Cultivating the Inclusive Classroom
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, by the year 2027 the percentage breakdown of students is projected to look like the following: Caucasian 45%, Hispanic 29%, Asian 6%, Black 15%, and of Two or More Races 4%. Clearly, educators must understand the role diversity takes in the classroom, and work to accommodate and understand students of many ethnicities.
There are many actions administrators, staff and teachers can take to be more mindful of the social and emotional dynamics that influence learning. They bear close examination.
- Examine the curriculum. Most teachers do not have a say in the curriculum they use to teach a certain subject, but learning to look for biases and perspectives that do not account for multiple student groups is an excellent habit to form. In this way, instructors can intentionally incorporate more diversity into the lesson.
- Be aware of unintentional behaviors that can reduce some students to the fringes of the class experience. Mispronouncing names is a behavior that makes students feel like outsiders.
- Work to create a diverse, respectful school community. This can start by having teachers from different backgrounds and socio-economic statuses so that students see an integrated instructional team.
Specific actions and orientations for teachers when interacting with students are:
- Learning who your students are.
- Learning why they are taking your class.
- Asking how you can improve their learning both in and out of class.
Building rapport intentionally gives you a better understanding when teaching. Students are more comfortable expressing their thoughts, which leads to more engagement, which leads to more learning. When students feel valued, the environment is more stimulating.
The teacher who stays to chat for a bit after class is more approachable, especially when he/she knows the students’ names. Don’t be afraid to laugh and employ humor while teaching—it makes you more human.
According to ASCD Inservice, “Highly trained teachers are vital to educating students about privilege and oppression. But according to a piece from Counseling@NYU, which offers an online masters in school counseling from NYU Steinhardt, many teachers do not have enough of an understanding of these topics to properly support students.” A key administrative strategy for an inclusive mindset is in faculty workshops, which should reflect the open dialogue and exchange of ideas that characterize an inclusive oriented classroom. The Teaching Center at Washington University in St. Louis suggests the following topics to begin changing the school culture:
- Reducing Stereotype Threat
- Fostering a Growth Mindset
- Understanding Implicit Bias and its Effects on Teaching and Learning (includes discussion of “micro-aggressions” that can negatively impact the learning environment)
- Facilitating Challenging Conversations in the Classroom
- Fostering Inclusive Learning during Group Work
- Designing Inclusive Objectives and Assignments
Starting to create sustainable and broad-based change, even with baby steps, is a move in the right direction. Raising awareness and fostering the atmosphere to begin the discussions can help teachers, staff and administration to identify the assumptions they hold, encouraging them to evaluate the areas of bias they might not see.