How to create an inclusive classroom environment

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What does ‘inclusive practises’ mean and how can we ensure that all our classrooms and work environments are truly inclusive? Varinder Unlu explores in this third instalment from her series on supporting specific learning differences.

Inclusion is about how we structure our schools, our classrooms and our lessons so that all our students learn and participate together. An inclusive classroom is one that creates a supportive environment for all learners, including those with learning differences and one that can also challenge and engage gifted and talented learners by building a more responsive learning environment. Inclusivity also means respecting people from all backgrounds and cultures. By teaching our students the importance of this we can create a much more tolerant and understanding environment, not just in the classroom and school but also in wider society.

An inclusive school or classroom can only be successful when all students feel they are truly part of the school community. This can only happen through open, honest discussion about differences and understanding and respecting people from all abilities and backgrounds. An inclusive environment is one where everyone feels valued.

How do you currently promote inclusivity in the classroom?

Here are some questions for reflection:

  • Think about your own values and approach to disability, gender, race etc.  Does how you teach acknowledge the experiences of the students from different backgrounds? Is your approach non-stereotypical? Do you encourage alternative perspectives, debate ideas, create an environment which is open to representation of different viewpoints?
  • Are your students treated as individuals, encouraged to share their own lives and interests?
  • Are your examples non-stereotypical?
  • In a racially diverse ELT classroom, have you thought about your own conscious or unconscious biases about people from other cultures? Do you have different expectations of students of colour than you do of white students, of male or female students, of students from LGBTQ community?

5 inclusivity practises to consider

  1. Create a supportive, respectful environment: promote diversity and fairness.
  2. Have high expectations of all your students. Research shows that students respond better when they feel that their teacher has faith in their abilities and is not focusing on their inabilities.
  3. Create a supportive peer culture both inside and outside the classroom. This is when you empower learners to respect and trust each other, making empathy and caring ‘fashionable’ and reinforcing positive and pro-social attitudes by encouraging learners to help each other.
  4. Plan learning which includes participation from everyone and encourages success. You can do this by creating an environment which is personalised to students’ needs and by talking about learning that focuses on what students can do and what they would like to do next. This can be done through tutorials, Individual Learning Plans (ILPs), and short and long term goal setting by the learner so that they feel they have ownership of their learning. If you provide students with opportunities to tell you what is working and what needs attention, you will have a better idea of what to focus on.
  5. Take a ‘community’ approach to learning and teaching. Inclusive values are developed through a student’s lived experience and their exposure to other cultures and world-views. Bring your community into the classroom and take your classroom out to the community.

Creating an inclusive environment will not only help those students with learning differences – it will also support those students that don’t have a learning difference by making them more aware, tolerant and understanding of each other.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, read all of Varinder Unlu’s articles in this series:

Tips for helping students’ concentration and focus
Specific learning difficulties – how can they affect your students?
Supporting students with specific learning differences
Managing disruptive behaviour in the classroom

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