Best Practices for Building an Inclusive Classroom
All children want to learn in a place where they feel safe, accepted, and included. Professional educators—especially teachers at the elementary school, kindergarten, and preschool levels—play an important role in building learning environments inclusive of young learners of all abilities and backgrounds.
An elementary education that is inclusive, supportive, and accepting can have a positive short- and long-term impact on all learners. Students with disabilities who learn in inclusive classrooms perform better academically, have higher attendance rates, and have fewer behavior problems, among other benefits.1
Inclusive classrooms also give students without disabilities a better learning experience. Educators who promote inclusion are more likely to use teaching strategies that adapt to the learning styles of all students. Evidence also shows that students who learn alongside a student with a disability hold less prejudicial views and are more accepting of people who are different from themselves.1
Inclusive classrooms provide many benefits for students’ academic, emotional, and social development. Here are four best practices elementary school teachers can use to help their classroom become a safe, comfortable learning environment for all students:
1. Scrap One-Size-Fits-All Teaching Strategies.
Whether they have a disability or not, all students learn differently. There are many strategies educators can use to tailor their teaching to address different learning styles and promote an inclusive education.
Some elementary school teachers bring the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) model2 into their classrooms. Using the UDL framework, educators can create customized learning environments that remove learning barriers and make lessons more accessible to all students, regardless of their learning needs.
Differentiated instruction is another popular approach used to build inclusive classrooms at elementary schools. Teachers who use this teaching strategy may break students into groups based on knowledge, create tiered lessons that teach the same concepts at different levels, and provide hands-on activities to allow students to learn the material in multiple ways.
2. Build Community.
For a classroom to be truly inclusive, students should feel like they belong, are connected to a community, and are accepted for who they are. Elementary teachers can promote inclusivity and community at school by providing opportunities for students to get to know each other, talk about their unique qualities and talents, and nurture relationships.
Community-building activities like icebreakers are a great way to get students to interact and make new friends with classmates they might not otherwise get to know. As part of their overarching teaching strategy, educators should encourage students to recognize, celebrate, and respect their differences, and can use these differences as tools to teach acceptance and compassion.
3. Work as a Team.
Collaboration is key in building inclusiveness in elementary education. School teachers should partner with other professional educators and student families for the support and resources they may need to build an inclusive classroom.
For example, one approach is team teaching with special education teachers who can offer strategies for creating and adapting instruction for students with special needs. Paraprofessionals—or paraeducators—are also valuable partners in inclusive classrooms. Under the supervision of a certified teacher, paraeducators can provide extra support and instruction to help meet a wide range of student needs.
Parental involvement is also vital in the education of children in inclusive elementary classrooms. Educators and parents must partner closely to make sure students have the necessary support and services at school and at home.
4. Manage Classroom Behaviors.
Good classroom management is important in any elementary school classroom, and in an inclusive environment, teachers must make it a priority. For inclusion to be successful, educators should establish clear rules with goals and expectations, and they need to ensure students of all abilities understand and respect those rules.
Classroom management strategies that support inclusive teaching and learning include:3
- Posting daily schedules.
- Displaying classroom rules and expectations.
- Encouraging peer to peer instruction and leadership.
- Using signals to communicate when to quiet down, start working, or put away materials.
- Giving students folders, labels, and containers to organize supplies.
- Checking in with students while they work.
- Utilizing proactive rather than reactive interventions as needed.
- Speaking to students privately about any concerns.
- Employing specific, targeted positive reinforcement when a student meets a behavioral or academic goal.
Want to Learn More? Earn a Teaching Degree Online
If you’re interested in working with students and building inclusive learning environments, a career as a certified teacher could be a great choice for you. Many colleges and universities offer good online bachelor’s and master’s programs in education that can prepare you for teacher certification and licensure.
At Walden University, you can choose from several online degree programs for educators. For example, if you want to become a teacher in elementary schools, you can prepare to pursue teacher certification in Walden’s BS in Elementary Education online degree program. In this bachelor’s program, you can study a variety of best practices and strategies for teaching in today’s diverse classrooms.
Already have a bachelor’s degree? Consider an MS in Education. This master’s degree program can prepare you to make an even greater impact on learning in the classroom. The MSEd is one of many degrees you can earn online at Walden to help advance your career.
With a teaching degree, you can make a lasting difference for students of all abilities.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering a BS in Elementary Education, an MS in Education, and a variety of other master’s and doctoral education degree programs online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.
Walden offers both state-approved educator licensure programs as well as programs and courses that do not lead to licensure or endorsements. Prospective students must review their state licensure requirements prior to enrolling. For more information, please refer to www.WaldenU.edu/educlicensure.
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