Fostering a learning environment that promotes and enables inclusion
Feeling safe, valued and part of classroom community is significant for every child. Once these core principles have been established, there are other considerations that can help innovate and refine our inclusive practice. Inclusion can be promoted and enabled through representation and class discussion as well as celebrating and welcoming difference.
All learners need to be able to recognise themselves in the examples, narratives, learning contexts and resources that they engage with in day-to-day learning. Representation is more than just making sure our teaching acknowledges religious festivals or at least one non-white, non-male significant historical figure. Representation is a continuous strive to challenge previously held notions about who was instrumental in scientific, historical and societal change and who continues to be an ambassador for ‘breaking the mould’. Representation should force us to make careful choices about the range of children’s literature that we have in our classrooms, and whether the main characters in these stories help to inspire or limit children’s aspirations for themselves. Representation should encourage us to be mindful about the assumptions we might make about family and economic circumstances when, for example, we set a ‘Mothering Sunday’ card-making activity or set a piece of homework that requires computer access in the home. Representation is not a quick fix. Thoughtful planning can help children to see themselves and others outside of their community beyond the confines and stereotypical images sometimes perpetuated by wider society, media and news headlines.
Celebrating and welcoming difference
There are opportunities to promote difference when planning our classroom environment. We might ensure that a range of languages are used in classroom displays and labels, for example, or designate registration as a time when children are encouraged to use different languages. In this way we are planning opportunities that help all children to appreciate language diversity and see this as a strength and not a limiting factor. Chapter 7 provides support with how to plan to support children for whom English is an Additional Language.
One way to celebrate difference is to encourage each child to complete a culture wheel. Each child completes a blank circle divided into five sections by drawing or writing one thing in each section about their family life in relation to food/ interests/celebrations/values/music (what is important for me and my family). Culture wheels can initiate classroom conversations about the cultural characteristics of different children and help the children to see that everyone is culturally different. It can also help children to recognise that, regardless of our differences, some aspects (for example, supporting a football team) can unite us. Culture wheels, especially if done at the start of an academic year, should help to inform our planning. Knowing the interests and expertise of our individual learners provides some relevant contexts and starting points for our planning across the curriculum.