Going back to school is busy, and it can be really stressful for kids — especially kids who are a little different than their peers.
Here are some ways you can make your classroom more inclusive this year.
1. Model inclusive language.
Be mindful of every student's abilities, family types, and identities. For example, instead of saying "walk," if someone's in a wheelchair, say "let's go". Use phrases like "families and caring adults" in place of "moms and dad". Say "friends" or "kids" instead of "boys and girls". Language matters, and kids want to feel seen and represented. Don't forget to ask students their preferred pronouns at the beginning of the year!
2. Educate kids on why language matters.
Don't just tell kids what words they can't use — educate them on why. Teach them about how words can hurt people, and how nobody wants to feel hurt.
3. Don't ignore when students use harmful language.
Harmful language comes in many kinds, and it isn't always a slur. If you hear a student using harmful language, like "gay" or "retarded" or even "triggered", call them out on it. Tell them about how our language matters, and that chances are, they know someone who is affected by the language they're using.
4. Stock your shelves with diverse books.
Make sure students have access to books that reflect not only their lives, but also identities and perspectives outside their experiences. Include different skin types, cultures, disabilities, and situations to open kids' minds. Make sure all kids are represented!
5. Use diverse characters on worksheets and bulletin boards.
The best way to normalize disability and diversity is through representation. So, try to make sure everyone is represented! It's easy to replace characters on worksheets with more diverse ones. You can do this in Microsoft Word or Canva with images you find online!
5. Make sure handouts are as accessible as possible.
Speaking of worksheets and handouts, make sure they are accessible, too! Use dyslexia-friendly fonts like Ariel or Dyslexie, make sure contrast levels are high enough that kids with vision impairments can see them, too, and use color contrast checker tools when possible, too.
6. Don't single them out.
You can tailor to your students' needs without making it obvious and making them feel like "other" than their peers. If you need a student with vision impairments to sit up front, put it in the seating chart! If you have a student who uses cochlear implants, work out the tech details before class. If you have a student with ADHD who needs to fidget, don't call attention to it and instead speak to them after class about ways to make their actions less disruptive.
7. Keep some fidget toys available.
Some kids learn, focus, and stay quiet a lot better when they have a toy to fidget with. By normalizing this, it makes those students feel much more comfortable doing what works for them. Don't be afraid to set boundaries, though, if other students begin to abuse them!
8. Develop clear classroom rules.
Don't just say "no bullying". Specifically outline different kinds of bullying, and name groups that are disproportionately bullied or harassed. Then, make it clear to students that this behavior is inexcusable.
9. Group students by something other than gender, location, or height.
Avoid making children feel uncomfortable about their gender identity, socioeconomic status, or physicality. Instead, group them by the things that allow them to find out what they have in common — like birth month, favorite color, clothing color, favorite movie, or the letters their names begin with.
10. Make sure field trips are accessible.
This doesn't just mean accommodating for physical disabilities or wheelchair access. If a student has epilepsy, a sensory processing disorder, an injury, or a phobia, make sure they participate, too!
11. Offer your notes or presentations to students.
Students with hearing impairments, ADHD, ADD, or cognitive disabilities can benefit from having a written reference available to them so that they don’t miss out on the details they need to succeed.
12. Don't use your students as "teachable moments".
Whether it's a kid with a disability or someone being bullied for their clothing, don't point the children out as "other" or use them as an example. Instead, let bullies know their behavior is unacceptable and include more representation of the "teachable" student without singling them out.
13. Don't force them to speak.
On a similar note, don't expect your "different" students to speak on behalf of all those like them. Let them have the floor when they want it, but don't force them to speak their opinion. It only reinforces stereotypes.
14. Invite students to share more about themselves.
Whether it's a "culture day", family tree project, or "bring in something you love" homework, giving students a chance to share about themselves helps build confidence and build relationships. Just don't put them on the spot!
15. Be consistent.
Many children thrive on routine and consistency. Be consistent in how you enforce your classroom standards, in the way each day is structured, and in the way you speak to different students. Kids pick up on everything.
16. Be positive about challenges.
Everyone faces challenges. But they're a chance for us to learn! By keeping calm and showing your students that it's okay to be imperfect, they will learn to do the same.