Our classrooms do not exist within a vacuum. The outside world is constantly a presence within the walls of the school, deeply intertwined with the lives of our students. Each student brings a complex and diverse lived experience to the classroom space, and it is our responsibility as teachers to make sure that every identity and life experience is respected, recognized, and included. 

While schools have the potential to reproduce and exacerbate structural inequalities, they can also be sites of incredible growth and opportunity. With this guide, we  highlight the daily situations in which teachers hold institutional power in the classroom, and offer suggestions for teachers to self-reflect and disrupt traditional structures, narratives,  practices.  It is our hope that this guide can provide a reflective and deeper examination of teaching practices to make the classroom space inclusive for all students. 

In each section, you will find an example of potentially harmful and problematic situations that frequently come up in school (whether intentional or not). We then offer questions and several tips to approach these situations in the future.  

While this guide is intended  for teachers working in schools, it could still be useful for anyone working with young people from a position of power. The guide was written mainly in the context of working within Berlin’s schools and reflects these experiences. We recognize there are many identities and experiences that may not have been reflected in this guide, so if you wish to comment or add something, please write to us at: info@mitkollektiv.de

General principles for inclusive classrooms

  • Know your students (Get to know students, their interests, their families, and their needs. Spend intentional time understanding who you are working with!)
  • Listen (Be open to feedback. Listen to your students’ expertise, experience, and knowledge. A classroom can be a shared space of collective learning)
  • Do your research (reflect on the gaps in your experience and knowledge and make time to inform  yourself about histories, current events, relevant issues, or other topics that affect your students)
  • Recognize your biases (Question your reactions and assumptions of students. Where are they coming from? Your implicit biases may be affecting your teaching practices)
  • Accommodate (Differentiate for all students’ particular needs, understanding that your methods and content should be accessible to all students. A highly differentiated class benefits all!)

Classicism

Examples of problematic situations

On Monday, a  teacher asks their students to describe what they did over the holidays. Some students report about extravagant holidays in other countries, while other students stayed at home over the break. The teacher may have inadvertently created a situation where the student is required to share about their home life, which may not reflect a dominant “middle class” culture. This can lead to feelings of shame or embarrassment.

Questions to ask yourself

  • Which socio-economic class do I belong to and which privileges go along with it?
  • Which socio-economic class(es) do my students belong to? What privileges do they have and what privileges do they not have?
  • How can I avoid putting students in situations where they feel left out?

Tips

Assigning homework can be an inequitable practice for many students who are from working class families. If you do assign homework, keep in mind realistic assignments that students can complete a) without technology  b) independently and c) within a reasonable time frame.

Plan lessons that don’t require cultural capital and resources that students may not all have access to (i.e. If you want students to bring in a “historical object” from home, a photograph, or specific types of materials  for a lesson etc. you may need to realize that not all students can bring in materials from home).

In community building activities, we suggest being careful with questions that refer to student’s homes, what they did on the holidays, or specific jobs that their parents have. Instead, you could reframe your questions to be more inclusive, such as “Tell us one time you were bored and one time you had fun over the break!” or “Draw your favorite activity!”

Racism

Examples of problematic situations

A teacher is constantly sending the same students to the office for “misbehavior.” They don’t acknowledge that their implicit biases are leading them to disproportionately discipline BIPOC students. Or: A teacher expects a Black student to be a spokesperson and to explain their experiences of racism to the rest of the class.

Questions to ask yourself

  • Do I have implicit biases that I need to address?
  • Who do I pay attention to the most? Who do I not pay attention to?
  • Who am I mostly “disciplining” or getting in trouble?Have I reflected on my own racial positionality in relation to my students?
  • What perspectives am I offering my students in my teaching content?

Tips

To address racism in your school and in your class, you need to start with yourself and your own education. Access resources that will help you understand the dynamics of racism, racism in school, and your own racial identity. Seek to pinpoint biases that you hold about your students.

Work together with colleagues to ask yourselves how racism operates in your school and classroom. Examine school curriculum, methods, and discipline practices. Invest time in identifying where racism is being perpetuated and what you could do together to make your school and classrooms more equitable. It is also helpful to have external trainers come to your school.

Mandated curriculum and traditional classroom materials are often Euro-centric in nature. Be intentional in your curriculum planning. Use alternate materials that are culturally relevant and reflect your students. Implement resources (books, websites, other texts) where students can see themselves represented. Or, if you work in a predominantly white school, ensure that your content does not simply reinforce white European dominant thought, but provides a diversity of perspectives. (link to unchosen curriculum)

Able-bodieness

Examples of problematic situations

A teacher plans a group activity with lots of movement, not realizing that this activity is not accessible to a student in a wheelchair. Or: A teacher designs a worksheet with a very small font, not thinking about the visual needs of some students in the class. Or: A teacher picks a youtube video to show in class. It has no option for closed captions (which could actually benefit all students).

Questions to ask yourself

  • How can I make sure the classroom space, my lesson content, and my pedagogical practices are accessible for all students?
  • How can I hold myself accountable to remember not only students’ specific accommodation plans, but also the diverse learning needs of all my students?
  • How can I make sure that I am not singling students out?

Tips

Make sure you are aware of students’ accommodation plans and keep this information close by.
Connect and open up communication with the student’s family. It will help to understand the student’s needs from the family’s perspective.
Remember that students with disabilities are not responsible for articulating their specific needs to you. It is your responsibility as a teacher to ensure accessible content and methods in your lessons.

In daily classroom practices: 
Ensure that your seating plan is accessible for different learners. Is the position of the desk suitable? Can the student see the board? Are they near a partner that would be a good fit/support for them socially and academically? Finally, make sure to include closed captioning in all videos that you show in class.

Gender

Examples of problematic situations

In sport class, the teacher creates “boy versus girls” teams for a game. In the homeroom, the teacher has assigned classroom jobs that reinforce gender stereotypes (there are girls who are sweeping the floor, while there are boys that are helping with technology). In most schools, there are no widespread gender neutral bathrooms.

Questions to ask yourself

  • How can I use gender inclusive language in my everyday practice?
  • How can I ensure that classroom activities or lessons do not reinforce a gender binary?
  • Are there certain voices that are not being heard in my class? What can I do to change that?
  • Will this topic create an unsafe space for certain students in my class?

Tips

When creating groups or teams for activities, use other language or qualifiers (i.e. team red shirt versus team blue shirt! Or people who like apples and people who like oranges!)
Make sure you are using your students’ correct pronouns (check in with them about this and model how to do this respectfully).
Normalize using gender neutral language in class and disrupt gendered language or stereotypes when you hear them being used in class (make sure to discuss this as well).
Encourage students to reflect on representation in school materials, textbooks, etc.

Family

Examples of problematic situations

A teacher introduces an art activity to make cards for Father’s Day. Many students in the class have absent fathers, some may not know their fathers, or some may simply not have a father as a parent. This can be a triggering topic. Picture books also represent family life as nuclear and heteronormative. This isn’t representative of the many ways that families can take shape.

Questions to ask yourself

  • What types of families am I representing in my teaching materials/books that I read to my class?
  • Am I reinforcing traditional ideas of what “family” should be? If so, what can I do to disrupt this pattern?
  • Do I harbor assumptions about certain families in my class, especially if they are different from my own family?

Tips

Make sure you connect with students’ families at the beginning of the school year. Your first contact with the parents should include positive feedback–not a negative report on the student’s behavior. Understanding daily dynamics and building relationships with the families is absolutely crucial to creating a strong classroom community. The more you understand a family, the better you can support the student.

Honor the many different types of families that exist! (Foster, Adopted, LQBTQIA*, Chosen, Poly, Single parent, Step parent(s), Multi generational etc…)

Remember to use inclusive language as opposed to “moms and dads” or “brothers and sisters.” Some alternatives are: sibling(s) parent(s), carer(s), or guardians )

Discussing Current events

Examples of problematic situations

A teacher in Germany is asked by their school’s administration to hold a moment of silence to commemorate the teacher in France who was beheaded after showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to his class. (Meanwhile, there was no moment of silence held for the victims of Hanau). By following these directions and not problematizing the situation, this teacher did not reflect on how this moment could fuel and feed into Anti-Muslim narratives in Europe. In this case, Muslim students in the class could feel targeted on the basis of various aspects of their identity.

Questions to ask yourself

  • If I’m bringing up a current event, will this topic create an unsafe space for certain students in my class? (i.e. will it single out BIPOC, LGBTQIA* students?)
  • Do I have enough background knowledge on this topic/ have I done enough research so that I will not be perpetuating harmful narratives?
  • Do I have the tools to be able to facilitate a nuanced discussion around this topic?
  • Can I invite an expert in to talk about this topic from their perspective?

Tips

“Current” events are always happening around us–they can be surprising, tragic, intriguing, upsetting, nerve-wracking, etc. When discussing events, ensure that you are also making space for emotional reactions in your classroom community. There should be a foundation of mutual respect and norms in your class before you bring up heavy topics that could potentially single students out. Model using “I” statements and speaking for yourself and not others. 

When thematizing a complex topic that is connected with concepts of racism, classism, colonialism etc., do the research and come prepared. Make sure that the topic you bring up isn’t out of the blue; identify key terms, make sure there is background knowledge that has gradually built up before you introduce a topic. If you are unprepared, you could inadvertently lead to student misconceptions. Also, remember that your interest in a topic doesn’t ensure that the situation will be safe for everyone in the room (it could even be harmful).

Links to further resources

I-PÄD (Initiative intersektionale Pädagogik) Materialien & Downloads

Über Family

LQBTGIA* Inclusive classrooms

Non-hierarchical classrooms resources (social justice education)

Differentiation

Racism

Teacher trainings: