Vital > Inclusive

As we build our classroom communities, one word keeps ringing in our ears. Inclusive. The Inclusive Classroom. It’s probably a book or a paper or an article on some blog that has a billion and a half views. While I’m all for inclusiveness, I’m just not for it in an elementary (or any, really) classroom.

The implication of inclusiveness is that all are welcome and while that’s a lovely sentiment, it’s simply not the type of classroom that we should be building. The fact that someone is welcome at a place and accepted for who they are at that moment in time is great but maintains tenuous ties to their desire to actually be in the classroom and contributing in a way that is both meaningful to them and their community.

It matters that you’re here. Of course it matters that you’re here.

We tell children “it matters that you’re here.” Of course it matters that you’re here. You matter, I matter, we all matter. Those sentiments are beautiful but when we imagine building spaces and places that children are tripping over themselves to get to every day, feeling welcome simply isn’t enough. Nor is feeling accepted and included. Just because I feel welcome at the International Society of Wood Grain Examiners doesn’t mean I really want to be a part of that group.[1] While I have the choice to be a part of that group or not, students do not really have the choice whether or not to be expected in the classroom. That is the law.

I have been working to shift my mindset away from making students feel included or welcome. That’s a base assumption that anyone who sets foot into a building that I am in gets, it’s not up for discussion. No matter what. The students in my classroom, however, are vital. Most importantly, they know that they are vital.

I never sought out to make sure that every student felt included in my classroom because that was never good enough for me. The way to build a formidable and inclusive community within the confines of our classrooms is to make sure that every student knows without a doubt that they are vital to our community. Without them, our community would cease to function in the meaningful way that it currently does. Not only does this embolden students to embrace their own uniqueness and identity and cultural upbringings, but also instills in them a sense of urgency and pride knowing that they are the reason things are as awesome as they are.

One of the ways that I go about creating this sense of vital-ness is my end of the day routine. For the first two weeks of school (and often long after that) I stand at the door as students are leaving and see them off one by one following a Notice, Name, and Frame protocol. During the day I notice something that they did that should be pointed out. As we are standing at the door together, I tell them what I noticed, then I name it and frame it in context of our classroom community. That’s it.

It might sound something like this: “Denis, today I noticed that you came into the classroom with a huge smile on your face and before you even put any of your things away, you made sure that you went around and enthusiastically greeted everyone else in the classroom. That is putting others before yourself and sharing your precious joy with us so we can start our day together excited and knowing that someone cares about us. Without doing what you did today, our day would have been nowhere near as dynamic and safe. You made others feel comfortable taking risks.”

This example is verbatim though I’ve changed Denis’ name. Every single student gets a farewell like this every afternoon no exceptions. Notice, Name, and Frame. It becomes a bit of an addiction for us teachers. Try it.

  1. though let’s not kid ourselves, I would love to be a part of that group