If given enough time and left to my own devices, I can create a classroom that meets all my needs. Setting up my classroom the first time, I made sure I had clear “hand-in” and “return” shelves. This was important for my organization aka my sanity. I had long, straight rows of desks ensuring that I could see all students and they could all be facing forward. I had classroom rules laminated, and key phrases in Spanish for easy referencing on the walls. I could point to things when students wanted help with a general word that I had to tell them over (and over again). My room worked great for me.
It doesn’t take much to guess where this is going. It worked great for ME, but ME is the key word there. I was worried about making it work for myself and thus creating a wonderful environment for anyone who was an exact replica of me, but disregarding any other perspectives or needs. I believed I was there for the kids, but the unstated follow up to that was … as long as I was comfortable. As an individual, I’d like to think seeking comfort is natural human nature when that opportunity is afforded. However, if I want to really be there for kids, what would it look like to design my classroom, procedures, and strategies from that lens? If my natural inclination is my own comfort, to interrupt that I intentionally ask myself, “at what cost?” as I make decisions. I am making my room comfortable for me, at what cost? What does feel and look like to walk into my room from my students’ perspective? Designed by me, a white woman, what does it look and feel like to walk into my room from my students of color’s perspective? Where do they see themselves, their individuality, their personality, and their values recognized?
Having the privilege of being a part of several equity walks over the years, I have learned from classrooms that are community classrooms and broken free of the “all-about teacher needs” pattern that I fell into at first. I’ve learned from colleagues how to co-create classroom expectations with students and fill the walls and content with student faces and experiences. I recognized how implementing routines helps create order for students who experience transiency or unstable outside environments.
As you roll out procedures and implement community building activities here are couple reminders for creating safe, inclusive, and welcoming spaces:
- Ensure areas of the classroom are accessible to students
- Learn how to pronounce students names’ correctly
- Communicate high expectations for all your students
- Co-create classroom expectations & have students create reminder posters
- Include photos of yourself and family
- Consider grouping desks for community
- Post student work, consider having students create about me for community building
- Include photos representative of student body (with depth, avoiding tokenism)
- Connect your content to students’ lives
- Consider creating traditions with your students
- Incorporate music into your classroom routines
- Post daily objectives
- Ask your students what works for them