Make Inclusion A Goal from Day One
How inclusive is your classroom culture? Does every student in your classroom feel respected, supported, valued and appreciated? Are all of your students active members of your classroom community? Are you doing everything possible to create a classroom culture where diversity is celebrated?
Even in classrooms where students share major characteristics such as race and socioeconomic status, there may be a tendency for them to focus on the things that divide them rather than the things that unite them. This can ring especially true when students with special needs are included in general education classrooms. That’s why it is crucial that you set the tone by creating a culture of inclusion in your classroom from day one.
Principles for Creating Inclusive Classrooms
Adhering to these principles will help you establish an inclusive classroom culture where acceptance, respect and appreciation of diversity will be the norm:
Start with the Three R’s—Respect, respect and respect. Make it clear to your students that treating each other with respect is both imperative and non-negotiable.
Eliminate Stigmas—Explain to your students that special education is not a bad thing and that some students need special education services because of their unique learning needs.
Acknowledge Learning Differences Positively—Talk to your students about learning differences. Help them to understand that everyone learns differently and that some students need specialized educational services to help them learn best.
Emphasize Commonalities—Give students time to get to know each other to discover common interests. This can be accomplished through a number of means, including strategic seating, game playing and assigning students to flexible, mixed ability groups for cooperative learning activities.
Embrace Diversity—Help your students develop a profound appreciation of diversity. Highlight the rich contributions each student brings to the classroom community. Encourage students to share their special gifts and talents with the class. Impress upon students how fortunate they are to be able to share with and learn from each other.
Teach Tolerance—Model the ideals you expect students to exhibit. Teach tolerance, patience, kindness, compassion and empathy explicitly so students will develop these habits of heart implicitly.
Promote Acceptance—Talk to students individually and as a group about what acceptance means. Tell them that in order for a classroom community to thrive all of its members need to be fully accepted and appreciated.
Celebrate CommUnity—Encourage students to share stories, perform rituals and create traditions together to build a rich, cohesive and unified classroom community. Shared experiences help to build strong bonds. Create opportunities to celebrate your strong classroom community.
Maintaining a Positive Classroom Culture
Classrooms with inclusive cultures explicitly and implicitly, consciously and unconsciously, and verbally and nonverbally, convey to all learners the following positive messages: “you are welcome,” “you are wanted,” “you are respected,” “you are valued.” All students want to be in classroom environments that transmit those messages, and if you ask students about their favorite classes and favorite teachers they will always talk about classrooms and teachers that make them feel good about themselves. Such environments can exert a powerful influence on academic achievement since students are more likely to take risks in environments where they feel safe and in classrooms where mistakes and errors are viewed as learning opportunities.
Make maintaining an inclusive culture a top priority in your classroom. How will you know you’ve succeeded? Look for evidence that each of your students is happy, content and excited about being in your classroom. If all of your students are not 100% enthusiastic, chances are your classroom culture is not as inclusive as it should be. Talk to your students. Find out which ones don’t feel included and why. Then, make the necessary modifications to your classroom culture to ensure that each of your learners feels treasured and engaged.