teacher promoting an inclusive classroom for all students

Inclusivity, especially in educational settings, is a hot topic at the moment. With DEI initiatives under fire all over the U.S., it’s up to teachers more than ever to make sure all their students receive a quality education, regardless of their ability levels or barriers to learning. Promoting inclusivity requires more than just a one-off lesson during Black History Month or Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month…inclusivity, kindness, and empathy should be priorities all year long. In this post, we’ll go over 11 tips and strategies for creating an inclusive classroom that makes all students feel welcome through the entire school year.

1. Take Time to Meet Students and Their Families

There’s a lot of planning, preparation, and hard work that teachers must do at the beginning of the school year, but one thing that often goes undone is taking the time to sit down and get to know this year’s students and their families/caregivers. While this will require a larger time commitment than the other strategies outlined here, this one is arguably the most important. When teachers give one-on-one time to students and their loved ones at the beginning of the school year, they start building the foundation of relationships that will grow and bloom as the year progresses. The trust and respect that is planted during these initial meetings are paramount for a positive student-teacher dynamic throughout the school year and will give the students both comfort and confidence as they work through challenges and achievements. These meetings also give the teacher an opportunity to learn more about the student’s needs, abilities, and challenges, and also let their families/caregivers know who to contact in case of issues.

2. Use Student-Preferred Nicknames

At the beginning of each year, ask each student about their preferred name and use it when possible. This continues to build on that relationship of trust and respect, as well as encourages other students to address the student in their preferred way. Be sure to consider pronunciation, especially of unfamiliar names, and require other students to do so as well.

3. Solicit Student Input to Create Classroom Rules & Consequences

Another task for the beginning of the school year is to create classroom rules and related consequences. This is a great time to solicit student feedback on what they believe the minimum behavior rules for the classroom should be and what consequences are appropriate if those rules are broken. You could even allow the students to help in creating a classroom rules poster or billboard. By being involved in the creation of the classroom rules, the students will feel more connected and hold themselves and others accountable to those rules. It is also important to enforce the classroom rules and associated consequences in a fair and consistent manner. Any discrepancies in enforcement will make students feel that others are being favored, which will create resentment among the students and distrust of the teacher.

4. Create & Display a Daily Schedule

Some students will struggle with transitioning from one activity to another, especially if the transition is from a preferred activity to a non-preferred activity. Create a buffer to minimize feelings of upset or disappointment by creating and prominently displaying the class’ daily schedule. This allows students to easily see which scheduled activities have already passed and which are upcoming so that they can begin to mentally prepare for the transition before it happens.

5. Never Single a Student Out as Punishment

Scolding a student in front of the other students or singling them out for poor behavior is an outdated way to discipline and should be avoided in all classrooms. This includes things like writing student names on the board for good or bad behavior, using a behavior tracking system that allows all the other students to see when a student is not doing well, or any other action that calls attention to a single student. These methods do not deter poor behavior and can have serious emotional impacts on the student being disciplined, leading to even more negative behaviors. Instead, only speak to students about poor behaviors when they are away from others and never use a student as an example for punishment.

6. Ask the Students Questions

Many teachers make the mistake of assuming that they already know what their students have learned previously or know how their students will feel about a certain teaching method or lesson. Unfortunately, these assumptions do nothing but create roadblocks between the students and actual learning, since different classrooms will have different preferences and needs. Banish those preconceived notions and actually ask students about how they like to learn, what they already know, and what they would like to see in their classroom. This allows the teacher to incorporate more meaningful and effective teaching methods into their lessons, resulting in the students feeling heard and included.

7. Incorporate Multiple Teaching Methods Into Every Lesson

As a continuation of #6, when the students reveal their needs or preferences for classroom learning, be sure to include as many of these as possible in every lesson. Never resort to teaching via lecture or Powerpoint presentation only…this will isolate students who don’t learn best with these methods. Instead, teach lessons in layers, with one portion being a lecture, another portion a written worksheet, another portion a verbal presentation, etc. Allow students to sit out of activities that make them feel uncomfortable and focus their efforts on the activities where their strengths can shine.

8. Allow Students to Demonstrate Knowledge in Their Preferred Manner

When asking students to demonstrate learned knowledge from a lesson, ditch the written exams and give them options on how to display what they know. Some students do great with standardized tests, while others will prefer an oral presentation, and others may want to record a video or even write an essay. Let students play up their strengths and you’ll be shocked at how much they really know!

9. Build a Diverse Classroom Library

Diversity and inclusion go hand in hand. There’s no way to make students from marginalized populations feel seen without including lessons and literature from their cultures and experiences, so be sure your classroom library (a must-have for all classrooms!) is stocked with selections from various countries, cultures, genres, and reading levels. There are many book lists available online which do a great job at incorporating diversity in an age-appropriate way.

10. Plan Activities That Promote Student Interaction

Integration is bias’ kryptonite. When students only interact with others in their existing friend groups, they never learn to be empathetic or understanding of others who are different from themselves. This interaction isolation can lead to negative behaviors such as bullying, so it’s crucial to get in front of this issue in the early elementary years, although better late than never. Plan activities that force students to interact with other students that are outside of their friend groups. Some easy ways to accomplish this are to assign groups and project partners instead of letting the students choose their own, or simply by assigning classroom seats and switching them up a few times throughout the year. When students are put in situations where they must interact with others outside of their comfort zone, they will learn to appreciate others’ differences and become more accepting and well-rounded people.

11. Model the Behavior You Want to See in Your Students

Finally, be sure you are always modeling the positive, inclusive behavior you want to see in your students. This means you’ll have to peel back the layers and break down your own biases, revealing your weaknesses and areas that need improvement. Changes like learning socially-appropriate terms for medical conditions, avoiding gender-bias both in classroom setup and in your language, and staying up-to-date with current events and trends around inclusivity are all easy ways to start your journey toward becoming not just a more inclusive teacher, but a better person overall.

Incentivize Inclusive Behavior with GEDDES

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