An exploration of teacher philosophies, preparedness, and lived experiences within 21st-century inclusive classrooms.


National and international trends in special education policy and legislation led to a significant increase in the number of students with disabilities in general education classrooms. Now more than ever, teachers face the challenge of educating students with disabilities in general education classrooms (McLeskey & Waldron, 2011; Smith & Tyler, 2011). A pervasive call exists for teacher education and support within education systems as teachers strive to accommodate diverse student populations in 21st-century classrooms (Florian, 2012; Waitoller & Artiles, 2013). Exploration of the ways educators expand their knowledge of evidence-based practices and navigate the complexities of more inclusive learning environments persists (Allday et al., 2013; Cochran-Smith et al., 2016; Florian & Camedda, 2020; Vaughn & Swanson, 2015). The inclusive pedagogy approach provided the framework for comprehension of teacher philosophies, preparedness, and their lived experiences on the front lines of inclusive educational reform (Florian, 2008; Rouse & Florian, 2012; Rouse, 2008). An emergent qualitative research design enables a deep understanding of teacher experiences in the inclusive classroom (Creswell & Creswell, 2018). This multiple-case study aimed to explore teacher preparedness and practices for the inclusive classroom and highlight how teachers provide effective instruction to diverse student populations, including those with disabilities. The following questions underpinned data collection and analysis procedures to glean how teachers address the complexities of today’s inclusive classrooms: How do teacher philosophies influence practices of inclusive classrooms for special education students? What opportunities and challenges do educators encounter in their efforts to create effective 21st-century inclusive classrooms? Educator accounts of their experiences from this qualitative case study served as a reminder of the existing complexities within inclusive educational reform efforts. Realization of the goals and expectations set forth by policymakers and school administrators implicated teachers as key players for the inclusion movement (Li & Ruppar, 2021; Pellicano et al., 2018). With the ultimate goal of progress for all students, stakeholders must unite in their efforts, furnishing essential resources such as time for planning, mental health/well-being support, consistent collaboration among colleagues, and treating teachers as professionals. The outcomes of such goals create 21st-century inclusive classrooms that are led by confident and prepared teachers.