5 Tips to Create an Inclusive Learning Environment
Welcome To Our Classroom - FREE PDF download included below!
In our last blog, we discussed the importance of culturally responsive teaching and its positive effects on student engagement, motivation, and academic success within ethnically diverse classrooms. Tapping into students' cultural backgrounds and experiences when planning for instruction goes a long way when educating Black and brown learners. Another way to support children of color in the classroom is to create an environment where they feel welcome and included. Inclusive learning environments are ones that encourage students to celebrate their unique differences, consider different perspectives and viewpoints, and feel seen and valued at school. Here are 5 tips to create an inclusive learning environment for your learners:
1. Get to Know Your Students
The first step in creating an inclusive learning environment is getting to know your students. This means more than just knowing their names and what they like to do for fun. It means building relationships with them to understand their cultural backgrounds, preferences, and interests so you can create a learning environment that is reflective and meaningful. One way to get to know your students is to have them fill out a “getting to know you” sheet at the beginning of the year. Luckily, we've created a FREE handout that you can download and use with your students!
Our Get to Know Your Learners freebie includes two worksheets your young learners can complete to share more about themselves, their culture, and their learning preferences. These would be great resources to use at the beginning of the year as you’re getting to know your kiddos so you can start using culturally responsive teaching strategies in your classroom!
Another way to get to know your students is to have regular check-ins throughout the year. This can be done informally, such as during class discussions or one-on-one conversations. Or, you can set aside time each week for a more formal check-in, such as a short meeting with each student. This is an opportunity for students to share how they’re doing in class, what they’re struggling with, and what they're up to outside of school. It will give you some insight on how you might be able to tailor your curriculum or instruction in ways that will be engaging and motivating for your learners.
2. Get Family Input
In order to best support your students and create a learning environment that is reflective of their diverse backgrounds and experiences, it’s important to get input from their families as well. Contacting families is a great way to find out more about your students' cultures, strengths, and unique experiences. This can be done in a variety of ways, such as sending home a questionnaire at the beginning of the year, scheduling 10-minute welcome calls with each family, or hosting a meet-and-greet before school starts. If possible, try to meet with each family individually so that you can really get to know them and their child. This is also an opportunity for families to share any concerns or insight they may have regarding their child’s education.
Keep in mind that that some families may be hesitant to share information about their child or their own family, especially if they feel like it could be viewed negatively. In these cases, it’s important to assure families that you are only trying to help their child succeed and that all information will be kept confidential.
3. Build on Prior Knowledge
When planning lessons and units, make sure to consider the prior knowledge that your students already have. This means starting with what they already know or are familiar with and adding new information from there. It can help to make new concepts or ideas easier for your students to learn and digest. This is especially true for students from diverse backgrounds, as they may have different experiences and perspectives that you can build on. For example, if you have a student who is interested in sports, you could incorporate that into a math lesson. A student with a disability may have expert knowledge about how to best support themselves, which you can use to inform your instruction. Or an English language learner may speak a different language at home which you can integrate into your lesson when introducing new science vocabulary.
In order to tap into students’ prior knowledge, try incorporating some of the following strategies:
- Have students brainstorm a list of things they already know about the topic.
- Ask students to share their personal experiences related to the topic.
- Choose activities or create lessons around topics that interests them.
- Give students time to reflect on what they already know and how it might be relevant to the new material you’ll be covering.
4. Choose Relevant Learning Materials
When choosing materials for your classroom, it’s important to consider how or if they represent the students in the class. This means choosing materials that are relevant to students’ lives, experiences, and frames of reference. When students feel like the material being taught is relevant to their lives, they are more likely to be engaged in learning. For example, if you’re teaching a unit on families, you might choose books that feature diverse family structures, such as single-parent households, adoptive families, or families being raised by grandparents. You might also choose real-life photos or videos of families in your community, and integrate other materials that feature diverse characters or topics related to the cultures of your students' families.
Our shop offers diversity-focused learning resources that you can use in your classroom! We create educational games, puzzles, and learning tools that feature Black and brown characters and inclusive content, so be sure to check them out!
Another way to choose inclusive materials is to let students help select them. This can be done by creating a class library or giving students the opportunity to share their favorite books with the class. You can also ask students to bring in pictures or other items from home that represent their culture or family. This is a great way to get students involved in their own learning and to make sure the materials you’re using are relevant and inclusive. The goal is to help all students see themselves in the material and feel like they belong in the classroom.
5. Create a Safe, Welcoming Space
Our last tip for creating an inclusive learning environment is to ensure that the classroom environment is safe, welcoming, and reflective of the students in the room. This means having images or visual references that feature people from a variety of cultures, races, and ethnicities, especially ones that are represented in your classroom.
If you're in need of more diverse classroom displays, make sure to check out our bulletin board sets! We've created three inclusive sets of bulletin board cards that can be used to as classroom wall decor, displayed as reference charts, or even adapted for individual use during lessons or learning centers. Each of our sets includes Black and brown characters that will allow your students to see themselves reflected in their learning environment and will help you create a more inclusive classroom setting!
In order to create a safe, welcoming classroom environment, it also important to model inclusive behavior for your students so you can work together as a class to create an environment where all learners are respected and valued. This means using inclusive language and avoiding making assumptions about people’s backgrounds or experiences. It also means being open to hearing about different perspectives and experiences. When students see that you’re willing to learn about and respect their cultures, they’ll be more likely to do the same for each other.
Creating an inclusive learning environment is important for all students. It’s a great way to celebrate diversity and make sure that all students feel like they are part of the classroom community. By following the tips above, you can help ensure that your classroom is a place where all students feel safe, respected, and valued.
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE….
A Free Gift from Us - Our WELCOME TO OUR CLASSROOM freebie!
Our Welcome to Our Classroom freebie is a handout that you can give to parents or caregivers to learn more about your students and their families. This simple form is a great way to get families involved and will give you some insight on your students' cultural backgrounds, interests, and experiences so you can begin to create an inclusive environment that reflects your diverse learners. This would be a great resource to use at the beginning of the year as you’re getting to know your kiddos and start to implement culturally responsive teaching strategies in your classroom!
Wishing you all a great start to the new school year!