Safety and Diversity in the Classroom

diversity

“Learning is a team sport.”
Jennifer Katz

Safety is a precondition for learning – classrooms must be physically and emotionally safe places for students. Educators can work together with students to create a caring and respectful classroom community that celebrates the diverse backgrounds, different skill sets and different strengths of each and every student. Classrooms that are safe promote student well-being and allow students to learn to the very best of their ability.

In British Columbia, the use of the word ‘inclusion’ has generally referred to the inclusion of students with special needs in our classrooms. When we expand the term ‘inclusion’ to mean including a broader range of students that may be at a disadvantage socially or academically because of their socioeconomic, cultural, religious or political backgrounds, we begin to more effectively work towards creating a truly inclusive classroom community.

In her book, Teaching to Diversity: The Three Block Model of Universal Design for Learning, Jennifer Katz writes, “In education, at all levels, the terms inclusion and inclusive are used increasingly to mean that all students have the opportunity to learn and grow in learning communities alongside their peers.”

As we know, the classroom is where it all happens. It is the place that students spend most of their time throughout the year. Their classroom becomes a second home to them and educators and peers like a second family. Helping students honour the diversity in their classroom encourages them to accept and embrace the similarities and differences they have with their peers.  Classrooms become a space of belonging and acceptance – a true community. Creating a learning community where everyone feels valued and able to take risks with their learning is a complex and sometimes challenging process that requires an investment in time and effort.  The reward, however, is well worth that time and effort for both educators and students.

Video: Respecting Diversity, Building Community
In this video teachers and students share the positive impact of building community in their classrooms and highlight the noticeable changes in student self-esteem, peer acceptance and engagement.

Jennifer Katz, developed the ‘Respecting Diversity Program’ for educators who want to build compassionate learning communities in the classroom. The program is used at the beginning of the school year to help students develop self-concept and respect for others. The program introduces the theory of Multiple Intelligences to give students common language about their strengths and learning styles. Jennifer has a series of videos that show educators how to lead and guide students through the ‘Respecting Diversity Program’. For more information and detailed lesson plans and ides on how to extend the Respecting Diversity Program across the curriculum, read her book, Teaching to Diversity: The Three-Block Model of Universal for Learning.

Educators who have adopted and implemented UDL in their classrooms, plan and accommodate every learner within in the classroom environment as much as possible.  Support services from school or district specialists are delivered to students in the classroom itself.  This helps reinforce that sense that critical sense of community with every learner belonging in the classroom. Consequently, pullouts are minimized and all students who require individual or small group support, receive it in the classroom setting.

In this following video, classroom and specialist teachers share their views on pullouts and why they support their students in the classroom as often as needed.

Video: Rethinking Pullouts

As you can see, adopting the Universal Design for Learning framework in your classroom may mean a change in your teaching philosophy. The more traditional approach of waiting to identify those students who are not being successful learners AFTER the curriculum is delivered so remediation or compensation measures can be implemented (often out of the classroom) is, in UDL classrooms, replaced with curriculum planning that recognizes true inclusion can only happen in the classroom environment if diversity is taken into account from the beginning.  True inclusion happens, in other words, when every student is meaningfully included in the classroom both socially and academically.

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