Long ago, when my son attended kindergarten, I remember one of the mantras his teacher used when classmates were unkind to one another. “You can’t say, you can’t play.” At the time, little did I know that this phrase came from a brilliant book written by Vivian Paley who conducted experiments with kindergarteners regarding the fairness of the rule. At a time when children separate from home and enter their first formal social institution as strangers, it asks the same questions teachers do when striving to build an inclusive classroom environment.
How can we free ourselves and our students from the habit of rejecting others? How do we ask those from the power dominate caste – white, cis-gender, able-bodied, mentally healthy, slim, rich, property-owners, neurotypical, post-secondary educated, able-bodied, fluent in English, male citizens – to include the ideas of those who have not traditionally held positions of power and privilege? Do our classroom discussion guidelines encourage all to share their ideas clearly? Does our classroom environment allow all students to feel safe enough to respond? How do we handle heated conversations or instances when ‘mistakes’ are made?
Experts from The Center for Non-Violent Communication suggest adopting the following classroom communications guidelines to help:
• Set commenting standards to engage in difficult topics
• Stay on topic to avoid bringing up past issues
• Provide evidence to back statements
• Express yourself without blaming by stating your observations without judgment, feelings, needs, and finally, your specific request.
If a student does make a statement that seems off-topic, struggle to understand their perspective. Ask questions like “Can you give me an example?” or “I hear your concerns on X. Perhaps we can come to a compromise on Y?”
Most importantly, as leaders in the classroom, we need to speak up when we hear stereotyping, name-calling, or other types of exclusionary behavior. We lead by modeling these inclusive classroom patterns with the realization that we, along with our students, will make mistakes. Our bravery comes from our sensitivity in extending classroom grace to others. And our recognition of how hard it is to break patterns and teach something new. Interested in learning more? Contact Lee at email@example.com.