A friend of mine recently told me about dropping her son off at a city camp. It is in an old building, small doorways, small rooms, lots of stairs, parking lot is at the bottom of a hill, and the list goes on. It is not an inviting building to look at and it was certainly not created with accessibility in mind. However, she noted how inclusive and welcoming the camp is. Campers she knows as 'challenging' students appeared calm, happy, and relaxed. My friend said she was talking about these changes to a camp manager. She mentioned how inclusive the camp is and asked how they do it with such an inaccessible building. The response was simple, yet packed full of meaning 'We make it accessible'.
'We make it accessible'. In other words, we are not waiting for the policies and infrastructure to change, we are not sitting back passively complaining about the situation, and we are not ruining the camp experience for the students. Instead, we are acting with our values and principles, we are actively connecting with our campers' individual needs in the camp community, and we are creating an awesome and equitable experience for all our campers.
I would love to visit and learn more about the camp. It would be awesome to learn about how a small (with a limited budget) organization is creating accessibility in a challenging setting and how inclusion is the driving force that shapes their actions. However, summer is wrapping up and this is not a possibility at this time.
However, this simple anecdote is a reminder to me about the importance of following an inclusive pedagogy in your classroom. You cannot change the big picture items (in the short term). Your school building is what it is, policies change slowly, other teachers' actions are not in your control, and the resources you are given are not always the most helpful!
Keep reading for a few tips and a link to some free resources- aimed at helping you create an inclusive learning community!
Yet, you are in complete control of your actions, your classroom, and your approach to teaching. Step back for a minute or two, focus on building individual relationships with your students and not the curriculum. Build a class community based on relationships, knowledge, and the drive to teach each student. Rather than being bogged down by what you cannot control, you need to build up what you can control. You can connect with all your students and you can build up your class community with your students' individuality in the driving seat.
For example, if you have a student (or some students) who require low stimulus environment, keep your wall decorations to a minimum, your room organized, and use your closets to store unnecessary items. For students requiring clear routines, make sure you use a schedule and keep your class expectations in view. These should be reviewed multiple times a day by you for all your students. Another easy thing to do, is if you have a student in your class community with mobility issues, make space. You may not be able to have the extra desks or cozy reading couch, BUT you will have a student who can move around your classroom without worry. The beauty of building a class community is that it is all about the students, their needs, and their class group. The focus leaves you, the teacher, and what you think the class needs. It is all about what the students need in order to create their community. Inclusive pedagogy is about the little things that you can do, and you can control in order to create an inclusive and accessible class community.
Great advice from the camp manager, 'We make it accessible'. As this new school year approaches take time to focus on your class community. What small things can you do to make it a welcoming place for everyone?
Click the image below to grab some awesome freebies!