Growing up in an apparently homogenous area, I didn’t really appreciate the notion of diversity until my first placement on my PGCE. The first group I taught was from year 8, and so diverse in culture, faith, ethnicity and ability, that I felt utterly inadequate when it came to ensuring that each had equal access to the learning on offer.
It was a lesson, however, that stayed with me. And that memory still provokes the first question I ask myself before meeting any group. How will my students know that I strive for equality and inclusion in the classroom?
Nancy Gedge, consultant teacher for the Driver Youth Trust, and author of Inclusion for Primary School Teachers, offers sound advice for new teachers of any phase, on keeping a focus on equality and inclusion. She suggests that, “the most important thing for any NQT is to get to know all of the children in the class, and that means teaching them, including those we might perceive as different to ourselves, be that because of SEND, or background. It’s terribly easy to let someone you think of as more experienced and knowledgeable than you are take over, but if you do that, you will be limiting both your and their learning opportunities.”
Nancy also explains the limitations and consequences of labels. “Labels for children with extra learning needs can have all sorts of unexpected effects, one of which is the danger that you end up teaching the label instead of the child. A label of need points you in the general direction, but after that, you almost need to ignore it, so that it doesn’t get in the way of getting to know the child.”
Ideas for inclusion
There is no doubt that time spent building relationships with the children you teach will be time well spent, and will help in the creation of strategies and techniques that could make learning more accessible for all. Other suggestions include:
– Expectations: Being crystal clear about your expectations of the way that children will treat each other and the adults in your school. Fairness must prevail and we should feel confident about calling out negative and stereotypical attitudes.
– Resources: Look very carefully at the resources you are using. What messages do they convey? Would children pick up ideas about “normality” from them that are too narrow to be representative of society? Promote multiculturalism; it’s an accurate reflection of the world in which we live.
– Language: Be extremely careful about the language you use when teaching. Know the children in your class and their backgrounds.
– Participation: Be aware of participation rates in your classroom. Equal participation is a goal, but that will invariably mean ensuring, as far as possible, equality of opportunity in your classroom.
– Inclusion: I was told recently about a school doing a special celebration for “dads”. Grandads could be included too if necessary. While the intention may not be to exclude non-nuclear family set-ups, or children who are bereaved, there are clearly other more inclusive ways of involving the families of the children we teach.
Our ultimate aim as teachers must surely be to help each child to reach full potential and to be an active, contributing member of his, her or their community. We can help to do that through being mindful of equality and diversity, and through our commitment to the individual as well as the class as a whole.