’s that, that that significant leader who can get everybody to work together. And and I think to that parents can really help. I know, a lot of times we we’ve done is we actually have spent our own money or gone in and met with the teachers to provide support. And sometimes as parents, we’re so exhausted, you know, just parenting that we were like, okay, you know, they got my kid, but with my kids had special needs, I was like, you know, I’m gonna get involved, I’m gonna spend money, I’m gonna make it. I’m gonna make it so that the teacher who sees me coming goes, I’m getting help in my classroom now that I got his kid. And I think that’s important as well. Some people listening may wonder, why are Tim and I talking about inclusion? Why are we talking about leadership in education, and what’s the big deal about disabilities, and I want to give you just a little note, there are 61 million people in the country with disabilities. And that’s important for all of our listeners to understand in remind me, but here’s something important during COVID 50% of those 61 million people rated high stress from isolation. 31% rated high stress from a lack of access to services. And then 27% rated high stress from finances as some numbers for you 61 million people with disabilities 50% 30 some million people with disabilities felt high stress during COVID Because of isolation. One of the reasons I wanted him on is just to be able to put a spotlight on what people with special needs need and why including the matters. So I’m going to come back to Tim on this is my position is and I want to hear yours. And this is how I was with my kids when I started them out and created programs of my own for them. And for other kids with special needs. I always wanted to be inclusive, because when they got older, I wanted them to have friends. Unfortunately, doing COVID My kids have not been isolated, their friends has been able to see them, there’s a lot more precautions taken for one of my sons, because he’s got a more sensitive immune system. And everybody wears the 95 mask and you know, do all these things, but they’re more than willing to do it for his birthday. People came over and stayed outside and talk to him through the sliding glass door kind of thing to make sure it would be safe, but they wanted they wanted him to know, they were they were thinking about them. He takes a walk after dinner, always and a bunch of them came over to take him for a walk on his birthday and go for a walk down the street with and shoot a couple of baskets. The reason I mentioning this as a lot of the isolation I think and you can totally disagree with me is because so many of these kids don’t start out in kindergarten, first grade, second grade, getting connected with typical people. And so by the time they graduate from high school and get into the adult life, they don’t have enough relationships to be able to keep them from being isolated. And that’s one thing that motivates me about inclusion for everyone. But I want to know what you think about isolation whether or not education and providing inclusion can facilitate people that are recovering they become adults not being so isolated. What are your thoughts on that?
Tim Villegas 25:02
Oh, well, there, there’s, there’s plenty of data out there. And the research is, is behind this rest that the outcomes for, for people with disabilities who are included there, they’re just better, like across the board, well, they’re better with a friendships, they’re better with you finding a job. They’re better with everything that we just talked about with stress, you know, wow. feeling like they belong. It’s just there’s, there’s, there’s no argument for segregation in my, in my opinion. And there’s a lot of truth to what you said about, well, if students aren’t included, right? Where are they going to find the friends? Yes, yeah. Yeah, where are they, they’re, they’re not, they’re not going to find friends. They’re not going to be invited to birthday parties, they’re not going to be invited for, you know, hangout times, families aren’t going to know each other. It’s just, they’re already isolated. And you know, what’s, what’s really interesting about this season, we’re in with COVID, right, is that, you know, I don’t know what it was, like, in your neck of the woods. But when everyone was at home, here in Georgia, we had a number of parent groups threatening to sue or suing the school district because, you know, their children were at home, not having access to peers. And they even brought lawsuits, you know, saying their their child was being excluded or segregated. Ah, so, let’s just let’s unpack that for a little bit. Yeah, no, yeah. So you have, you have an expectation, right? That if you’re typically developing, that you’re included, right? Right. You go to, you know, you go to the school or the classroom, that is in your neighborhood, if that’s the way your school district is set up. You know, you expect to go to school every day, you expect to have friends, you expect to have access to everything. Guess what? During COVID? No one had access. Yeah. So the so the groups of people that historically have had access, let’s just call them privilege for just a second. Okay,
Russ Ewell 27:41
we can do that. We can do that.
Tim Villegas 27:45
No longer had that privilege. Yeah. And guess what they did? They threatened lawsuits, or they did they did file lawsuits right. Now. Okay. Let’s let’s just think about Yeah, the 61 million people with disabilities. Yeah, who have historically not have had access right
Russ Ewell 28:04
outside of COVID. There was no COVID. And they are they have no access. Oh, I love it. So now you know why people are upset. Yeah, yeah. And it’s opportunity for everybody during COVID. To go. I know what it’s like now, to not have inclusion. And it’s interesting, because I, you know, I tore my Achilles tendons. When I was in my 20s, toward the first one. And then a year and about a week later, I ended up tearing the second one which can happen if your rehabs not done, right, which mine wasn’t my fault. But I remember walking on crutches and being in a cast. And there were times where, you know, people were just not thoughtful about the fact that I was on crutches, you know, whether it’s going on an escalator and people getting annoyed that you’re taking so long to get on the escalator, they’re trying to go somewhere, or just you’re walking down the street, and all of a sudden, you’re with friends, all of a sudden, your friends are like two meters ahead of you, and you’re falling behind. And you’re like, Hey, everybody, I can’t go that fast. And you start I started, I remember telling friends, I got a little small, tiny sense of what people with physical disabilities have, because that 61 million includes people with physical disabilities. And I love your analogy or your examples, not an analogy or example, that everybody needs sit down during COVID and say, every bit of lockdown that I experienced that we experienced some of the most lockdown of anybody in the country here in the Bay Area, which there’s positives and negatives that depending on who you talk to. Now, you know what it’s like for a person with special needs or his physical disability to have to be, I can’t go to this restaurant. Or if I go everybody’s going to be inconvenienced by me. And so I’m and that’s where that isolation comes from. And I didn’t bother to check it out. But I know for a fact. And you’re alluding this, that stress from isolation takes place all the time, not just during COVID. And one of the interesting bits that I saw that really shocked me was that 80% of US medical staff received no clinical training for disabilities. 56 reported not being competent to treat people with disabilities. And here’s the one that knocked me out, people with disabilities are three times more, I better slow down on this one, people with disabilities are three times more likely to be denied health care, and four times more likely to be treated poorly while receiving care, I’m gonna repeat that for our listeners, people with disabilities are three times more likely to be denied health care, and four times more likely to be treated poorly while receiving care. And again, my position on that is if and I know people like this, because they’ve been in a different pregnancy do if you’re growing up from age eight, to 18, and you have interaction with people with special needs, and then you go to college and med school, you’re going to have a sense of how to work with kids with special needs. Just because of that I have a friend of mine whose daughter’s becoming a nurse practice nurse practitioner. And he said the reason she got accepted into grad school was because she put down all of the stuff she had done and our esports programs and our E live programs. And they were really impacted by it and wandering the program that she’s somebody who doesn’t need the medical school to teach her how to work with kids with special needs. And so again, there’s a reason and I know for some people out there, they say, Well, my kid will suffer if he or she is in a class with someone with special needs. And I understand the pain of the challenge of people have special needs. But why should my kids suffer? For them to be held? What would your answer be to that? Or what would your response be to that?
Tim Villegas 31:54
Well, you know, that’s, we hear that a lot. Yep. We hear that a lot. I think it’s a it’s a mindset issue again, because all students, our general education students, right. So, you know, we have a system set up in the United States, through the federal mandate of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It was It started in 1975, it was called something else. And it’s been, you know, now it’s called Ida, which is a federal protection for students with disabilities to be included in schools. And I would argue, the spirit of the law is not just inclusion in schools, but included in classrooms with their typically developing peers, and feeling like they belong. Like, I feel like that that is, you know, so when we’re talking about all kids and all students, it’s no longer my kids are your kids, they’re our kids, or our students, right. And so, we are assuming, and the expectation is that they’re there, it’s a matter of equity, when we are looking at how we’re restructuring schools to be more inclusive. And there’s, I’m going to get this actually, you know, what I’m gonna, I’m gonna pull this quote up, because I feel like I want to make sure that I say it, right.
Russ Ewell 33:31
Sure. Do it.
Tim Villegas 33:32
You know, I get I have the privilege of speaking with a lot of different people as as Do you. And so, I recently interviewed someone and they brought up this quote. So here’s what and I honestly don’t know who said this. So you know, whoever whoever said this,
Russ Ewell 33:53
I’m looking forward to it. Now. You’ve got me. Look at my rapt attention and focus. I’m like, Oh, man. Oh, boy. This is gonna, I’m like, ready?
Tim Villegas 34:04
Okay, so when, when you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.
Russ Ewell 34:11
Oh, wow. I’ve never heard that.
Tim Villegas 34:15
So the the tweet that I have that I’m reading this from, his name is Franklin Leonard. He looks like he’s a TV producer. I’m not sure if he’s the one who said it or someone else said it. So we’re just going to give Franklin another the credit. But someone brought it up in an interview I was doing and I I had the exact same reaction, because it made it so clear for me. You have families who say kids with disabilities in my in my child’s class, they’re going to take away something Yeah, I’m, they’re going to lose something because they’re going to require more extra. But when we’re Talking about equity. It’s a realignment of expectations, right? Yes, it’s a realignment. So we no longer have just typical students in a class with not with no expectation that there’s going to be any diversity. Like we have to have the expectation that there’s going to be diversity in the realignment is going to feel like I’m losing something. Yeah. But we have to, we have to get past that we have to
Russ Ewell 35:31
get out. Well, it seems to me that what we’re facing in society right now, and I’m gonna close this out a little bit by talking about an article I wrote the five levels of inclusion, we’re not going to get deep into it, but I want to mention it. But it seems to me and what you spoke about so eloquently in the idea that equity feels like oppression to those who have privilege. I, you know, I think I lived growing up in Michigan, I lived a privileged life, I didn’t think I knew it at the time. You know, I, everybody in their moment thinks their life is hard. And then, you know, until you meet other people, I spent five years working in the inner city of Boston helping kids and when I got in the inner city, and I had kids who, whose parents were having to work so many jobs, they were hardly at home. And I don’t say as a negative I say that is one of the things I saw as my job is to, to be there for those kids while their parents weren’t around. And it’s one of the reasons parents love some of the programs we had back in in that time. But the world is changing. And I think a lot of a lot of people, Americans probably around the world feel like they’re losing something, if they prep if they previously had most everything. And I thought about this a lot. And I’m biased. I’m sitting with my situatedness, as they say in academia is that I have kids with special needs. And it’s it’s brought me It’s opened my eyes to what kind of society do you want, do you want, and I believe that character today is probably talked about too little. And it’s one of the things you develop when you learn to be empathetic and care. When I was in high school, I was president of Student Council. And there’s a long story of how that happened. And it was a good thing. But you know, it was a it was I’m older than you and it was the late, late 70s. And so I I was in a school that was predominately white, you know, like, really predominately white, I’m not talking about like, you know, 6040, I’m talking about 95, five or less, or whatever. And so I was fortunate, it was not a bad situation at all for me. But when I got ready to run for student council, my mom was like, Yeah, I don’t think you should do that. I go, why not? Because well, I can’t see a school of white kids electing an African American to be the president of the whole school. And I was like, Well, I’m gonna, I’m gonna do it anyway. And part of that’s because of the friends I had, you know, that were white. But when you grow up in that era, as I did, you understand that your confidence is built by the acceptance of those around you. And so after I left, growing up in Michigan, where I was, and I’ve always been grateful for my friends, I had a confidence regardless of what anybody would do that I could go into any circle, and be accepted. Now, sometimes I wasn’t going to be accepted. But I was so impervious to the idea that I was being rejected that I didn’t notice, because I was so convinced that, hey, I’m acceptable. And I think that’s what you and I want for kids. And I think that the people, I know that I’m going to use the racial turns white and black, the white kids I knew that are now adults, and remained my friends. I believe their lives were made better. Because they got to know me. And they got to know someone from a different culture and a different background. They influenced me and they changed me too. And I think I became multiple, multicultural. As opposed to just being an African American, I learned other cultures, I would want parents and teachers to understand that if we create a society, where we say to any group, we don’t want you around, then today, it may be someone with special needs. But tomorrow, it will be whatever group someone picks. And today in a polarized country, I think we struggle with this idea of inclusion. And to me, one of the best ways to break through and our ability to include whoever for whatever they believe, as long as you’re not doing violence to you know, to people’s lives, is by looking and saying if I can include a kid with Down syndrome, autism, who’s in a wheelchair, you know, if I can do that, then I’m going to make society one that will one day be able to include me if I choose to do something, or turn out to have a different view, or a way of life than maybe someone else likes. And I have strong views about how I believe life ought to be lived for me. But I don’t have strong views about how everybody else ought to live. And I think that’s an important thing. And so for parents and teachers alike, I think we have to Ask the question. One of the one of the reasons we have such an inequality of income is in part because we have an inequality of access and experience. And we’re gonna have to travel that road. And I think when you talk about inclusion, especially these kids, we’re really talking about inclusion of everybody, I’m just gonna highlight these things before we go and give you a chance to comment. And you don’t have to go into a lot of it, I think I’m gonna have to have you on again, at some point, because I could talk to you for three hours, and then take a break and talk to three more hours. And we haven’t even gotten into sports. But I know.
But one thing you and I think we’ll agree on in sports is that Magic Johnson is one of the greatest of all time. Oh, absolutely. I agree. I agree on that. But the levels of inclusion, I’d like if I’d like you to check that article out. If you’re listening, it’s on at my digital scribblers site. It’ll be in the show notes. But I talk about community inclusion, or community connection, contribution, contemplation and comprehensive. And essentially, I break inclusion down into being social inclusion, which is including the person in relationships, emotional inclusion, which is getting beyond just the physical presence, but actually making a connection to the person in a lateral conclusion, which is really giving people the diggety diggety of contributing, what I see is people especially as they want to contribute, they don’t just want everybody to have pity on them and and say, What can I do for you, though, that I am glad when people want to help, but they also want to be able to contribute, and then contemplation, which is spiritual. And and I believe in that if you’re if a person is spiritual, I think people, I think every human being has a spiritual side. And one of the great victories for my wife and I is creating a thing called an inclusive program in churches, that allows kids to come to church and be included in the children’s ministry, just like in school. And we’ve had some great stories, one of my son’s friends came to have not spoken a word. And it was during his involvement in the spiritual resource program we had that he actually started to speak. And now he’s in college. And so I think spiritual inclusion is important. But when you think about levels of inclusion, does that resonate with you to some degree? And do you think yes, we’ve got to find a way to not just have people physically present in classrooms and society, but there needs to be an emotional connection, etc, etc. Just give me your thoughts on that before I get you out of here.
Tim Villegas 42:23
Sure. Yeah. You know, a lot of this resonates with how I would describe inclusion. So kind of how we as an, you know, through MCI, he gives me a framework for how to describe inclusion, we talked about four different ways. So we talked about place. We talked about membership, participation, and learning asked, and so those last three, membership, participation and learning, they’re actually from, we have colleagues at the University in New Hampshire that wrote a book called beyond access, which is fantastic, because really, when you’re talking about place, you’re just talking about being there. Right? Yes, physically present. Right. Which is, which is great. But it’s a it’s a prerequisite, you can’t have all the other ones. But membership. So I feel like when I’m looking at this list, you know, that also, you know, is a feeling of belonging, having that emotional connection, right? Yes. Participation, like, what are you actually doing when you’re there, right, that that makes a difference. Like, you’re not just if we’re thinking about a classroom, and you’re not not just off in a corner doing something completely different, you’re actually participating in whatever is happening. And then when we’re thinking about inclusion in schools, you know, what are you actually learning? Like, what are the things that you have learned? Like, what is the actual content that you’re learning? So I think all of this really resonates with me. And then also, I will highlight two, because I think that belonging is really important. It doesn’t always get talked about when we have inclusion. But I believe when you know, when I see spiritual and comprehensive, I think that that is all part of that belonging. And there’s a there’s a professor at Vanderbilt, Eric Carter, that talks a lot about belonging. Wow. And he also talks a lot about faith and spirituality in that as well. So please check that out.
Russ Ewell 44:33
We’re gonna do that. We’re gonna put those in the show notes. And I’m going to get that book beyond access. And we’re gonna I’m yeah.
Tim Villegas 44:41
So yeah, I think I think it’s all I think it’s all connected. And, and I will say, you know, I don’t you know, rest you and I have not talked about faith a whole lot. Right. But my faith background is comes from Christianity. Yeah. And one of the, one of the things that I’ve always felt really really resonated with me is when you’re talking about the the person of Jesus, he was always including people then that society was deemed, you know, unclean, dirty, worthy of exclusion. He was always saying, Nope, those people too. Nope, those people too. Yeah, nope, those two? Yeah. So I think, you know, I don’t, I don’t really get to talk about it very much not because, you know, no one’s telling me not to, it’s just, you know, don’t necessarily have an outlet for that. But I do feel like that has really influenced me and how I see inclusion. And it synthesizes Well,
Russ Ewell 45:46
for me, I love that because part of LEAD different is identifying that there are many different aspects of leadership, but the two that are left out, almost always are emotional, and spiritual. And I think whether you believe in Christ in the biblical way, or you believe in Christ as a great man, you know, you look at that, and you say, yeah, if there was one guy on the side of the outcast, and the outsider, it was him. And there’s a lot to be learned by looking at that. And which is why I think spiritual leadership is important, because spiritual leadership is about saying, it’s not just going to be about whether I can make a product and make money off the product. It’s about whether I can make a difference and make people’s lives better. And I think the capacity to do that is incredible. We’ve been talking to Tim Villegas, he’s the Director of Communications at Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education, I’m sure if you’re like me, you’re sitting there and you’re saying, Boy, I sure would like to have my teachers have professional development time with Tim, go ahead and email us and we’ll pass that on to Tim, if you’re interested in something like that. It has been a true pleasure and a privilege in the right sense to be able to listen to you share and talk and we you know, I wish you a lot of luck in the work you’ll do and we’ll stay in touch and keep working together. I learned a lot tonight. Thanks for us.