Lisa Friedman is an Education Director at Temple Beth-El in Central New Jersey where she oversees an inclusive synagogue school. Lisa was also instrumental for years for connecting educators with her #iechat online. Lisa is responsible for the blog, Removing the Stumbling Block. Lisa came and shared with us some things about how to make a classroom inclusive. We are honored to have her here with us this month.
There are two significant concepts at the core of creating inclusive learning environments:
First, accommodating isn’t the same as inclusion. Making appropriate accommodations is an essential strategy in working with students who have unique learning needs. However, there’s more to becoming truly inclusive. Inclusion is about belonging. It is about every student being fully integrated into the life of the classroom and the school. Making accommodations will be an integral part of the process, but it is not sufficient in and of itself.
Second, inclusion and disability awareness are NOT the same things. Teaching a lesson or leading a conversation about disabilities does not mean that you are inclusive. It means you have taught a lesson about disabilities. It is important in its own right and a valuable component of inclusivity, but quality awareness-raising is only one aspect of inclusive practice.
Structuring a successful inclusive classroom takes work and planning. You will quickly learn that flexibility is the greatest asset of any teacher because as soon as you think you have it right, the needs of your students change and you will have to adapt and plan again. Thoughtful, intentional design benefits all learners.
Here are my top five strategies for structuring an inclusive classroom environment:
- Utilize a multi-sensory approach to learning
This is an approach to education that engages all of the senses. Some of us learn best by listening, some through reading. Some of us need to write something down to commit it to memory, others won’t remember unless they repeat it back out loud. Still others need to touch, taste, or smell to fully grasp a new concept. Consistent use of different instructional approaches increases the likelihood that learning will be meaningful and relevant for all students.
- Develop individualized expectations
Individualizing expectations is fair. It’s a misnomer to believe that having a variety of expectations for different students in the same classroom is unfair. Comparing students to one another is arbitrary. All students should be working toward progress from their own current level of functioning. Individualizing doesn’t “water down” curriculum or hold students back. It allows students to develop and succeed according to their unique individual needs.
- Design centers and station activities
Centers are areas of the classroom dedicated to learning a specific topic or developing a specific skill, and they provide students with the opportunity to learn at their own pace. All students benefit as centers enable the delivery of instruction to be differentiated according to individual needs. There are many different ways to structure centers within a classroom and curricular choices will need to be made based on skill level, students’ ability to work independently, and the number of staff available in the classroom.
- Set clear rules and expectations
Create a classroom environment that reinforces positive behavior, stimulates attention and imagination, and makes expectations clear. When students act out it is an indication that needs are not being appropriately met.
- Be flexible!
A teacher’s ability to adapt and change plans when necessary is critical to the success of an inclusive classroom. Seasoned teachers know how to “read the room”. This means that they are in tune with their students’ needs and abilities and know when something isn’t going as planned. The flexibility to scrap a lesson altogether when it isn’t working, or even to capture an amazing moment and run with it instead of the planned lesson is a skill that makes a teacher truly stand out.
Please be in touch if you wish to schedule teacher training workshops that focus specifically on Jewish settings and to learn more about adapting these strategies to a religious school setting.