How to Promote Inclusion in the Classroom
Drexel University School of Education
What is Inclusion in the Classroom and Why is it Important?
Inclusion in the classroom means that all children, no matter their racial, religious, or ethnic background, gender, learning style, or ability have equal access to educational opportunities in a learning environment where all students are equally safe, valued, and respected. Creating an inclusive classroom also means actively addressing and aiming to eliminate negative stereotypes and attitudes based on racial, ethnic, or religious background, gender, learning style, ability, or any other identifying characteristic. Students who may have experienced being seen as “other,” are welcomed as valued participants in the classroom. Inclusion in the classroom is critically important because it fosters each child’s sense of belonging, feeling of being seen and understood for who they are, and their inherent value as a human being. Inclusive classrooms empower children to grow and thrive as confident individuals, not just as students during their time in educational systems, but in life beyond school as citizens in their communities and in the world.
Who Benefits from Inclusion in the Classroom?
Inclusive classrooms are not just about supporting academic instruction for students with special educational needs. Rather, everyone enjoys the benefits of inclusion in the classroom, whether they are students, teachers, school districts, or students’ parents or guardians. All students benefit from interacting and developing friendships within diverse groups of peers, and teachers benefit from getting to know their students in deeper, more meaningful ways. Within inclusive school cultures, teachers and administrators deal with fewer absences and disciplinary issues because students who feel valued and included tend to be more invested in their own positive participation in the learning community. For parents and guardians, inclusive classrooms mean that their child is learning and spending much of their young lives in a safe and nurturing environment.
How to Promote Inclusion in the Classroom in 7 Steps
There are many strategies for promoting inclusion in the classroom. Generally, these strategies pertain to understanding each student as an individual, creating an interactive learning environment that considers the needs of all students, and building collaborations with all stakeholders in students’ lives. While there are countless examples of inclusion in the classroom, they typically fall into seven categories.
Get to Know Your Students
Building an authentic relationship with each student is the foundation for a truly inclusive classroom. In inclusive classrooms, teachers continually work to understand their students’ unique backgrounds and perspectives and also provide opportunities for students to safely share their life stories and perspectives with their peers. When teachers invest the time to know each student and honor each student’s diverse origins, it creates a safe space for learning, a deeper sense of belonging, and richer cultural competencies for teachers and students alike.
Understand How Your Students Learn
Getting to know what motivates students to learn and the styles of learning that work best for them are key components of fostering inclusivity in the classroom. At the start of the school year, teachers might consider handing out a questionnaire or hosting conversations about what excites students about learning, what they see as their strengths and weaknesses, and what goals they have for the year, and then incorporating these findings into lesson plans and classroom materials. Implementing diverse activities around a single lesson can also offer students multiple ways to learn and improve overall retention. For example, planning an independent reading activity, interactive discussion with peers, creative art project, and hands-on experiment around a single topic can not only reinforce knowledge for all students but facilitate learning across a range of learning styles.
Promote a Positive Learning Environment
Setting clear expectations for the classroom culture and having students participate in the development of those expectations help promote a positive learning environment in which everyone is invested and held accountable. At the beginning of the school year, teachers and students can work together to create rules around behaviors that promote a learning environment that is productive, safe, and respectful for everyone in the classroom. The class can also discuss what consequences might be put into place when rules are broken. Keeping classroom expectations and consequences short and simple so that all students can understand them is important. In the creation of a positive learning environment, teachers should actively listen to students’ ideas for classroom rules and developing guidelines for conflict resolution, because when children feel listened to, they feel seen and included.
Include A Variety of Learning Materials & Activities
Promoting inclusion in a classroom requires providing a range of materials and activities that supports all students’ learning styles, incorporates a variety of cultural backgrounds and perspectives, and fosters courageous thinking. Teaching a single topic using visual, auditory, and tactile assignments that are completed individually, in small groups, or through a field trip, means that students of all learning styles can access the same concepts in multiple ways. In our increasingly multi-cultural communities, effective educators must understand the importance of diversity and multicultural awareness, and teachers should incorporate into their teaching materials that reflect a diverse range of racial, cultural, socio-economic, religious, and gender identities, among many other expressions of the human experience. An inclusive classroom also provides creative activities for students to think outside the box and encourages students to take intellectual risks, and even make mistakes, as they explore approaches to innovative problem solving.
Encourage Interaction Among Students
The more students engage with one another, the better classroom inclusion will be, the greater students’ connection will be to their school community, and the more likely students will be to feel invested in their own education. There are many different ways teachers can encourage student interaction. At the start of the school year, teachers might have their class play ice breaker games that help students get to know each and find common ground. Switching seat assignments several times throughout the year is another way for students to get to know different members of the class. Setting up group projects and changing up the composition of the groups over the year can facilitate more varied student interaction. For younger students, coming up with structure group activities during recess not only creates inclusive fun for everyone but can be especially helpful for students who may find recess to be a lonely or awkward part of the school day.
Offer Additional Support
Building an inclusive classroom means offering a range of both academic and non-academic resources to all students and to their parents and guardians. For example, some students benefit from tutoring, and setting office hours outside of class might benefit those who are uncomfortable speaking up or asking questions in front of their peers. Offering regular teacher conferences is another way students and their parents or guardians can have private discussions about areas where students may need extra support. And because not all students, or their parents or guardians, may be comfortable reaching out for help, it’s important for teachers and school systems to actively communicate to all students and families what academic and non-academic resources are available at school and in the local community. Leaving the door open for compassionate conversations about students’ and families’ needs for additional support creates an approachable environment that benefits everyone.
Collaborate as a Community
For classrooms to truly succeed in being inclusive, teachers need to collaborate with and have the support of all members of the school community, including their fellow teachers, administrators, school counselors and aides, along with parents and families. When everyone in the school community works together, the needs of students of all backgrounds and abilities are considered and academic instruction is accessible and consistent for all. Professional developments workshops are ways to build awareness of the tools for classroom inclusion. Workshops and staff meetings are other ways to create opportunities for educators to share ideas and insights. Reaching out to parents and families at the beginning of the school year, and offering opportunities to connect throughout the year, allows teachers to have a more complete understanding of their students’ background and life experiences, along with their strengths, areas in need of improvement, and their personal goals and dreams.
Learn More About Inclusion in the Classroom with Drexel University
Becoming a great teacher takes years of practice, and building an inclusive classroom takes ongoing commitment, but it all starts with obtaining the right education and practical experience. Drexel’s School of Education embraces the importance of diversity and multicultural awareness and offers numerous certificate programs, such as Teaching English as a Second Language and Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Wellness, that help educators at all stages of their careers improve their teaching and make classrooms more inclusive. For those in the midst of pursuing an education degree, student teaching is a critical launching point, and the School of Education’s teaching resource guide offers advice and tips for taking your experiences as a student teacher and applying them to a fulfilling teaching career.
Contact us today to learn more about Drexel’s programs.