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5 Key Ways to Build an Inclusive Learning Environment: A Reflection

As we work towards creating inclusive and identity affirming learning environments for our students of intersectional identities my work has helped me think critically about these 5 key ways that can help us individually and collectively build an inclusive learning environment. These 5 key ways and examples are not a checklist nor in any specific order. Rather, they are a framework that needs to always be contextual, responsive and relevant for the students and community we are serving. It is important that we are thinking critically about our individual and collective actions as educators because we have positional power. We have the ability to create a change that can have a positive and lasting impact on our students. We can ensure that our actions support all of our students by making sure that student's educational experiences are centered on inclusion, equity and anti-oppressive practices. I hope that this blog post helps us continue to think critically, engage in dialogue, consider our pedagogy and take actions that are intentional and inclusive.

5 Key Ways to Build and Inclusive Learning Environment

1. Critical Self Awareness and Positionality

As Educators we have a tremendous amount of positional power so it is important that we critically reflect on our identities, biases, privileges, assumptions, views etc. It is important to be aware of this because this impacts how we come to our work of teaching and learning. If we are truly committed to building inclusive spaces we need to be aware of who we are and how this impacts how we carry out our pedagogy in learning spaces. Critical self reflection is one of the key foundations for designing, building and implementing inclusive classroom spaces where all students can thrive.

2. Asset and Strength Based Approach and Contextual Work

It is critical that our approach to teaching is asset and strength based. We need to disrupt any deficit thinking about our students, their families and the communities within which we serve. Our teaching and learning work needs to be contextual and we must have asset based views. This can be done by 'seeing' all parts of our students and changing the language that is used often in educational spaces such as "these students are so low performing", "these families don't really care about school" or "that's to complex for my students". It is important to understand the systemic and individual injustices many students experience because of the school system either current or in the past. It is important that we use asset based approaches such as "wow my students speak 2 language and now they are learning English", "my student's families bring a wealth of experience". Language is powerful and it impacts how we view and treat our students. All of our students come to school to be 'seen' completely and loved for all parts of who they are. They should not have to change or be ashamed about parts of themselves. They should feel a sense of belonging and we can ensure this by seeing the strengths and many assets our students bring. Some prompts I have used to learn more about my students are "wow that sounds so cool, tell me more", "I am so excited to learn more about you and your family", "How can you connect to this experience", "Can you teach me more please".

3. Relationships with family and community

It is important that we build, foster and create authentic and sustainable relationships with the families of our students. We need to first expand the ideas we may have about families and really 'see' and 'center' the families of all of our students. Recently, I have started using the term 'families' instead of parents or a phrase I really liked that I read online was "your grown-ups". A school I completed an LTO at used the term 'Family Council' instead of 'Parent Council' and that really inspired me as well because it really is responsive and inclusive. These word choices create space for all of the people in our student's lives. As educators with positional power, we need to reach out to our families with an open and non-judgmental mind. We need to remember that people of different identities experience or have experienced the school system differently and some may not have great experiences because of individual and systemic racism/discrimination. We need to think critically and move beyond perhaps the stereotypical ways families may be involved in schools and really center our student's and their families. We may need to create new ways of considering what makes sustainable and meaningful relationship. We need to extend the hand and create a safe space for all of our students and their families.

4. Critically Assess and reflect on Resources:

It is important that we critically consider the resources we are using to teach and carry out the curriculum. With our positional power, we can intentionally curate and teach from resources that center dynamic and diverse voices and identities. We can also bring forward resources that show a complete perspective and story. It is important that our student's have their identities and experiences affirmed as well as expanded. For so long, we have not really been told the complete story regarding events, issues and histories. Rather, we have been taught single and disconnected perspectives. It is important that we take time to learn ourselves and then bring this information to our students.

Please check out this resources I put together for more information around how to assess the resources you are using in your classrooms:

5. Support student's learning of becoming critically conscious members of their communities:

It is important that the learning that is happening in our classrooms is responsive and reflective of the lived experiences of our students as well as the broader communities. If we want our communities to become more fair and just for people of all identities, we need to support our students continued development of critical consciousness. Critical consciousness is really helping students become aware and think critically about what's happening in the world and the role they can play in creating more fair and just spaces for all people. Critical consciousness is centered on hope and people of diverse identities working together to mobilize and create this change. Investing in critical consciousness, is one of the ways to ensure our student's teaching and learning is deep and moves beyond surface level approaches.

Thank you so much for reading this blog post. These are some of the key ways that I think critically about how I can build an inclusive classroom community for all of my students of different identities and lived experiences. I am interested to know what you would add to this and how you will ensure these strategies are contextual for your learning environment and space.

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