Make Your Classroom a Place Where Students Know They Are Accepted for Who They Are and Where They Are in Life
- Present a balanced view of accomplishment.
It’s a fact that most celebrated figures of history are male, white, and straight. But you have the power to change the script and showcase the achievements of women, People of Color, and other identities. You can also avoid fueling stereotypes. Florence Nightingale and Michael Jordan made impressive contributions, but there are countless others whose achievements go beyond the stereotypes of women caring for men and African American men being athletic. Consider drawing attention to someone who defied the expectations of the day—such as Katherine Johnson, an African American mathematician who helped NASA accomplish historic crewed spaceflights.
- Ace the name game.
Saying names correctly reinforces acceptance and respect. It’s a tall order to memorize so many names as quickly as possible, but the rewards of building classroom community and increasing student engagement are worth it. Conversely, mangling a name or “deadnaming”—using a name that they no longer associate with—can lead to feelings of alienation. Some effective strategies include using name tents, writing names phonetically, and encouraging students to refer to each other by name, instead of, “I agree with what he said.”
- Make your classroom a soft place to land.
After the stress of the last few years, students may feel as though they are behind academically or feeling awkward among their peers, especially without the anonymity of a face covering. Let students know that it’s okay to mess up sometimes. If your school has the resources, have pencils and other classroom supplies readily available to avoid drawing attention to forgetfulness or a bad financial situation. When a reluctant child finally speaks up, respond positively. When a student bombs a quiz or a project, take the time to write a short personal note of encouragement.
- Think of your classroom as a community.
Practices that encourage community-building pay dividends in making a classroom hum. Hold regular class meetings to help set an inclusive tone and ask for students’ input in establishing classroom norms. Then refer back to these norms when there are disruptions. This early “buy-in” helps students see that they are critical to the decision-making process and creates a classroom community of learners.
- Develop relationships.
Educators know how important it is to determine a student’s academic baseline, but the benefit of getting to know the student behind the letter grades cannot be underestimated. A “getting to know you” questionnaire at the beginning of a term is always helpful, but be sure to make connections with each student throughout the year. Relationships are a two-way street, which is why educators who share personal stories and insights with their students gain an extra benefit: trust. Let students know why you chose teaching, recount stories of failure and how you overcame setbacks, and share your passions.
Want to create a welcoming classroom for all students? NEA offers micro credentials on equity and cultural competence at nea.org/EquityTraining.
This article first appeared in the October 2022 issue of NEA Today, written by Janet Rivera Mednik.