We are having more and more conversations in our district and beyond that address the importance of inclusive practices in all aspects of education. At a recent faculty meeting, we watched a short video of Rudine Sims Bishop in which she talks about the importance of books serving as mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Teachers understand why inclusive practices matter; it’s not hard to get people on board with the belief. However, many teachers are asking what they can do and how they can do it better.
The first thing to know is that we’re all on a progression of learning, knowing, and doing better when it comes to inclusive practices that respect, reflect, and honor all students. At the beginning and end of a recent presentation, I cited Clare Landrigan’s wise words to “expect and accept a lack of closure” along this continuum. That being said, here are three ways to think about inclusive practices within our daily classroom work.
Notice, reflect on, and adjust who is represented in our classrooms and curriculum.
One way to think about this is to consider how the materials in our classrooms present and show people, language, and cultures from a diversity of backgrounds. Envisioning her kindergarten classroom, one teacher thought about the human figures in her building play center. “I need some different colors,” she said. One of the social workers talked about the cards she uses to generate role-playing situations with children. “They’re mostly of white people,” she reflected. She ordered new ones during the presentation.
Within this concept, we should consider how historically marginalized people are represented in terms of power and perspective. If all of the books and curriculum in our classrooms emphasize and highlight the struggles of historically marginalized people, then what messages are we sending?
For example, if our books emphasize the civil rights era, students may begin to think that black people are always struggling for their rights instead of working through the same sorts of social issues as white people. Books should contain relatable struggles about life and relationships—not just conflicts that involve people’s color or sexuality or disability or religion or whatever else. When children repeatedly experience similar stories about themselves or other people, we risk those stories becoming their perceived truths.
Additionally, all children should see themselves in books but also feel like it’s possible for them to create those books. Therefore, it is important to pay attention to who is writing, illustrating, and publishing books. As we think about the books we use to teach both reading and writing, are we including contributions from historically marginalized people? When people see people like themselves as creators, they are more apt to become creators as well.
Expand mentor texts and choices for reading to build inclusive practices.
In both reading and writing classes, more and more teachers are offering students choices, an important way to be more exclusive. As I consider books for our curriculum and how they fit with learning progressions and standards, I also think about the following questions:
- How do these books show historically marginalized people in terms of activities, representation, and contributions?
- How do these books reflect the diversity that exists not only in my school and community, but also in the world?
- Are historically marginalized people engaged in a range of activities across a range of time periods and settings in these books?
Through this work and thinking about these questions and the issues behind them, I have created mentor text charts that represent all people, as much as has been possible. Rather than have one book or text be the mentor for all students to study as they notice and note craft moves, students can choose mentors from a variety of books.
With the charts tucked into the cover of the books, students can choose which text to use for inspiration. This link will take you to the collection of books I have created charts for in three genres: narrative, information, and opinion.
Although the number of websites and resources for finding inclusive books continues to grow, Social Justice Books is one of my favorites. This website offers many comprehensive and curated booklists, as well as reviews and articles.
Increase our awareness of language and commit to simple shifts wherever and whenever possible.
As with so many things, when we know better, we do better, and if we commit to paying more attention to the language we use and the nuances of subtle shifts, we have the potential to create a more inclusive environment for all learners. Here are some examples of shifts to take on:
|Instead of saying||Try saying instead||Because|
|Mothers and fathers||Caregivers||Not all children have two parents, have a mother and father, or live with their parents at all.|
|Ladies and gentlemen, let’s learn about—||Students, learners, readers, writers, people||Not every child is sure about their sexuality, gender, and orientation. This phrase implies that everyone is one or the other, which isn’t always the case.|
|Boys, line up—
Girls, line up—
|Anyone wearing sneakers, line up—
Anyone wearing jeans, line up—
|Same as above.|
These changes in language involve empathy and perception, two skills that we have to teach and model whenever we can.
I always remind myself that when we know better, we do better. As we recognize the importance of inclusive practices, I have no doubt that we will continue to progress along the continuum and do the work more thoughtfully and effectively.