What does the environment feel like to learners?

This school year I’m working to create an intentionally inclusive classroom and environment. I’ve certainly thought I had one before but I also know that there were significant holes in my practice. Here are some of the tiniest ways I’ve made shifts.

Make the Space About Kids

I have always added photos of kids to the entrance of the room from graduation. This is something that kids look at and are excited about almost immediately. I know that kids are hooked when they ask repeatedly if they will make it to the wall – and I always respond “of course selfies are taken at graduation, so you gotta get there.”

photo gallery of students in graduation cap and gowns with teacher

Replacing Gendered Language

Instead of saying “boys and girls” or what my go-to phrase was “ladies and gentlemen” or even “guys” as an attention getting phrase, I’ve been using folks or folx. It’s small, it’s nothing earth shattering, and I think it’s helping. It’s even helping as I work with adults now to use this language.

Preferred Pronouns

This is another tiny shift. Students before have asked to be called certain names and I have always been very welcoming around this. I actually ask specifically what name would you like to be called – something I’ve done since I taught in elementary school. One Kindergartener asked to be called Batman so I did, much to the dismay of his classroom teacher. And I have always used the pronouns students have asked to be called. This year though I went about it in a proactive way – putting it on the introduction sheet and introducing myself with my pronouns. Again, not a huge shift, but one where students understand that they can be who they are. It’s also been helpful to have the conversation with students who might not know that others are working through this process as well. As another method, I bought the pronoun pins from GLSEN and had them in a bowl in the room. Many kids just took them and wore them, we had conversations about the importance of this.

Representation Matters

This is an area that I definitely needed to work on and I used the summer to work at this in a variety of ways – the artwork and artists; clearly stated inclusion; and creating a pool of resources for kids to see themselves in them. I began by working on a slideshow of artists for students with clearly stated identities. This was a process and I go into it in this post. But it was remarkable. Students were so intrigued and engaged in the artists in ways I didn’t expect. Students found connections to artists that meant something to them which is literally all I want. I also put up artwork that was by and had a variety of types of people in it. I wanted the feeling in the room to be – anyone can be an artist and represent anyone within art. I also definitely wanted to communicate my love and acceptance of all kids – so I posted the GLSEN signs on my window coming in and near the calendar where kids go all the time. I also put up the poster about what I believe in this classroom. None of those things were very hard at all and also really created the space for the room to be inclusive.

An area that I began working on last year was my bookcase. I had moved many books out into the “student area” before – but I really wanted students to be reading. I know! I’m not an English teacher, but I do think kids should read. (Shocker) I also have fallen in love with reading YA in between my non-fiction. So I started to bring in those books and recommend them to students. I realized it was something useful and it was working when I bought 3 copies of The Hate U Give last year and they all got passed around so much they fell apart and disappeared. So I added more to the shelf and kids were borrowing…. and more importantly, reading.

What does it feel like?

This was the question I asked students during the AP Bootcamp in August and again and again through the fall.

“Warm”

“Welcoming”

“Like this space is for us, for anyone.”

“Open”

“Like I can breathe”

How do you create an environment that is welcoming for all students?

How do you think about your environment in regards to students?

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