What Does an Inclusive Classroom Look Like?

When we’re talking about inclusivity, we need to go deeper than just asking ‘what does an inclusive classroom look like.’ But much like that old proverb about eating an elephant one bite at a time - it’s a small but important detail that contributes to a bigger picture. 

As teachers and educators, we have a lot of work to do when it comes to creating truly inclusive spaces.

And I’ll be honest BFFs, while inclusion is something I’m really passionate about, I wondered whether its a topic I should be writing about as a cisgender white woman. Where I landed is this…

Inclusion is up to all of us. And for those of us with privilege, we need to be unpacking that and actively dismantling the systems that promote exclusion. 

I’m a big believer that details matter. Sure, the look of a classroom is just one small part of the puzzle, but its a detail that matters. Our classroom decor and displays can show kids that all learners, cultures and identities are welcome, celebrated and safe. And it’s something I can absolutely help with.

So, today I’m going to talk you through the resources I’ve created that could be helpful for you. I’ll share my thinking behind my designs, share some ideas and explain some features within the resources that you may not be aware of.

But of course, when it comes to the real ‘heavy lifting’ of inclusive education, our work needs to be rooted in anti-racism. We need to prioritise learning from lived experiences and amplify marginalised voices. So, throughout this post, I’ll share some of the amazing professionals with years of experience in research-based inclusive practice.

A grey classroom corner features individual letters that spell out: ‘All are welcome here.’ There’s also a small circular mirror surrounded by affirmations, and in the reflection we see that the image has been taken by a smiling teacher on her cell phone.
That’s the exact message our kids get in an inclusive classroom. Image Source: @learningwithmisschellew

 

General Principles

The truth is, everything in our classrooms - from the books we keep in our library nooks, to the gendered language we use with students - can either foster inclusion or fuel exclusivity. 

While this post is focusing more on the aesthetic side of an inclusive classroom, it’s worth mentioning some of my recent posts that explore inclusivity more deeply. These posts include:

Nothing will foster inclusion like your lessons and activities. And no display or classroom aesthetic will be effective without the right teaching and learning approach to go with it. Using a framework like the Universal Design for Learning, for example, can be helpful to ensure diversity is front of mind when planning lessons and curriculum.

With all of that said, my general approach from an aesthetic perspective is - less is more! 

It’s so important that classrooms are not overstimulating for children. It’s why I don't go for too many obnoxious prints or add too much text in my designs, and it’s why I only choose fonts that are clearly legible. 

I try not to overcrowd wall spaces or mix and match too many themes - it just becomes all too much for students. Visual noise is especially loud for neurodivergent kids, so a clean, clear and consistent classroom is key.

Keeping it simple allows kids to meaningfully engage with a select number of powerful displays, instead of getting lost in the visual confetti.

A hand holds three circular affirmations - I am unique, I am strong, I am loved. They’re in a neutral colour and match a beige coloured macrame wall hanging in the background.
And again, this is the message our kiddos get from an inclusive classroom. Love this shot of the Spotty Neutrals Affirmations from @kinderwith.em.

 

 

Go Your Own Way

There are so many gorgeous ways your displays and decor can visually celebrate diversity and inclusion within your classroom. Here are some ideas:

  • Create a family tree display showcasing the beautiful variations in family types 
  • Visually articulate your classes’ values like inclusion, kindness and tolerance 
  • Use word walls to explore new terms and ideas around inclusion and spark conversation
  • Use visual displays to celebrate a variety of ethnicities, cultures, languages and occasions within your school community (e.g.- Diwali, Eid, Chinese New Year, Greek Easter etc).
  • Create visual displays within both special education classrooms and general education classrooms that normalise different abilities, learning styles and celebrate the many different ways students learn 

One thing you might not know, is that almost all of my resources are fully editable. You don’t need Photoshop or anything fancy - just Powerpoint. 

This means you can customise my door displays, word walls, bunting and lettering packs, welcome posters, motivational posters, or any other MJLL resource, to decorate and design with inclusion in mind. 

A white hand holds up a poster in front of a pink background. The poster says ‘Our Classroom Rules’ and features two illustrated children.
Creating a display that shares your classrooms’ inclusive values and rules is a great way to show what you stand for!

 

 

AUSLAN and ASL Posters

Since the dawn of time, teachers have hung alphabet posters in their classrooms. (Okay, slight exaggeration, but they really are a classic!).

These humble little posters, available in both Auslan and American Sign Language (ASL), offer a simple but effective way to spark a conversation about the Deaf and hard of hearing communities. (Plus, 50% of the Auslan Poster profits support Deaf Children Australia).

Of course, not all Deaf and hard of hearing communities use sign language, and there’s so much more to inclusion than just posters!

That’s where organisations like the Victorian Deaf Education Institute can help. They offer a huge range of presentations and courses, covering everything from teaching strategies to practical advice about Deaf-inclusive learning environments.

Chantelle holds the Auslan Sign Language Alphabet posters, they feature an illustration of hands spelling out a letter, against a backdrop of pastel colours.Auslan Alphabet Posters can be a great way to spark a conversation about inclusion in your classroom.

 

 

Hand Signals

There are many kids who really thrive in a quieter classroom - including neurodivergent kids, kids facing anxiety or trauma and kids who are hard of hearing.

By using a simple Hand Signals Display, you can help encourage non-verbal communication in your classroom.

My tip? Print the display as big as you can and make use of the icons and words, for kids who are still learning to read. 

For a deeper look into supporting Autistic kids and neurodiversity in the classroom, there are exceptional professionals in this space, including Autistic educator Sonny Jane Wise (the @livedexperienceeducator) and Neurodivergent Psychologist Sandhya Menon.

For many kids, and especially for neurodirgent kids, managing classroom noise is essential for an inclusive classroom.

  

 

Visual Timetables, Home Routines and Daily Schedule Cards

Many of the same kids mentioned above thrive with visual aides that map out their day. My Visual Timetables are fully editable and can be customised for individual students, small groups or the whole class. They can also be fantastic for helping kids work independently and move from one task to the next when they’re ready.

For younger children and kids who do best with non-verbal instructions, the Home Routines and Daily Schedule Cards can be helpful too. They break routines down into simple steps and provide a sense of ease both at home and in the classroom.

All of the illustrations of kids within my resources are racially diverse. And while that’s just the bare minimum we should expect - our industry is rife with resources featuring only white kids. Absolutely shocking!

A birds eye view of a reading corner shows a series of books, some cushions in soft pinks and neutrals, and a stuffed toy. Bunting letters spell out the words ‘calm corner.’
Creating space for kids to relax and decompress is really important for inclusivity.
 The image shows two types of classroom displays - one that shows the name of the days (including today, tomorrow and yesterday) and the other shows a simple calendar display. They’re in soft, muted rainbow colours.
Visual aides that show kids what’s coming up can be super powerful.

  

Where to Next?

BFFs - I can’t say it enough - when it comes to creating genuinely inclusive workplaces and classrooms, we need to go deeper. 

And a great way forward is to work with professionals who are experienced, knowledgeable and are led by lived-experience.

Here in Australia we’re lucky to have an Inclusion Directory Network, which offers a comprehensive directory of service providers in the inclusion space. It includes people like Tasneem Chopra OAM, who offers practical and effective Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Training

But wherever you are in the world, there’s no shortage of passionate people who can help you build a more inclusive classroom, if you’re willing to take that first bite of the proverbial elephant.

A wall has individual letters cut out that read ‘3 Year Old Kinder - We are a RAINBOW of possibilities.’Don’t you just love @kinderwith.em’s gorgeous message of inclusivity?

 

 

Miss Jacobs Little Learners What Does an inclusive classroom look like?

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