Inclusive Environments for Teaching and Learning


Molly Smith
thinksmart planning inc

Kimberly Johns
Rio Rancho Public Schools

Molly Smith
thinksmart planning inc


1 Learning Units/Health, Safety, Welfare (LU/HSW)

How applies to HSW:

Health: Aspects of architecture that have beneficial or salutary effects on occupants and users of buildings or sites and address environmental concerns. This program will describe how to create beneficial environments for children with disabilities.   Safety: Aspects of architecture intended to limit or prevent accidental injury or death of occupants and users of buildings or sites. This program will discuss safety features needed for autistic, blind, deaf, and behaviorally challenged children.   Welfare: Aspects of architecture that engender demonstrable positive emotional responses from, or enable equal access by, users of buildings or sites. This program will discuss how the learning environment may help to calm behavior issues, and also will discuss necessary ADA guidelines applicable.


“Inclusion” does not simply mean the placement of students with disabilities in general education classes. This process must incorporate fundamental change in the way a school community supports and addresses the individual needs of each child. As such, effective models of inclusive education not only benefit students with disabilities, but also create an environment in which every student, including those who do not have disabilities, has the opportunity to flourish. Some of the key ideas for inclusion are: differentiated instruction; academic supports (flexible pacing and grouping, reading and literacy specialists, tutoring, etc.); behavioral supports; respect for diversity; and maximizing school resources. The Rio Rancho Public Schools Early Childhood Center Shining Stars is an inclusive preschool that consists of several programs for children with developmental disabilities and their typically developing peers on a lottery basis. RRPS offers special education preschool at Shining Stars Preschool to provide early intervention services to children ages 3 to 5 who qualify for special education services. Services are rendered in developmentally-appropriate settings with intense instruction coordinated with speech and motor therapists. The goal of this unique center is to meet the educational needs of all students within the least restrictive environment in order to help students achieve academic and developmental success. Whether that means providing consultation to the general education teacher or providing a highly specialized teaching environment for a student, RRPS programs are as diversified as the students. Students receive special services such as speech, phonological cycling, autism services and vision services for sight-impaired youngsters, within a Pre-School and Pre-K environment Ð right along with their non-disabled peers. Children at Shining Stars learn that each student is unique and able to learn at their own pace. Most students at Shining Stars leave the program at age 5 on grade level and ready to tackle Kindergarten!! This program will explore the unique programmatic and design parameters needed for inclusive learning environments – such as a community gardening and kitchen, parent and community multiuse areas, a little gym, autism, vision and phono programs, STEAM lab and art areas for preschool/preK, outdoor learning areas for disabilities, and supportive areas for associated staff and specialists.

Learning Objectives:
  • Participants will be able to describe the physical, behavioral, and academic concerns that may be associated with a variety of common sensory, motor, cognitive, or learning disabilities, mental health or behavioral issues, and differences in native language, culture, and background knowledge.
  • Participants will be able to assess the appropriateness of various design and construction strategies in improving access to learning for all students by reducing barriers to learning.
  • Participants will be able to communicate how design strategies (including color and shapes) have been found to help improve student performance and attention, reduce disruptive behavior, and enhance learning for all students.
  • Participants will be able to apply design strategies drawn from universal design principles, WELL building principles, and specialized education spaces to inform the design of learning environments to support differentiated instruction and improve communication, engagement, and learning for all students.


Primary Competency:

Educational Visioning: Exhibits an understanding of best and next practices related to educational leadership, programming, teaching, learning, planning and facility design. Establishes credibility with educators, community members and design professionals while conceiving and leading a community-based visioning process. Demonstrates the ability to articulate the impact of learning environments on teaching and learning and uses that ability to facilitate a dialogue that uncovers the unique needs and long-range goals of an educational institution and its stakeholders Ð translating that into an actionable written/graphic program of requirements for the design practitioner.

Primary Domain:

Learning: Content of this session/workshop will focus on how we learn and/or how the physical environment responds specifically to various methods of instruction, pedagogies, learning styles, or learning trends.

Secondary Domain:

Context: Content of this session/workshop will focus on the circumstances that form the setting for the design and construction of specific learning environments and characteristics that distinguishes the project from other applications.

Additional information:

The session will also focus on the Planners’ Toolbox Idea: Creating Connections, which is a series of tools and how they were applied during the planning workshops.