During the first days of class – even the first moments – what you do can make all the difference to students – and to the success of everyone’s experience in your class. You feel their energy, they perceive their first impressions of their new teacher, and those responses – favorable or not – can set the tone for the new academic year. So, start your academic year off enthusiastically inclusive!
“Through my education, I didn’t just develop skills, I didn’t just develop the ability to learn, but I developed confidence.”
Put Out The Welcome Mat For Every Student
For an effective learning environment, people have to know each other.
“I believe that if we want our children to understand the world beyond their classroom, we must bring the world into their classroom.”
-Queen Rania of Jordan
It’s important to create a sense of belonging for ALL students.
Most each and every student entering a classroom has been subjected to stereotypes, prejudice, racism and bias.
Not only will students have a wide variety of intersecting identities they will bring in, their attitudes and opinions that can be hot buttons for you and other students.
Learning is undermined when exclusionary comments and microaggressions go unaddressed in the classroom. We need to deepen our capacity as well as those of the students to both recognize and interrupt microaggressions before they undermine trust, teamwork, and learning.
And while it sounds difficult, if you begin your academic year creating a sense of belonging for all students – and ensuring all students truly connect with each other – you’ve taken the important first step in creating an open and inclusive environment, where everyone is valued and respected.
Hey, Wait A Minute – That’s Not My Job!
It is your job to create an inclusive environment.
Inclusivity means supporting a learning environment for all learners- and it also means respecting students from all cultures and backgrounds, all social identity groups.
An inclusive environment is only effective when EVERYONE is included, honored, and respected and where unproductive behaviors and engaged and shifted.
Even before the classroom door opens, you need to ask yourself: what does an inclusive classroom mean to you?
What’s your vision, mission, and strategic plan? Create a course content where ALL students can see themselves, whether it’s in authors or readings, guest speakers, videos, story-telling or interviewing others.
Your first day of class is critical for setting the tone:
- Pay attention to how you introduce yourself.
- Tell students the roots of your passion for the course.
- Explain your vision for the type of classroom environment that will accelerate learning for all.
“The greatest sign of success for a teacher… is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working ‘ as if I did not exist.”
– Maria Montessori
A High-Five Morning Starts A High-Five Day
After greeting each student as they enter the classroom, have them put name tags on with the name they want to be called, and maybe hints for pronunciation and pronouns they use, if they choose.
Then greet! Have the students move around, greeting each other, until you chime a bell, then have them find a high-five buddy. They can share with each other why they took the class, what they hope to learn, as well as maybe something other students may not know about them.
After a few minutes of informal connecting, lead a large group discussion where students share out what they said and learned about each other. Do this process in the next several classes, and you can create a more productive, inclusive learning environment.
Other prompts for conversation could be:
- Share insights for the readings.
- What questions came up as you did the homework?
- What is happening in the news or your life that relates to the readings?
On a grade-appropriate level, let them know what they can do if they hit a hot button or feel upset in any discussion, like taking a deep breath. Or they can let you know so the class can slow down and talk about it.
Increase Your Awareness Around You By PANNING
In the movies, a camera “pans” the environment to see the whole picture. You need to PAN, too:
Pay Attention Now
- Intentionally observe and notice behaviors, comments, feelings, patterns of treatment…
- Consider: is it an isolated incident or a possible pattern of experience?
AVOID SNAP JUDGMENTS! Some of the classroom dynamics to pay attention to with your by group membership are:
– what differences are present in the group – who interrupts, who gets interrupted
– who is talking – who has eye contact with whom
– who is quiet – who initiates the topics
– whose ideas don’t get discussed
You can refer to my “Creating Inclusive Organizations,” handout for more comprehensive information.
Your Panning Sees A Difficult Situation Unfolding
When you notice or pan a triggering situation in your classroom, use PAIRS (Pan, Ask, Interrupt, Share).
These are effective dialogue skills to help you navigate the triggering event:
ASK about the specifics behind the person’s comment or behavior (i.e. can you say more about that?; can you help me understand what you mean?)
INTERRUPT the dynamics: let’s slow down this conversation and talk about what just happened – or I want to make sure everyone heard what you said so we can discuss it…
SHARE what you panned and/or self-disclose with a story or example your feelings in the moment…statements like “When I hear you say that I think/feel…” or “My heart aches as you tell that story…”
You’ll discover that taking the time to include ALL your students creates a better learning environment for everyone!
“We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.”
— Max de Pree
Discover more smart tools and strategies to kick off the fresh school year with success! Get instant FREE access to my webinar, Creating Inclusive Teams and Classrooms from the Start: https://drkathyobear.com/inclusive-teams-webinar/. And be sure to share the link with your colleagues so everyone can benefit!