Another school year is fast approaching, and in some districts everyone’s already hard at work in their new classrooms. Either way, it’s an exciting time as you ponder new students, new challenges, and a new adventure in education!
The inbound class is undoubtedly experiencing its fair share of emotions also, as students prepare to meet new peers and reconnect with old friends, share their summer experiences, and look to re-acclimate as seamlessly as possible.
As we begin to think about developing classroom dynamics, it’s important to realize the students can be as diverse as the content we’re teaching them. Making our classrooms inclusive and inviting spaces for all children requires teachers to be proactive about inclusivity as well as classroom management.
Creating a sense of inclusivity means making sure everyone feels welcome, respected, and valued for who they are as an individual. In doing so, teachers and students foster a sense of safety and security that will flourish in spite of differences like ability, race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomics. Working towards inclusivity in response to a diverse student population creates greater equity and accessibility in learning opportunities that may not evolve in any other context.
In the classroom, an inclusive learning environment develops and promotes student dialogue and behaviors that empower everyone to manage diversity and support individual learning needs or challenges. By and large, most students are empathetic towards one another, but they lack experience and can often benefit from instruction that nurtures strategies for managing new and unfamiliar moments.
Unfortunately, an inclusive classroom environment is not something that will likely happen all on its own. Creating a welcoming environment is an intentional act whereby your actions and behaviors in your classroom—as well as the actions and behaviors you tolerate or promote— serve as the foundation for better student outcomes.
Understand Your Incoming Class
The diversity that already exists in classrooms today offers a wonderful opportunity for teachers anywhere to create stronger, more inviting student interactions. For the most part, kids are curious; they love to learn new things about other people, and they also often like to share about themselves. A teacher’s job is to channel and develop those impulses in the best possible way.
Addressing Group Dynamics
Groups naturally tend to form among kids. Although it’s not necessarily a bad thing, they might naturally split on lines like gender or race for a variety of reasons. If there are group activities where you notice students splitting along lines of gender or race, consider assigning groups based on criteria like shared interests or diversity.
Get to Know Your Kids
If you want to make your classroom inclusive, you’re probably going to need to know who needs to be included. Take the time to learn about your incoming class, and ask teachers or guidance counselors from the previous grades if they have any information or advice. If there are any special physical or emotional needs, you’ll want some lead time to research best practices and consider how to negotiate them with your students.
One excellent strategy for getting to know your class is by assigning a simple writing project. Having them answer questions like “Who do you live with?”, “What are your interests and hobbies”, and “Is there anything else you feel you teacher should know?” can be a constructive and valuable way to gather some information about potentially inclusive opportunities.
Also, two of the most important events early in the school year are Meet the Teacher Day for younger students and parent night for secondary school, and it’s a great way to connect with everyone before things evolve. Take this opportunity to answer any questions parents and students might have and take note of any issues or concerns. The insights you pick up may be crucial for knowing how and where to guide your class from day 1.
Look for Language Barriers and Cultural Opportunities
Language is an obvious starting point for an inclusive classroom, and you’ll definitely want to know how to support your families with learning materials and handouts. It can mean a little more work and due diligence, but these differences are fantastic opportunities to introduce rewarding cultural experiences to all your students. ESL and ESOL teachers can be a great resource for bridging these gaps as you’re developing your curriculum and classroom plan.
Find out what special needs may exist, and be thoughtful in how to incorporate them into everyone’s learning. It’s a valuable way to integrate new ideas and inclusive principles into your work!
Have a Clear Classroom Management Policy
Creating a meaningful classroom management plan is critical to developing a safe and effective learning environment for your students. Establishing expectations and consequences allows you to head off many problems before they even begin to manifest, and sets the tone for positive intrapersonal behaviors.
Having your plan in place before your students arrive is a must, and it should reflect student ethics and values as well as discipline. It’s not all about punishment! Structure helps kids feel more secure in their role and their environment. As any veteran teacher knows, it doesn’t take much for good energy to go bad, and a good classroom management plan can get everyone back on track as quickly and positively as possible.
Finally, if you want your classroom to be more inclusive that means encouraging ways for kids to include each other. Creating a good classroom management plan creates a safe space where kids feel comfortable sharing and being shared with. In fact, inviting students to offer input about classroom management policies and strategies can be very beneficial sometimes. Structures over which they have some ownership and investment often encourage them to adhere to guidelines and enforce expectations.
Building an Inclusive Curriculum
Inclusivity should permeate the curriculum you develop by building it into lesson plans, creating teachable moments, and modeling inclusive behavior. Simple changes or additions to your classroom processes and procedures can do wonders for creating an inclusive environment.
- Use inclusive language on necessary forms or communications with students and families.
- Explore inclusive reading materials and post welcoming content on things like bulletin boards that offer a visual representation of diversity in culture and abilities.
- Model inclusive language and prepare for teachable moments as you redirect negative student behaviors.
- When grouping students, avoid traditional criteria like gender.
- Think about having events that can include family participation and discussions about differences in culture and expression.
Success in Today’s Inclusive Classrooms
The student experience is more diverse than ever before, and establishing a safe and effective learning environment for all students in the classroom is a must for any teacher.
While teaching in today’s inclusive classroom may be more easily said than done, Premiere is committed to creating professional development content courses to guide teachers to the best solutions and outcomes. Courses like New York—DASA Dignity for All Students Training Act by Amy Adkins-Dwivedi, MS, APRN will give you the tools you need to get you headed in the right direction.
All courses offered by Premiere are created by industry-leading experts at the top of their field, offering valuable information for your professional success.