Author: Nicole Gallagher, M.Ed.
“Inclusion is a process of identifying, understanding and breaking down barriers to participation and belonging.”
– Early Childhood Forum (2003)
I always start off every school year by laying the foundation of our classroom. If our classroom and its procedures have a strong foundation it helps everything else fall into place seamlessly. Our days will not necessarily run perfectly, but the guiding structures will help keep it from becoming too chaotic. The basics of my inclusive classroom management plan and procedures are similar to any other classroom. I have found the key to my success is consistency. In order to achieve a healthy community I must be consistent throughout the year and the students will follow by example.
I spend the first week of school establishing the classroom management plan, procedures, and layout. I wish I could tell you I found the perfect solution on my first try, but in reality it was a lot of trial in error. Over the years I have tried many different approaches and eventually have worked out the plan that works best for everyone involved. First and foremost, I want everyone to feel like they are a contributing, valued member of the classroom community. I do my best to achieve this on the very first day of school.
The program that I have found the greatest success for classroom management is Capturing Kids Hearts, by The Flippen Group. The goal is to create a social contract that encompasses how the students will treat each other, how the teacher will treat the students, and how the students will treat the teacher. The students work collaboratively to create this contract. Then, they brainstorm a list of key words to be included in the contract. The list that we created a few weeks ago contains: obedient, respectful, responsible, hardworking, encouraging, equitable, trustworthy, “The Golden Rule”, attentive, open-minded, cooperative, friendly, accepting, well-mannered, helpful, loyal, mature, calm, caring, positive, and patient. By looking at this list it is easy to see that many of the words are exactly what I, as the teacher, want my inclusive classroom to look like. The best part is I did not come up with the list of words; the students did, so they have ownership in the creation of the list.
A great way to publish your contract is to make it into a Wordle using www.wordle.net. You can even have the class vote which words are the most important and enter them more times. The more times a word appears in the list, the larger it becomes in the wordle.
After creating the key word list, we spent the next few weeks discussing the meaning of these words and how they should actually look in our classroom. For my class, the word that evoked the most discussion was "equitable". The students originally wanted it to be "equal". This is such an important term to define in an inclusive classroom. When we are equitable everyone gets what they need which may not necessarily be the same as everyone else. Occasionally, I will hear comments such as, “That is not fair. He gets a word bank and I don't.” These are little moments to remind my students that "equitable" may not look fair or "equal", but it helps everyone to be successful in their own way.
We are looking forward to a great year in our inclusive classroom. I look forward to sharing more ideas and strategies with you as it progresses!