Welcome to the Back to School series for new teachers! Each week through September, I will be sharing my top tips for new elementary teachers, and this week I am talking about building a positive and inclusive environment in our classrooms, which is one of the most important aspects of your role as a new elementary teacher. As elementary teachers, it is our responsibility to create a safe and inclusive environment where all students feel respected, valued, and supported. Such an environment fosters not only academic success but also social-emotional development, empathy, and understanding. So, let’s dive into the most important things you need to know about creating a positive and inclusive environment.
Establish Clear Expectations and Ground Rules:
Creating a safe and inclusive classroom environment begins with establishing clear expectations and ground rules. I firmly believe this has to be done before ever tackling the curriculum. There are multiple ways to do this – you can choose a specific program to follow (like Whole Brain Teaching), create your own list, work with the students to co-create class norms or some combination of these. I have used specific programs and like the structure it gives, but I also feel it is important for kids to have a say in their own classroom. It’s also always beneficial to have positively worded classroom rules or norms. For example, instead of saying “NO (hitting, kicking, yelling, etc.) it is better to say, “Keep hands and feet to yourself” and “Use inside voices or voice level ___” Encourage discussions about respectful behavior, empathy, active listening, and valuing differences. By involving students in this process, they will have a sense of ownership, making them more likely to adhere to and uphold the established expectations, so I highly encourage you to try this even if you want to go with mostly preplanned rules/expectations.
Embrace Diversity and Celebrate Differences:
Recognize and celebrate differences among your students. Show them that you value the unique backgrounds, cultures, languages, abilities, and interests within your classroom by incorporating multicultural perspectives and experiences into your curriculum. Introduce literature, stories, and activities that highlight different cultures, traditions, and backgrounds. Encourage students to share their own experiences and traditions, fostering an appreciation for diverse perspectives. By promoting cultural understanding, you create an environment where all students feel respected, valued, and represented.
Foster Positive Relationships and Connections:
Building strong relationships with your students is essential for creating a positive and inclusive environment. Take the time to get to know each student individually–their interests, strengths, and challenges. Show genuine care and concern for their well-being, both academically and emotionally. Using a strategy like the 2 x 10 strategy is the perfect way to do this. In a nutshell, you spend 2 minutes a day for 10 days in one on one conversation with a student. You can break up the 2 minutes throughout the day or do it all in one sitting. And don’t stress about the two minutes – there is nothing magical about it, but instead should be taken as a guideline. If it is slightly more or less–no problem! The point is that it is quick and focused on getting to know the child. Another tip – try as much as possible to focus on things that aren’t directly school related. (I have a list of great questions/conversation starters you can use if you feel stumped. Just fill out your information in the sidebar and they will be sent directly to your email.) I always advise starting with the student you feel may be the most challenging and work through your list in that manner, but you do you! You know the needs of your students better – trust your intuition or take advantage of an opportunity that presents itself.
In addition, as students arrive, be sure to greet them warmly, listen actively, and show genuine care and interest in their well-being. Establish rapport and trust by being approachable and supportive. When students feel connected to their teacher, they feel more comfortable and more likely to participate, take risks, and engage in their learning. Also, provide opportunities for students to connect with one another through collaborative activities, group projects, and team-building exercises. We share lots of ideas for these types of things in the Teacher Success Club, our monthly subscription box membership.
Address Bullying and Promote Conflict Resolution:
Bullying can undermine the safety and inclusivity of a classroom environment. It is crucial to address and prevent bullying proactively. Implement anti-bullying policies and educate students about the negative impacts of bullying on individuals and the community. Teach conflict resolution strategies and model effective communication. such as active listening, empathy, and compromise, to help students navigate disagreements respectfully. Create a safe space where students feel comfortable reporting bullying incidents and ensure that appropriate action is taken to address them promptly. Important to note here–often any type of conflict between students is labeled bullying. While we want to address any conflict that makes a child feel uncomfortable, it is also important to be sure to help kids differentiate between a conflict and true bullying. Bullying is when there is an imbalance of power, it is repeated and intentional, and the person being bullied feels unsafe. Conflict is when there is not an imbalance of power, could be a one time disagreement, and no one feels unsafe. There are lots of great online resources for this. Check out Stopbullying.gov or https://pacerkidsagainstbullying.org/ for more information.
Cultivate a Growth Mindset:
Last week, we talked about growth mindset and why it is important for teachers. This week we want to discuss its importance for kids. A growth mindset is essential for creating an inclusive classroom environment. Teach students to embrace challenges, view mistakes as opportunities for growth, and celebrate effort and perseverance. Let them know that abilities and intelligence can be developed through effort, perseverance, and a positive attitude. Encourage a culture where students support and encourage one another, rather than compete or compare. By fostering a growth mindset, you empower students to believe in their abilities, take risks, and value the unique strengths and talents of their peers.
Use Inclusive Language and Materials:
Infuse your classroom library (and your read alouds) with multicultural and inclusive literature. Read aloud stories that showcase characters from various backgrounds, cultures, abilities, and family structures. Integrate materials from diverse voices and perspectives into your classroom library to ensure that all students feel represented and included. Use literature as a springboard for discussions about diversity, equity, and inclusion. By incorporating multicultural and inclusive literature, you expose students to different perspectives, foster empathy, and create a sense of belonging.
Provide Support for Special Needs and Individual Differences:
Recognize and support the individual needs of all students, including those with special needs or learning differences. Students learn in different ways and at different paces.Collaborate with special education teachers, counselors, and support staff to ensure that appropriate accommodations and resources are provided for those students who need that support. And don’t be afraid to speak up if you feel an accommodation or differentiation doesn’t seem like the right fit for a child or your class. Differentiate instruction by using a variety of instructional strategies, resources, and assessments to cater to the diverse learning needs of your students, providing additional support and scaffolding when necessary. Additionally, consider the accessibility of materials for students with disabilities or diverse learning needs. Don’t forget that another type of learning difference is for students with academic talents or giftedness. Offer enrichment opportunities for those who need a challenge. By differentiating instruction, you ensure that all students have access to high-quality education and can thrive in your classroom.
Incorporate Student Voice and Choice:
Empower your students by incorporating their voice and choice in the classroom. You can start small by offering the choice of, for example, where they want to sit for independent reading time. If you use a Daily 5 or workshop structure, you can provide choices on learning activities. Even something as small as choosing whether to write with a pencil or write with a pen counts! Then you can build up to provide opportunities for them to make decisions about their learning, such as selecting topics, project ideas, or collaborative groups. Seek their input on classroom routines, rules, and activities. By valuing and incorporating student voice and choice, you foster a sense of ownership, autonomy, and engagement in their learning process.
Promote Collaboration and Cooperation:
Just as collaboration is important among teaching colleagues, you also want to encourage collaboration and cooperation among your students to foster an inclusive environment. Design activities and projects that require teamwork, communication, and problem-solving skills. Provide opportunities for students to work in pairs, small groups, or as a whole class. By promoting collaboration, you create an environment where students learn from one another, develop empathy, and appreciate diverse perspectives.
Next week we will be talking about fostering positive relationships with families. If you have any questions about this topic, you can comment below, or email me: email@example.com
In the meantime, happy teaching! 🙂