A Better Way to Back to School Part 1: 5 Ways to Create an Inclusive Classroom

As we return to the classroom, we always want to believe that this year will be better than the last – and maybe the best

A classroom of students

 ever! Our students are coming back to class thinking the same thing, that this will be their year. 

Those ambitions align under the umbrella of inclusion. 

When we build inclusive classrooms for our students to thrive in, their enthusiasm for learning increases and their performance follows. It’s a win-win that can make the school year one to remember for all the right reasons. 

Setting up your classroom and creating your lesson plans? Keep these five tips in mind for cultivating an inclusive classroom this academic year.

1. Teach kids to embrace differences

The best way to achieve inclusion is to role model and teach inclusion. Since a more inclusive environment benefits everyone, everyone in your class can play their part in contributing to the cause. After all, groups with different backgrounds and abilities benefit greatly from their diversity. 

“Some of the benefits of inclusion for children with (or without) disabilities are friendship skills, peer models, problem solving skills, positive self-image, and respect for others. This can trickle down to their families as well, teaching parents and families to be more accepting of differences.” – Erin Aguilar in The Benefits of Inclusion for Easterseals

Getting your students interested in, involved, and engaged with inclusion helps to build a classroom culture that values everyone. Being outspoken about inclusion also sets a clear expectation for your class: we all belong here. When nobody is singled out or made to feel excluded, we can work to deter bullying and instead, foster collaboration. 

How to Make It Happen:

Carve out time for some inclusion 101 instruction for your kids. Teach them about the importance of inclusion and how to practice it at school. Allow time for students to get to know each other and to find common ground using activities that are welcoming for everyone to participate in. The time you spend letting kids discover and celebrate their differences will be worth it all year long!

2. Take time to understand a child’s individual education programs

Understanding your students and having an actionable plan for inclusion go hand-in-hand. You’re likely already familiar with Individual Education Programs (IEPs) and how they help you to outline, acknowledge, and accommodate the unique needs of every kid in your class. But you may not have tapped into their full potential.

A teacher looking at a book with a studentThe child’s IEP can unearth opportunities to embrace the true singularity of your classroom. Not every class is alike because no two kids are alike – and you have a room full of them! An inclusive classroom that is exciting to return to day after day is one that makes every child feel like they belong. 

How to Make It Happen:

IEPs require the cooperation of a team – you, other educators, a child’s parents, administrators, and so on. Ultimately, it is your responsibility as their teacher to ensure the accommodations outlined in their IEP are given, services are provided, and a student is included accordingly. 

Take note of exceptionalities, goals, provisions, and accommodations for each student, as outlined in their IEP. Tailor your teachings, activities, and plans to include everyone – not just with alternatives, but with inclusion built into the curriculum. This may include:

  • Giving students multiple ways to express their learning, interact with lessons, or approach a subject. 
  • Creating enrichment groups that connect students with the right level of instruction based on their skill level in a certain subject.

You may never have this distinct group of students ever again. Don’t miss your chance to learn from their mix of skills and personalities! Create an environment that celebrates them for the diverse group they are, and gives them the academic support they need.

3. Schedule around services

Inclusive classrooms unite students with busy schedules. While it’s typical for students with disabilities to spend about 80% of their time at school in general education classrooms, it’s still common for them to be pulled out of their general classes for supplementary lessons. From speech and physical therapy to social skill-building activities, students may find themselves separated from your instruction at some point during the week.

The point is, coordinating your classroom’s schedule can get tricky when everyone needs to master the same skills, yet some students need to leave the room to receive specific instruction. 

How to Make It Happen:

We want to be sure students receive the speech therapy, physical therapy, or other skill-building they need without feeling excluded in the process.

Collaborate with the special education instructors to discover opportunities for your coursework to coincide, so that students can get a cohesive education and you can keep your class momentum. Consider advocating for “push in” rather than “pull out” services where they could be the right fit. This will keep your students together throughout the day, allowing them to learn alongside each other even when their needs differ. 

4. Design your environment strategically

With your seating arrangements, decorations, and learning centers to keep in mind, designing your classroom requiresA classroom full of students and a teacher a keen eye for detail and effective use of space. In an inclusive environment, you also have the rewarding challenge of ensuring access to every zone of your class. 

The goal here is to make your lessons, activities, and experiences accessible to all students, both physically and educationally. Think about how far students are from the whiteboard, where they will be turning in their assignments, and so on. These components and more play a part in keeping students focused on their studies, rather than how hard it is to navigate your classroom.

How to Make It Happen:

Plan out the pathways that students will take through your classroom. Ensure that the route offers sufficient space for wheelchairs or students with mobility equipment to move through the room easily. Also, consider behavior and learning styles. Determine how you can arrange your room to accommodate kids with sensory difficulties, mitigate distractions, and make learning easier for youth with hearing or visual impairments. We know that the environment we’re in can have a huge impact on how we think and feel, so be strategic with your space!

5. Reach out and link up

Inclusion is all about bringing people together, offering opportunities to everyone, and thriving because of our differences. In schools, this can take a little teamwork. 

Disability inclusion is often inhibited by the segregation of students into general and special education classrooms. Accordingly, students with disabilities and students without may only rarely cross paths. Bringing students together can present challenges – scheduling, activity planning, etc. – but the benefits are immense when it can be achieved.

How to Make It Happen:

You’re not alone in your pursuit of a more inclusive classroom. Inclusion in your own classroom can be amplified when you open your doors to other educators and their students. They can help bridge gaps and dismantle barriers. With classrooms so often segregated, coordinating with your colleagues can help bring inclusion where it’s otherwise less achievable.

Inclusion in the Classroom, Even After School

Join Us for the Back to After School Series

Your hard work in the classroom ought to carry over into after-school programming too. Keep your culture of inclusion going after the final bell with our Back to After School series, designed to empower after school professionals.

The webinar series gets you ready for a new year of inclusion opportunities with four presentations:

  • Understanding the Why of Behavior
  • Redirecting Challenging Behaviors
  • Managing a School-Age Group
  • Addressing Bullying

The series begins on August 15th. Course content will be available until September 30th – just in time to get you in the rhythm of the new academic year!

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