How to Make Your Classroom Inviting for All Learners
Updated: Aug 1
"You don't spell it... you feel it." Winnie-the-Pooh Well, we did it! We made it to October! Does anyone feel like they might laugh or cry at any moment? Same here! We have to celebrate the smallest of victories. My victory of the week was finding Eddie B's Instagram Page. He makes me laugh and feel like someone “gets it” outside of all my teacher friends. Two weeks ago, I shared some strategies to help lay the foundation of social and emotional learning (SEL) with students. This week, I want to focus on how we, as teachers, show up and plan so that learners feel safe and ready to learn. I was inspired to write this because not only did we announce our new e-Book on social and emotional learning, but a teacher invited me in to observe their affect during remote learning. This teacher had asked me to come in because it was a particularly hard week and he was worried that his students were picking up on his emotions and it was affecting their learning. This invitation showed great awareness on his part, and I appreciated that he was able to name where he was at to proactively seek an outside perspective. I love that he felt safe enough to ask me. It really got me thinking that often we just need one person to turn a week around. More on that below! In our Connecting Together e-book (link page), we wrote “Each time students come together, create space for warm-ups or check-ins. What is coming up for them? What is on their minds and hearts? It has the added benefit of creating connections between students, too.” (Lathrop, et al. 2020, 7) Simply providing that space might not be impactful or feel like that was time well spent if learners are reluctant to share with us. So how do we create a safe space so students are willing to share? One thing that is in our sphere of influence is to provide our students with an invitation to learn. This invitation can come from how we “show up” in person or online. The book, Better Than Carrots or Sticks, on page 23, offers guidance for teachers to be “intentionally Inviting” so that students are enrolled in the learning process:
Be consistently positive
Have a growth mindset
Show sensitivity to student needs and take appropriate action to meet those needs.
Now, I realize it can be difficult to be intentionally inviting all time, much like my teacher last week. Still, if we can purposefully design and aim for these intentions, we are more likely to create an inviting and welcoming environment within our classroom. Want some reflective questions to ask yourself? View the poster below and click to download.
We should also get to know our learners beyond their academic profile. Whether we have just started school or are several weeks in, there are always things we can learn about our students. Joel Pedersen, who created the hashtag #oneperson argues on his blog, that “every student needs just a single person to care for him or her in order for his or her life to change forever.” While I definitely did not change my teacher's life forever, I was able to help turn his week around and build upon the positive culture and relationships he has with his students. Sometimes that is all we need. It’s still early in the year, so we might not know all we need to know to be that #oneperson. We need to create opportunities to learn more about their interests, aspirations, and family lives. To get started, take time to list what you know about each one of your students already both in and outside of the classroom using the following:
What are their interests?
What are their strengths?
What are their areas of need?
What is something you wish you knew about them?
I know that might seem overwhelming, and there will be some students for whom you can’t answer these questions, and that is okay. It will be worth that effort because it will help you intentionally plan and learn more about each student. How will you uncover and learn more about each individual student? Do you need some ideas? We have activities and strategies and to help on our *NEW* Resources Page. Check them out and think about how you can be that student's #oneperson in a time when a sense of community can feel lacking. Finally, I want to leave you with this quote from Brené Brown: “Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘You’re not alone.’”
This moment in time is trauma-inducing for all of us and learning new content is always hard, but even harder if social and emotional needs are not being met.