To be inclusive is to ensure a person, a part or a group of people are not excluded. Diversity in the classroom refers to the creation of an inclusive learning environment for everyone. An inclusive classroom is a critical component of an inclusive school that delivers an inclusive education. An essential characteristic of an inclusive classroom is that it welcomes, embraces, and supports student diversity. Real inclusivity can only be successful in a classroom when all students feel included and validated in their identity as members of the school community. It is a classroom where students understand the importance of working harmoniously with people who might be different to them. This can only be achieved through open discussion and celebrating people regardless of ability level, gender, orientation or cultural background. An inclusive classroom is one where everyone feels respected and appreciated.
With more marginalised groups speaking up about their experiences, young people today are exposed to more social issues than any generations before. As educators, we have a responsibility to promote inclusivity in our classrooms.
Here are some inclusivity practices you can start incorporating today.
1. Consider your approach to teaching
As a classroom teacher, you play an important role in the lives of your students. One of the many responsibilities you have is to promote a safe and welcoming classroom and school community where individual differences are valued and embraced.
An inclusive classroom community acknowledges the experiences of the students from different backgrounds in a non-judgemental, non-stereotypical way which encourages students to respect and value each other. Inclusive values are developed through a young person’s lived experience and their exposure to other worldviews. Help your students understand that there are alternative perspectives out there and there is something to learn in all of them. It is vital to avoid assumptions based on a person’s appearance, gender, orientation, race, religion, disability, education, or socio-economic background. If you find yourself making subconscious assumptions, try to recognise and address these. Similarly, it is important to challenge stereotypes.
Most of us can hold unconscious biases, but if we recognise these and consider what first impressions we are making when we meet people, we can start to be more conscious of them, and challenge our own thinking. For example, consider the diversity in your classroom resources. Is there a diverse range of images and scenarios?
2. Have high expectations of all your students
As a teacher, you set the tone in your classroom. Inclusive classroom environments can increase respect and acceptance among students. This happens due to the positive effects of cooperative relationships and new friendships formed in classrooms. Having high expectations of all students empowers them to learn and achieve personal excellence, regardless of individual circumstances.
Follow a code of conduct in the classroom that supports appropriate behaviour and class harmony. It can be also useful to establish a learning agreement with your group or class. This means setting the right atmosphere, creating a safe environment for facilitators and students, and ensuring that all students understand the boundaries and rules. Calling it a learning agreement (as opposed to ground rules) brings forth the idea that the classroom is an opportunity for students to learn about themselves and their peers, and the world around them, thereby reinforcing the positive motivations that underpin the exploration of certain topics.
3. Create opportunities to listen to all children
It is important to create opportunities to listen and hear what all your students have to say. Some students may have never felt comfortable enough to share their thoughts and feelings before. They may be fearful of judgement or lack the self-esteem needed to express themselves openly. Opportunities to listen should be incorporated in normal day-to-day lessons. This could be in the form of class discussions, group work, pair work or even a one-to-one with you. This can help all students to feel safe and included so they can fully engage with their learning.
Creating an inclusive classroom will not only help students from marginalised groups but will also support those who are not. It gives them the opportunity to build an understanding of others and see the beauty in all people.
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