Test: Inclusion Today: Facilitating Inclusive Action Among School Leaders

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In this case study, we explore how one EALA Community of Action group devised a plan for a public awareness campaign to promote inclusive educational practices in schools.

Empowering Collaboration and Innovation 

In December 2023, 28 participants from diverse education sectors convened for the second annual in-person EALA Community of Action. This unique gathering provides a space for professionals to come together, solve, and fund shared challenges.  They do all this within 36 hours – from meeting each other to building and establishing a shared vision to creating a shared project.

Invitees ranged from direct service providers and school and district innovators to edtech and non-profit personnel. The one commonality: each brought a critical perspective on real-world problems in education and the tenacity to propose actionable solutions. 

EALA also enlisted seven individuals with expertise in education, philanthropy, and acceleration to provide guidance and coaching throughout the event.  These coaches provided valuable real-time feedback to the teams while also giving critical pushes in thinking for project alignment among participants.

Following a day of fast-moving and productive sessions, participants formed working groups, cultivated project ideas, and presented their funding proposals. In this unique participatory funding model, the members of the Community of Action have the sole responsibility of deciding which projects receive funding, empowering them to take ownership of their ideas and bring them to fruition.

One such project, “Inclusion Today!” funded by EALA, sought to make inclusive education a systemic priority by developing both the means and a comprehensive plan to launch a public awareness campaign that targets system-level leaders and highlights the need for inclusive educational practices in schools.

Fostering Inclusive Education Through Leader Commitment

“Inclusion Today!” is a collaboration between community members Jessi Brunken and Sergio Jara Arroyos from Blue Engine, Brooke Allen and Justine Katzenbach from Diverse Learners Cooperative, Tim Villegas and Brittni Sammons from Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education (MCIE), and Cindy Camp from The Described and Captioned Media Program

This diverse group found common ground around the EALA Promising Practice of Leader Commitment, united by a shared belief that inclusive practices and leadership in a community are inextricably linked – and this buy-in from the top of school systems and organizations is essential to success

This Fall, “Inclusion Today!” is launching a nationwide awareness campaign to encourage school and district leaders to commit to inclusive practices and provide a “starter kit” for inclusive action. The team hopes to support school systems to increase inclusionary practices through this initiative. 

According to the Council for Exceptional Children, fewer than 15 percent of special education teachers believed their general education colleagues were highly prepared to work with students with disabilities (CEC, 2019). “Inclusion Today!” hopes to reach general education  K-12 teachers and leaders to highlight the need for authentically inclusive practices. By garnering leader commitment to this mindset and providing preliminary guidance and tools for leaders to incorporate practices that support this approach, their goal of supporting school systems to increase inclusionary practices can be achieved.

Executing the “Inclusion Today!” Awareness Campaign

When planning their concept proposal, the “Inclusion Today!” team grounded their efforts on one crucial question: 

How might we increase the awareness, interest, and commitment of school system leaders to take inclusive action, disrupting the long-standing disproportionate outcomes for students with disabilities? 

From there, the team developed a comprehensive plan to execute their awareness campaign.  The process began with planning their vision for working together and synthesizing available research to develop the campaign materials. 

Inclusion today planning graphic

The “Inclusion Today!” team plans to utilize the following outlets to reach their audience: 

   -Social Media (LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter) 

   -Ads (Social Networks & Closed Networks) 



   -Press Releases 



   -Education Influencers



Once developed, the team will share the toolkit to support leader action and elicit follow-up with additional tools and resources.  

Targeting System-Level Leadership for Lasting Impact

Focusing on school and district-level leaders and providing explicit examples of inclusive practices, “Inclusion Today!” hopes to catalyze lasting change within the education system.   

“We are all working on and talking about the same issue as an indication of a broader systemic problem, which is that inclusive education is not a systemic priority,” the team shared. “Our organizations all understand that to see substantial and lasting change, we must target leadership as the primary audience.”

As part of their public awareness campaign, “Inclusion Today!” will elicit public commitment from school leadership through a pledge to engage in inclusive practices. After signing this pledge, leaders will be equipped with an Inclusive Practices Starter Kit to support them in taking immediate action in their communities. “Inclusion Today!” aims to reach more than one million students through this campaign by engaging numerous system-level leaders representing school districts across the United States by December 2024.



The “Inclusion Today!” team had roughly 36 hours to pitch their idea into a concept to a room full of fellow thought leaders. Since the convening, the team has had time to reflect on the process. Here’s what they thought: 

When asked about their big takeaway from EALA’s Community of Action, the group eagerly supplied a Margaret Mead quote that resonated with them: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” 

“The Community of Action made us realize that we were all working on similar efforts and that collectively we could expand our reach,” the team elaborated “We believe even as a small group of only 4 organizations, we have the potential to make a significant impact through our ‘Inclusion Today!’ campaign.”

What I would tell other educators/leaders Interested in Attending Community of Action

“We were all unsure of how this experience would be before it began,” the team shared. “Through the facilitation and structure of this experience, the process made it successful. If you come with an open mind and a willingness to collaborate, this will be one of the most powerful development experiences to engage in strategic and impactful work.  Whether your project is selected or not, you contribute to the outcome.”

What we are still figuring out

Apart from what the team has already developed in their pitch, they still have some planning to do. The “Inclusion Today!” team will focus their future efforts on designing the campaign, strategically back-mapping, and assigning work to different teams.


The EALA Promising Practices originate from research and insights by EALA partner organizations across the fields of disability advocacy, special education, civil rights, and K-2 nonprofits. We have compiled these key findings into one cohesive list: the EALA Promising Practices.

About The Author


Tim Villegas is the Director of Communications for the Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education. He is also the founder of Think Inclusive, which is the blog, podcast, and social media handle of MCIE. He has 16 years of experience in public education as a teacher and district support specialist. His focus now is on how media and communications can promote inclusive education for all learners.


As public-school educator for over 20 years as a middle school Special Education Teacher, high school Administrator, district Inclusive Education Facilitator, and Supervisor of Instructional Performance who was driven to support systems change with inclusive practices, Brittni Sammons is a Professional Learning Coordinator for the Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education (MCIE).  MCIE is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting schools and school systems on their journey to create inclusive school communities where all children and youth feel a sense of belonging and have equitable educational opportunities that result in high levels of academic success. The mission is to be the catalyst for the meaningful and successful inclusion of all students in their neighborhood or choice schools.


Cindy Camp is the Marketing and Communications Specialist with The Described and Captioned Media Program.  She holds a Master’s degree in English, is a nationally certified interpreter, certified in mental health interpreting, as well as a C-Print captioninst and trainer.  She has provided access services for students with disabilities for over 30 years. 


Brooke is the founding director of Diverse Learners Cooperative (DLC). She leads the DLC team’s efforts to equip and empower school and district teams to serve all learners. As a former special education teacher, leader, school founder, and consultant, she deeply believes in the potential of all students and the school teams that serve them. She received her B.S. and M.Ed. in special education, elementary education, and English learner education from Vanderbilt University and has been a Nashville educator since.


Justine Katzenbach is the Director of Organizational Strategy at the Diverse Learners Cooperative, where she supports both external engagement and internal development. Justine is an experienced special education teacher, leader, and Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), who cares deeply about the success of diverse learners and the educators who support them.


Sergio Jara Arroyos (el/he/him) grew up working as a child farmworker in the Yakima Valley in Washington State. He became the first in his family to attend college, where he got a B.A. in Cross-Cultural Studies from Whitworth University. He’s a former early childhood education teacher, later focusing on leadership development in grassroots organizing, and currently in nonprofit management. At Blue Engine, Sergio is the Snr. Director of Marketing and Communication. He’s a leader that prioritizes organizational psychology and change management through the lens of social-emotional learning and diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.


Jessi is the CEO of Blue Engine and leads their team and work to ensure that their work leads to meaningful impact for their stakeholders and that the organization is continuously improving and expanding its reach. Jessi brings experience as a math teacher in inclusion settings, an instructional coach and program designer to the team. Having started her career as a solo teacher supporting students with a wide array of needs, she is passionate about the impact that truly effective teams of teachers can have on both students and on the experience of teaching.