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A Teacher’s Argument for Inclusive Classrooms

A Teacher’s Argument for Inclusive Classrooms

By Dave Hall | originally published by Carnegie Learning

One educator’s perspective on the benefits of inclusion and how to get started

Every student deserves every opportunity to succeed.

Every student deserves to feel safe and supported in their classroom.

Every student deserves recognition for their inherent value as a human being.

Those are some basic tenets any educator should believe, right? I certainly do, but I also recognize that every educator might embody those beliefs in different ways.

As a teacher with experience as both a regular educator and intervention specialist, I might be a little biased—but I think the best way to empower every child is through inclusion.

Let me tell you a little about inclusive classrooms and give you some tips on how I’ve made it work.

What is an inclusive classroom?

Inclusive classrooms emphasize the education of all students. Regardless of their academic backgrounds, special learning needs, language spoken, gender, race, ethnicity, or any other personal trait, every student belongs. They all have equal access to education in a safe environment.

Because no one is “other” in an inclusive classroom, children know they’re genuinely seen and understood. I can’t imagine a better learning environment, can you?

Don’t get me wrong—I know inclusion isn’t perfect. It can get downright tricky and messy. But that’s where we have the best opportunities to find the beauty of every student: in the messy middle. It’s where individual talents take shape, children learn from one another, and social relationships form.

Benefits of inclusive classrooms

I obviously agree with including all students in meaningful educational opportunities, but what are the actual benefits? Aside from being a safe space for all children, inclusion classrooms offer indisputable academic and social-emotional benefits.

ACADEMIC BENEFITS

With the proper supports in place, Inclusive classrooms can be a cornerstone of improved academic growth. Research shows that everyone thrives when we bring together students of all abilities and give them appropriate instruction. Here are just a few examples:

  • Students in inclusive settings without identified disabilities made more significant academic progress in mathematics and reading.
  • Students with disabilities who spent more time in regular classes did better in math and reading.
  • Students with intellectual disabilities fully included in general education classrooms made more progress in literacy skills than students served in special schools.
  • Students who provided peer support in inclusive classroom settings demonstrated positive academic outcomes such as increased academic achievement, assignment completion, and classroom participation.

These research findings match what I’ve seen in my inclusive classrooms. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen peer-to-peer collaboration unlock an aha! moment that I just couldn’t get to with my instruction. Especially when students from different backgrounds and abilities team up.

SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL BENEFITS

If the academic benefits of inclusion aren’t enough, check out the social and emotional perks.

In these inclusive spaces, every student feels like they belong. No exceptions. Imagine a community where diversity is celebrated, and everyone’s unique talents are recognized and appreciated. That’s the kind of environment we’re creating here!

I like to celebrate each student by allowing them an opportunity for the “stage.” And I don’t mean in an embarrassing or class-clown way. But taking a few minutes at the end of class to let a kid shine if they have a special interest or talent goes a long way to highlight the beauty of diversity.

In an inclusive classroom, you’re not just teaching math (or literacy or science or what have you). You’re shaping awesome humans. Students learn essential life skills like empathy, kindness, and teamwork through collaboration and everyday interactions. These skills will take them far beyond the classroom, making them unstoppable forces for good in the world.

Common misconceptions about inclusion

Contrary to common misconceptions, inclusive classrooms don’t have to be chaotic or overwhelming. With the right conditions, they can be vibrant, supportive environments where students of all backgrounds learn and grow together. 

Another common misconception about inclusive classrooms? That the perfect classroom exists. That if we just work harder and believe in it more, we too can achieve that academic perfection.

But please, take it from me. The perfect inclusive classroom isn’t real. Meeting the needs of an entire group of students is hard work. Sometimes, I find myself organizing multiple lessons for a class period depending on student needs—and it’s not easy. 

But no matter how much more you think you can do, remember that you’re already doing GREAT.

Take it easy on yourself and embrace flexibility and patience. Every day won’t be perfect, and that’s okay. Take each challenge as an opportunity for growth. 

How can I establish a classroom culture of inclusion?

Running an inclusive classroom can feel a bit overwhelming for novice and experienced teachers alike.

But I’ve got a few tips to get you started. Remember, just like Rome, you won’t build your culture of inclusion in a day. Start with these three steps and take it day-by-day.

1. USE INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE

A great first step in making every student feel included is examining how you speak. In your classroom, your language is the first model your students will encounter when it comes to respectful communication.  

Ensure you don’t exclude anyone with your words by using appropriate pronouns, avoiding outdated or offensive terms, and immediately (and with compassion!) addressing students if they use offensive phrases.

2. AVOID STEREOTYPES

Another way to model inclusion for your students is to avoid making assumptions about abilities based on stereotypes. This can apply to any group of students, including those with learning differences, students from different cultural backgrounds, or different genders.

Assume competence in every student. When you teach with the assumption that everyone belongs, your students will model that behavior with their peers.

3. ESTABLISH A CLASSROOM CULTURE OF VULNERABILITY

Being vulnerable isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it can help your students feel more confident and engaged in your inclusive classroom.

Viewing vulnerability as a form of courage can make students more at ease. They may feel more willing to share their thoughts and ideas. This can also encourage them to take risks that could lead to success.

Supporting student learning in an inclusive classroom

You’ve established habits that build a classroom culture of inclusion. Now, you’re ready to support the learning of every student. In fact, I bet you’re already doing some of these things—plus more!

DIFFERENTIATE INSTRUCTION

Differentiation might be an education buzzword you’re tired of, but hear me out! Tailoring your instruction to meet individual student needs is the key to creating a truly inclusive classroom.

Some of my favorite strategies include tiered assignments, online or software-based learning (like MATHstream), and flexible grouping. Each strategy allows me to interact with students individually or in small groups. There’s no better way to understand individual needs and get to know what makes my students tick.

You don’t have to do it all at once. Whether you differentiate content, instructional methods, student work, or the learning environment, take it one step at a time. Remember, nothing is perfect the first time around. Take the time to get really comfortable with one or two methods of differentiation and add to your toolkit as you go.

ALLOW EVERYONE TO ACCESS ACCOMMODATIONS

I believe that accommodations in the classroom aren’t just for students identified with learning differences. We all have different strengths and needs, and I don’t ever want a student to be afraid to ask for something they think will help them learn.

Depending on the circumstance, accommodations that can benefit all students include text-to-speech (aka read aloud), flexible seating options, and allowing for multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement.

ENCOURAGE ACTIVE, COLLABORATIVE LEARNING

Another way to support learning in your inclusive classroom is to involve your students in active collaboration. 

When you give your students opportunities to work together, you’re promoting peer learning and mutual support. Group projects and discussions allow students of varying abilities to share their perspectives and strengths. 

I’ve seen in my own classroom how collaboration allows students to help each other in ways teachers forget to think about—especially when we’ve taught the same subject for a while. Watching my students interact keeps me in a learning mindset and allows me to really see how they give and receive information in the most effective ways.

Building thinking classrooms is another innovative way to encourage collaboration and ensure everyone is involved—with the bonus of eliminating lessons that can turn into a snooze-fest.

USE ASSESSMENT AS A LEARNING TOOL

Finally, you can support every student in your inclusion classroom through assessment. Yes, you read that right! Support your students through assessment.

In my classroom, assessments aren’t just about measuring student performance. They’re tools for guiding and supporting student learning. Use formative assessment techniques to gather ongoing feedback to inform instruction and provide interventions where and when needed.

You can also guide students in engaging in self-assessment. This supports their learning by encouraging self-reflection and self-monitoring—two skills that will help them in your classroom and the real world.

Start your journey to an inclusive classroom today

Remember, inclusion isn’t just about academics—it’s about creating a space where every student feels seen, heard, and empowered to succeed. 

Are you ready to take the first step?

I’m excited to be an instructor for MATHstream, a math video streaming program that you can use to differentiate learning for every kid in your class. MATHstream’s videos are interactive and adaptive, so whether a student needs to review a concept or they’re ready to fly higher, these videos have what they need.



Dave Hall is a Virginia math teacher with six years of experience in self-contained, inclusion, and advanced classes. He has cultivated a versatile teaching style and tailors his approach to meet the needs of diverse learners. Dave brings his love of jokes and humor into teaching to foster an inclusive environment for all students. He shines as a MATHstreamer for Carnegie Learning’s MATHstream, where he says, “Let’s solve problems and have fun doing it!”

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