The information referenced in this article comes from this study.
It is common knowledge that inclusion has been advocated for in the fields of early childhood and early childhood special education for many years now and it isn’t going anywhere. Inclusion in classroom environments can take on many forms that are as unique as the children in each class, but a common and necessary thread in these environments is that children with and without disabilities are all learning together in the same classroom. With that being said, it is important to understand your own beliefs and attitudes about inclusion and how they come out in your practice and affect your students.
“When all children are totally included in the classroom, many benefits are realized. One benefit for children with disabilities is increased social skills and acceptance by typically developing peers. At the same time, children without disabilities are more aware of differences between people and display more comfort around a person with a disability.”
With inclusion having so many positive benefits it is important to understand how to create successful inclusive environments. In order for inclusion to work you need “qualified personnel working in the classroom, available support and services for student needs, adequate space and equipment to ensure student success and a positive teacher attitude towards inclusion.”
While all of these components are important for success the most important of these is that the classroom teacher feels positively about inclusion in the classroom. Attitudes about inclusion are made up of cognitive, behavioural and affective components. “The cognitive component pertains to knowledge and thoughts about the causes of the behavior of children with disabilities in an inclusive setting. The affective component is based on the cognitive understanding of a disability, which can motivate people to get involved in working with a child who has a disability, or produce feelings that could cause them to exclude the child with a disability from typical activities. The behavioral component deals with a tendency to behave or respond in a particular way when in contact with children who have disabilities (e.g., move further away from the child).”
Teachers’ form attitudes towards children and people with disabilities, and ultimately toward inclusion, based on a child’s characteristics, the factors in the classroom and their previous experiences. These attitudes then come out in the way that these teachers instruct and interact with children in their classroom.
A teacher’s attitude toward inclusion is critical for the success of an inclusive classroom.
When teachers facilitate child participation in the same activities and encourage the development of relationships among children, they create an accepting environment in the classroom. When teachers meet the individual needs of children it is the best way to make the inclusive classroom successful, but teachers must feel positively about doing so for inclusion to truly take place.
As teachers it is critical for us to understand and examine our own beliefs and attitudes about inclusion and to become more informed about inclusion and disabilities so that we can create successful inclusive environments for every single child in our classrooms, and in turn, move towards a more inclusive world.
Jane M. Leatherman1 & Judith A. Niemeyer (2005) Teachers’ Attitudes Toward Inclusion: Factors Influencing Classroom Practice, Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 26:1, 23-36
“We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.” – Maya Angelou
The following information is taken from this article.
It’s 2017 and you can bet your bottom dollar that any class that you are put into these days is going to be diverse. For some teachers who are stuck in traditional ways of teaching, this is intimidating, but for some it is a challenge to incorporate each learner into the woodwork and to make sure each of their needs are met.
Research shows that, “traditional teaching methods are often ineffective for learners outside of the majority culture.” The article states that many students from minority groups, especially women and people of colour, are most likely to prosper when their classroom has a focus on collaborative work where they can share personal experiences and, “examine relationships between persons and ideas”. In parallel, more competitive learning environments may cause students from minority groups to feel isolated and unable to speak their mind. In classrooms that model competitive learning, such as calling on students who raise their hands quicker than others, some students fall between the cracks. In environments such as this it is important to outline clear expectations for when it is appropriate to speak, to always show respect, and that it’s OK to make mistakes.
Some of the questions outlined in the article are:
- Do your examples or illustrations acknowledge the experiences of people from different backgrounds in non-stereotypical ways?
- Have you examined your own conscious or unconscious biases about people of other cultures?
- Are the students welcome to share from their own lives and interests? Are they treated as individuals?
I found the question regarding the resources used in the classroom showing perspectives of people from an array of backgrounds to provoke a lot of thought around what that would like in a BC classroom. Incorporating materials written from the perspectives similar to those of students in your class could seriously promote empathy and acceptance within your classroom dynamic. For example, including stories or books by First Nations peoples into social studies lessons or science lessons could spark new ideas for many students in your classroom and could also allow for First Nations children in your classroom to take pride in their culture and share their own experiences. Again, it is important to allow room for cooperation, sharing, and relationship building in the diverse classroom.
Ultimately, if you are working to create an inclusive classroom then you are also making strides towards making your classroom a safe space for every child. By incorporating times for students to connect, share experiences, and work collaboratively you are creating space for students to celebrate and respect their diversities as strengths rather than weaknesses. Keep in mind that small group work should be monitored so that students are working in new combinations of partners often.
“Whichever methods you choose to make your classroom more inclusive, know that remaining sensitive to and flexible about the ways diverse populations communicate, behave and think, will help create a supportive learning environment for all students.”
The following video is a TED Talk by the late Rita Pierson. Rita had been around the school system her entire life. Her parents were educators, her parent’s parents were educators, and she had been an educator for 40+ years herself when she gave this talk. In all of Rita’s experience in the school system she had found that building relationships with students is probably the most effective thing a teacher can do to help their students be successful.
Building relationships with students is a very important key to creating an environment where students feel safe and supported. In this TED talk Rita explained that in her time in the school system she had witnessed many students drop out from poverty, low attendance, negative peer influences, etc. Rita said that educators know why students drop out, but they rarely discuss the importance of human connection — relationships.
“No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.” – James Comer
Rita explained that, “kids don’t learn from people they don’t like”. She believed that relationships are built on simple concepts, such as apologizing and honesty. Rita had classes that were so academically deficient that she would cry and she would often find herself asking, “How do I raise the self-esteem of a child and his academic achievement at the same time?”
In times where Rita found herself in front of a challenging class she decided to give them a motto. She would tell her students to say,
“I am somebody. I was somebody when I came and I will be a better somebody when I leave. I am powerful. I am strong. And I deserve the education that I get here.”
Rita believed that if her students said this long enough then it would start to become them, and she was right.
Something that I found extraordinarily valuable when listening to Rita’s talk was when she spoke of her mother. She said that she would watch her mother go out and buy combs, brushes, crackers, and peanut butter to put in her desk for students who needed it. I found this to be incredible, and something that I wish to emulate as a teacher myself. When I think of a safe learning environment I think of a role model like Rita’s mother. She was so intentional and compassionate with her students that when she passed on she left a legacy of relationships that would never disappear. A teacher like touches the hearts of so many lives and thats what children need – a champion.
A final note from Rita’s talk that I think is important to mention is the fact that you won’t love every single one of your students but they can never know that. Rita said, “The tough ones show up for a reason.” The classroom needs to be a safe and supportive place for each and every student. Teachers are great actresses and especially so in this case and the toughest kids are the ones who need the most support and connection.
“Teaching is tough, but it’s not impossible.”
I think that any teacher that is looking to create a safe space in their classroom can learn a lot from Rita Pierson’s work. Relationships are important and a teacher can never know just how much they will impact a child’s life, they can only do their best to make that impact a positive one. “Every child deserves an adult who will never give up on them. An adult that understands the power of relationships and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be. Every child deserves a champion.”
“Creating a classroom that is organized and that is characterized by mutual respect makes it a lot easier to teach effectively, and one of the most important things teachers can do to promote learning is to create classroom environments where students feel safe.” – Dr. Dusenbury.
Dr. Dusenbury is a nationally recognized expert in creating safe and nurturing classroom environments and the text above is what she had to say about creating safe spaces. I have just finished reading this article at Education World that pulls information from one of Dusenbury’s resources and I have already learned so much. The article discusses why it is important for students to feel safe in their learning environment and how to make this attainable in your classroom.
“Students need to feel safe in order to learn”
It is important for children to respect each other, themselves, their teachers, and to receive respect from all of these areas in return. This is valuable in times where students are working together, especially in small groups, and also in times where students are sharing ideas on topics that can be controversial or misunderstood. “Students need to feel safe in order to learn” says Dr. Dusenbury, and she is very right! I have worked in a handful of environments where school was a child’s safe haven from an unsafe life and I have learned first hand that if a student can feel safe and supported in their learning then it can drastically alter the trajectory of their life. Students need to feel safe to ask questions, make mistakes, and challenge their thinking and the thinking of others in a safe and respectful manner. Students also need structure and routine to feel secure in their learning environment so that they are not surprised by anything and feel secure in their participation in the classroom.
So what are some ways to start turning your classroom into a safe and structured environment?
- Keep a clean and organized classroom. Children get distracted easily and it is important for them to have clear and consistent expectations for the teacher and themselves when it comes to everything, but in this case classroom clutter. If your classroom is inviting and clearly promotes student growth then students will feel safe being a part of it.
- MAKE SURE YOU HAVE EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO BE SUCCESSFUL – and make sure it’s easily accessible! This is important for you and your students because it supports the learning and flow of your classroom.
- Organize your classroom in a way that promotes movement. If students need to pull their desks together or if you are doing a brain break then this is key! It is also important for you as a teacher to be able to move around, monitor learning, and keep your lessons engaging!
- Teach students, and yourself, to respond to everything with respect. There are no bad questions but a bad response to a question can cripple a student’s self confidence. Model respect and keep that word on your tongue always. Fostering respect and inclusion of ideas, even when they are not the same as yours, is valuable in our classrooms and in our society. So, teach them respect and acceptance now so that they can grow up to create a future society that celebrates diversity and kindness.
“…teach them respect and acceptance now so that they can grow up to create a future society that celebrates diversity and kindness.”
Finally, pay attention areas outside of your classroom and work with other teacher’s and staff to ensure that your school is a safe space for every child. Ultimately, “be conscious of the environment in your school and classroom. When you create a climate of safety and respect, learning will follow.”
“When you create a climate of safety and respect, learning will follow.”