Inclusive education has become a crucial aspect of teaching in today’s ever-changing world, especially in primary school classrooms. It extends beyond children with disabilities and encompasses children with diverse socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. It emphasises creating a classroom environment that embraces the unique strengths and experiences of the students. And it reduces barriers by fostering cultures where all children feel valued and supported.
Are you considering becoming a primary school teacher? In this article, we’ll dive into the heart of inclusive education, uncovering its practical benefits, exploring the importance of creating inclusive and accessible learning environments, and revealing the teaching skills you’ll need to succeed. We’ll also take a look at how postgraduate study such as VU Online’s Master of Teaching (Primary Education) can set you up to begin teaching soon after graduating.
What is inclusion in education?
In education, inclusion means ensuring that every student—regardless of their ability, background or needs—feels welcomed and supported to reach their full potential in a school setting. Inclusion also means allowing every student to have access to the support and learning resources they need to thrive.
Based on an Australian Bureau of Statistics survey, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that an estimated one in 10 school students in the country has a disability. This statistic highlights the prevalence of disabilities among our students and demonstrates the need for both current and aspiring teachers to understand the true meaning of inclusivity in the classroom.
“Inclusive education is about all students being equally valued and supported,” says Victoria University lecturer and PhD candidate Bec Marland, an inclusive education advocate. Marland, who has been a teacher in primary and secondary education for 20 years, adds, ”It’s about positively recognising diversity of genders, cultures and backgrounds.”
At its core, inclusion is about embracing differences and fostering a friendly, accepting atmosphere where everyone feels valued and included. It’s a collaborative experience that empowers teachers and students alike to discover new ways of learning, growing and achieving together.
Creating an inclusive classroom for student success
In a research paper published in 2008 that is still relevant today, the metaphor of a virtual school bag was used to suggest that students bring their diverse experiences with them to school. These experiences might include bilingualism, varied socioeconomic factors and different lived experiences such as living abroad. All of these factors represent diversity in the classroom, and teachers must acknowledge these factors in order to create a strong culture of inclusion.
While doing so will present challenges that require attention, it will also serve as an asset, enabling students to make valuable contributions. It’s the awareness of these differences that allows teachers to take a proactive approach from the outset when creating an inclusive learning environment.
Teachers who value inclusivity get to know their students. An inclusive teacher goes the extra mile to support their students, helping them actively participate, learn and succeed in every aspect of their education. When creating a successful learning environment, teachers adapt to their students’ needs rather than expecting their students to fit into a one-size-fits-all educational mould.
What does diversity in the classroom look like?
As a teacher, particularly a primary school teacher, every day will be different. Inclusive education means ensuring all students are given an equal chance to learn and succeed within the confines of a school. It’s about making sure everyone can access education without facing a slew of obstacles. And it’s about supporting students in a way that is impactful to them.
How diversity in the classroom can benefit all students
While it is important from a social justice perspective that all children have access to education, inclusivity is not simply for children who might otherwise be excluded.
“Inclusive education enables all students to work collaboratively with their peers who may have broader and more diverse needs—and students can be challenged and extended in the process,” explains Marland.
“By including students with disabilities, other groups of students will experience the broader benefits.”
Benefits from creating an inclusive learning environment include academic, social and emotional outcomes, as well as long-term advantages for students beyond their school years.
Inclusion brings academic benefits by boosting learning outcomes, sharpening critical thinking and problem-solving abilities, and fostering creativity and innovation.
Social and emotional benefits
Interacting with diverse peers promotes empathy and understanding, and breaks down stereotypes and biases. Moreover, inclusive education helps students develop important interpersonal skills, resulting in improved behaviour.
Creating an inclusive learning environment prepares children for a diverse society, strengthening the community and providing opportunities for students to become better citizens. It sets them up for long-term success.
The importance of inclusive classrooms for teachers
It’s not only the students who benefit from an inclusive learning environment. By embracing diversity, teachers can become more effective educators for all students. The benefits experienced as a teacher include:
Embracing inclusion prompts teachers to stay updated with the latest research, teaching approaches and inclusive practices. Engaging with diverse students and their unique needs broadens teachers’ perspectives, expanding their knowledge base and teaching repertoire.
Higher quality of engagement with students
By recognising and valuing each student’s diverse strengths, abilities and backgrounds, teachers can create a supportive and inclusive learning environment. This approach encourages active participation and meaningful connections between teachers and students, leading to stronger relationships and improved student outcomes.
Increased personal satisfaction
Embracing diversity and witnessing the progress of all students can bring a deep sense of personal satisfaction to teachers. When teachers witness the growth and success of students who may have faced barriers or challenges, it reaffirms their commitment to positively impacting students’ lives. The satisfaction derived from seeing students thrive and overcome obstacles can be a powerful motivator.
Greater confidence in their ability as educators
Successfully implementing inclusive practices and witnessing the positive impact on students’ learning can boost teachers’ confidence in their abilities as educators. By creating an inclusive environment that supports the diverse needs of all students, teachers gain a sense of accomplishment and belief in their capacities to make a difference. This increased confidence can inspire teachers to improve their teaching methods and approaches continuously.
Advice for teachers wanting to create an inclusive classroom
Teachers who recognise diversity as an asset and celebrate diversity will be better equipped to embrace the classrooms of the future. Marland has some advice for teachers wanting to create classroom cultures that value diversity and foster inclusivity.
“Begin by recognising that diversity is an asset in the classroom,” she says. “Celebrate differences rather than making them invisible.
“Consider the stories and curriculum materials we introduce. Whose perspective is the story being told by? Children need to hear the voices of people with diverse lived experiences, whether through the books or multimedia we introduce, the places we visit on excursions, the images and posters on the classroom walls, and the guest speakers we invite. We need to identify the strengths and capabilities of our students to work positively with them,” Marland explains.
How does inclusive education benefit families and the community?
Inclusive education is about creating opportunities that allow all students to flourish. This can benefit them and their families in many ways.
Greater psychological and economic well being
Inclusive classrooms can provide reassurance and relief for parents and guardians, knowing that their children are valued and supported.
When a child is in an inclusive educational setting, parents and guardians themselves may also feel more supported and confident to return to work, leading to increased economic stability and opportunities for the family.
A more inclusive school community
A school where all students, regardless of their abilities, feel welcomed, respected and valued can help promote a sense of belonging and connectedness for families.
Greater community cohesion
Challenging discriminatory beliefs and ableist practices, and encouraging interactions and understanding among students from different backgrounds and abilities will lead to a more inclusive and empathetic society.
Inclusive teaching strategies for the classroom and beyond
There are many practical ways you can nurture inclusion in the classroom. Let’s explore some strategies.
Create a safe and inclusive environment
Establishing a safe and inclusive environment is the foundation for fostering inclusivity within the classroom. This could include:
- Explicit teaching. This is a universal teaching method that involves giving clear and direct instruction to students while also providing the reason for the task and the desired outcome. This method can benefit students with reading difficulties or those who are learning English as a second language, especially as the teacher provides continued engagement with students during the task.
- Incorporating “brain breaks”. Taking short breaks, also known as brain breaks, can support and improve concentration for all students.
- Designating a quiet area where students can go if they need to. This space can include items that help students regulate their emotions and behaviour.
- Providing feedback to students while they are engaged in learning tasks or behaviours. Feedback can be gradually reduced as students become more independent.
- Supporting and encouraging students to contribute to their success. Focus on their strengths and demonstrate that they are valued and supported.
- Offering students opportunities. This is for students to express their preferences, opinions and emotions, as well as to make choices and take ownership of their learning.
- Communicate learning objectives and expectations clearly. Use a few concise and positive statements that guide students on what to do, and regularly review the learning objectives and expectations.
- Minimising distractions. This can be done by arranging the classroom thoughtfully and considering seating arrangements. Address factors like glare, flickering lights and noise that may disrupt focus.
Adapt your teaching methods and materials
Adapting teaching methods and materials is crucial for meeting the diverse learning needs of students. This could look like:
- Keeping activities and instructions concise, clear and engaging. Presenting tasks straightforwardly can help students stay focused and facilitate learning. Offering frequent breaks can also be beneficial.
- Using visual prompts. Visual aids, such as a timetable with images or graphics, can benefit students with autism and help all students better understand and remember information.
- Designing accessible classrooms. Making all areas accessible via ramps rather than stairs will help to accommodate students in wheelchairs. Not only will it enable their access, but ramps will also benefit parents with prams, older community members and enhance the overall safety of everyone using the classroom.
- Tailoring tasks to individual goals, strengths, abilities and learning styles. This can include providing concrete examples, simplifying text, incorporating visual supports, breaking tasks into smaller components, employing various teaching strategies and offering alternative ways for students to respond.
- Allowing extra time. Recognising that different individuals may require varying amounts of time is important as well.
- Ensuring that you have the student’s attention. When giving instructions and confirming their understanding, utilise multiple formats, such as verbal and visual messaging.
Encourage collaboration and peer support
Collaboration and peer support play a vital role in fostering inclusivity and diversity. This could include:
- Creating ample opportunities for students to engage in collaborative learning. This will allow them to build friendships and learn from one another.
- Striving to keep students integrated within the group. The benefit of integration far outweighs segregating them into separate areas with specialists, and so tailoring materials and content to match their strengths and abilities while keeping them engaged with their peers is key.
- Educating students on how to interact inclusively with their peers. This may involve teaching different communication styles or promoting inclusive behaviours, such as asking open-ended questions, sharing information and using simpler sentences.
- Recognising that students may feel self-conscious about receiving support. This is particularly true as they enter pre-adolescence, so provide them with developmentally appropriate support that promotes independence and confidence while facilitating peer interactions.
Engage with families and communities
Building strong connections with families and communities is instrumental in creating an inclusive classroom environment. This could include:
- Establishing a system of regular communication with parents or caregivers. This will foster a collaborative approach where you will be able to discuss the preferences and needs of their child, including their preferred mode of communication.
- Engaging with various health professionals. This is to form a comprehensive support network, such as the Aboriginal Medical Services for Indigenous students. Collaborating with these stakeholders promotes a shared understanding of the students, their goals and consistent strategies across different environments.
- Working in partnership with parents, key stakeholders and the student to set growth goals. Focus on the student’s strengths and establish challenging objectives supporting academic and social development.
Marland also shares her insights into how engaging with families and communities can be deeply beneficial.
“Working with parents and caregivers provides opportunities to learn about the child’s strengths, and recognising and developing the child’s strengths is a way to promote their self-esteem.
“Parents and caregivers often highlight skills and interests from after-school activities or from the home. We can use this knowledge to gain a deeper understanding of the student, celebrate broader strengths and even create better classroom engagement.
“It’s a big advantage to work within teams, both within the school and from a multidisciplinary perspective,” she points out.
Overcoming challenges and addressing barriers to inclusive education
Creating an inclusive classroom is not always easy. Teachers need funding and support to provide adequate resources to students, and that’s not always possible. It’s also important for teachers to recognise that they or those around them may have attitudinal barriers and biases that may limit inclusivity among their students.
“Ultimately,” says Marland, “this situation needs to change. Teachers should seek professional learning in the area of inclusive education and keep up to date with new and innovative ways to support students with disabilities. For instance, AI has become very sophisticated, and assistive technology is changing rapidly with applications for students with disabilities.”
For newer teachers, Marland also recommends working with mentors who have more experience and can support them in their career development with practical tools and resources.
Another challenge teachers face is the way in which diversity is embraced and celebrated in the classroom. Diversity is sometimes approached through special days such as Dyslexia Awareness Day, but it’s important to think beyond the specific day at how teachers might sustain the celebration and awareness of diversity in the long term.
Develop important teaching skills for your new career
Great teachers foster caring and inclusive classrooms. If you already have an undergraduate degree in another field, you can begin your pathway to becoming a teacher by studying a Master of Teaching (Primary Education).
Designed for aspiring primary school teachers, this postgraduate course allows students to gain the skills and qualifications they need to register as a teacher.
Our postgraduate course meets the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers and is accredited by the Victoria Institute of Teaching (VIT), which means you will be eligible to apply for registration to teach across Australia upon graduation.
Be the difference in primary classrooms with VU Online
A career in teaching is an opportunity to create classrooms where equity, opportunity and a passion for education thrive. Ready to retrain and do your part to embrace diversity in the classroom?
Speak to a Student Enrolment Advisor today and find a flexible learning path that works for you or check out our website for more information.
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