North Vancouver School District
the natural place to learn©
Feb 15
An inclusive musical experience for Handsworth students

​By James Diakuw, Teacher

"Music class is the glue that has brought students and staff together."

September 2022, I began teaching Inclusive Education Fine Arts 10 at Handsworth Secondary.

I would describe the course as a music class where diverse learners meet daily to watch, listen to, or actively participate in a wide range of music activities geared as much as possible to their individual skill levels and academic, social, and emotional needs and goals.


Given this was the first time the course was offered at Handsworth, while I was able to draw from my experiences teaching music to diverse learners at the elementary level, I really had to get comfortable with learning what and how I could teach by getting to know this group of students.

To do this, I not only relied on the tremendous joy, humour, support and insights shared by students’ educational assistants, but also heeded Principal Mark Barrett’s encouraging words to work with students’ strengths.


By watching and listening carefully and encouraging students to teach me what their needs, wants and abilities are, I was able to offer students opportunities to dance, sing, and play with instruments from various instrument families.

Each class involved (on a rotating basis):

  • Hello and goodbye songs that allow and encourage students to share feelings or creative expressions;
  • Instrument/composer/performer/genre ‘of the day’, including listening, discussion, and where possible, live demonstration and hands-on experiences;
  • Body and hand percussion;
  • Sing-along and action songs/games; and
  • Collegial singing and dance opportunities for fun and physical health.

I collaborated regularly with support staff to create personalized and meaningful experiences for students. As an example, a short time into the term, an education assistant requested on behalf of a student who loves Bruno Mars songs, if I could play or sing “Just the Way You Are” as they drove the student’s motorized chair out of the room.

I learned the chorus, and when I played the song for the class the first time, students were so into it that the song became the group’s informal anthem. We enthusiastically played and sang that song at the end of every day for the rest of the semester!


The learning outcomes for the course varied by learner. Some students worked towards successful social interactions using electronic aids, others worked on managing self-regulation in less-preferred settings or situations, and some attempted to remain focused on a person or activity for even a couple of minutes at a time.

Students, including the teachers and staff who support them, have expressed a great deal of enthusiasm for the course, the material and the activities selected, including the ways in which I chose to deliver the material. “This was my favourite class,” said one student. “I felt happy and proud in music class!”

It has been my honour and privilege to work with students, staff and administrators this past term and create what one colleague described as a “magical teaching and learning experience where students clearly felt comfortable and welcome.” It has been a wonderful professional adventure!



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