How to create an inclusive learning environment

Inclusivity in a classroom environment ensures that every student, regardless of their background, abilities or differences, feels a sense of belonging. When students feel included, they are more likely to engage actively in the learning process, contributing their unique perspectives and experiences to the classroom dynamic.

As educators, there is an enormous opportunity to address racism in our classrooms and ensure that all of our learners feel that they are in a safe and inclusive learning environment. Here are some ways to make your classroom more inclusive:

Introduce cultural diversity into the curriculum. Adult education is not immune to institutionalized racism. Curriculum is often taught from a Eurocentric perspective and the knowledge and experiences of Black students and People of Colour are often not included. Try to find programming that acknowledges and draws on the experience and perspectives of Black people, Indigenous people and People of Colour.

Integrate cultural diversity as much as possible. Beyond programming, aim to integrate culturally diverse information and perspectives into aspects of teaching regularly. Consider not just using Black History Month as an opportunity to celebrate Black people, and instead look to shine a light on Black people’s contributions throughout the teaching year. For example, read the stories of people who have fought against discrimination, or study major societal contributions made by people from all parts of the world. Practitioners should keep in mind that conversations about understanding and respect should not be limited to a commemorative event, or other special programs, holidays or activities but instead, should be a part of everyday interactions in the classroom.

Teach cultural literacy. Being culturally literate can help people understand, relate to and interact with people from diverse backgrounds. Seeing, hearing and learning about how other people live can make people culturally sensitive and aware, and learning about different cultures can open minds to different ways of life.

Give learners an opportunity to share. Provide opportunities for learners to share life experiences and make the classroom a place where students’ experiences are not marginalized, trivialized or invalidated. Prejudice and discrimination have a unique impact on each individual. Don’t engage in a debate over who has suffered the most, rather give each learner the opportunity to share their personal experiences and encourage empathy from others.

Review your classroom resources. Review materials so that classroom displays and bulletin boards are inclusive of all people. Ensure that supplemental books and videos do not reinforce existing societal stereotypes. When such examples in books are observed, point them out to learners and encourage them to think about them critically and to challenge them.

Establish an environment that allows for mistakes. Institutionalized racism has caused many, predominately White people, to be conditioned to have prejudiced and stereotypical thoughts. At times, they may not be aware of these thoughts being hurtful to others. It’s important to acknowledge that these kinds of thoughts may surface in others and ourselves. Practitioners should model non-defensive responses when told that something they said or did was offensive to someone.

Call out racism when you see it. Be prepared to respond to any acts of discrimination that you see. Black people, Indigenous people and People of Colour will take notice as to how these acts are being dealt with. Silence during injustice gives the impression that prejudiced behaviour is tolerated, and it should never be tolerated.