Creating an Inclusive Classroom Environment

  • September 1, 2022
  • Bilingual Therapies

Creating an inclusive classroom environment where students feel welcome, seen, and safe is key to a successful school year. When school staff promotes diversity and inclusion in the classroom, students are given a daily opportunity to practice acceptance and open-mindedness.

At Bilingual Therapies, we know that school professionals teach far more than just the curriculum. They lay the foundation for emotional, mental, and social skills that students will build on and carry with them outside of the classroom.

What is an Inclusive Classroom?

An inclusive classroom is one in which diversity is valued and students of all backgrounds, races, religions, and abilities feel seen and heard. Inclusivity should be at the top of mind when planning for the school year. Cultivating an inclusive environment ensures that every student feels included and has the ability to participate in the learning experience.

Benefits of Promoting Inclusivity in the Classroom

When teachers and school staff generate an open mindset surrounding individual differences, students of various backgrounds and abilities will feel that they are part of a community. When students feel safe in their learning environment, they are less likely to act out and are more likely to participate productively and treat their classmates with respect. According to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, “In a healthy, supportive climate, students are engaged and take intellectual risks. They follow well-established rules and norms for behavior that their teachers and school leaders model and maintain. Such a community is characterized by positive relationships between teachers and students, a place where genuine respect is the norm, and where all students feel they belong.”

Prioritizing inclusivity also provides an opportunity for students to learn about and embrace each other’s individual differences. Learning to accept differences is an important step in a child’s development as it will empower them to build more meaningful relationships in the future.

How to Create an Inclusive Environment

Address Students by Their Correct Name

A simple yet effective way to make students feel included is to address them by their given names. Names play a large part in expressing one’s cultural identity, so it is important that teachers not create a nickname for a student simply because the name is unfamiliar to them.

Like everything else, correctly remembering and pronouncing students’ names may take practice. You may struggle at first, and that’s okay. Here are a few tips to start off on the right foot:

  1. Before the school year begins, make a phone call to the student’s parents to introduce yourself and ask for the correct pronunciation of the student’s name.
  2. Have students introduce themselves in class.
  3. Write down the student’s name phonetically to refer to later.
  4. Practice, practice, practice!

Make the Classroom Accessible for All Students

When organizing the classroom, keep physical accessibility in mind. Take a look around. Are students’ materials at accessible heights and locations? Is there ample open space if a wheelchair or walker needs to get through?

Universal Instructional Design (UID) has compiled a list of seven main principles to consider when creating a classroom that is truly inclusive.

  1. Be accessible and fair.
  2. Provide flexibility in use, participation, and presentation.
  3. Be straightforward and consistent.
  4. Be explicitly presented and readily perceived.
  5. Provide a supportive learning environment.
  6. Minimize unnecessary physical effort or requirements.
  7. Ensure learning spaces that accommodate both students and instructional methods.

Audit Your Materials

Explore the curriculum currently in place and think critically about if its content includes stereotypical representations of people or cultures. Every culture, race, and ability type deserve meaningful and accurate representation through the content in the curriculum. Design projects and activities that encourage students to explore their own culture, as well as that of their classmates. Take some time to look at the materials on the wall, the books on the shelves, and the manipulatives in your common areas. Are there opportunities for you to add materials that welcome diverse perspectives and experiences?

Plan for and Model Inclusive Behavior

Inclusive teaching and learning strategies need to be planned for and modeled. Learning student names and adding diverse materials to the classroom is a great start, but we also need to create spaces where diverse students have opportunities to work and learn from each other. Modeling language that values a student’s experience versus reframing it benefits all learners. While it is natural to assume that students have had similar experiences to your own, it is important to encourage language that acknowledges a different lived experience. Here are some ways to do this:

  • Putting people first: Use people-first language when having conversations about differences. 
  • Pre-teaching idioms: Phrases like “eyes on the board” and “hit the books” can create a lot of confusion. You may need to pre-teach some common idioms to help students understand what is expected of them when given these types of commands.
  • Reframing experiences: Be careful to not reframe a student’s experience to match the majority language or culture. 

Honoring the cultural and linguistic diversity of students and families is at the heart of how we support our education professionals. This school year, make sure to create an environment where all students feel welcome and included.

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Together, let’s create brighter futures for culturally diverse students.