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Dec 10, 2019 |
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Note: This is the first in a series of three blog posts highlighting strategies educators can use to affirm student differences in the classroom.

As one semester comes to an end, the opportunity of another presents itself. As educators look to renew their classroom culture in the new year, the first few weeks can be a time to return focus to the basics--making students feel safe and welcome while at school. Where should one start?

It’s a painful truth that many students, especially those from families outside the dominant culture, have had very few positive school experiences. In fact, negative experiences with schools and teachers may go back generations in their families. 

This makes creating a classroom environment of inclusion all the more important. So what can you do? Start by focusing on four simple things--physical environment, class norms, inclusive conversations, and student collaboration.

Physical Environment. Make your classroom a place that reflects the diverse backgrounds of your students. Incorporate the languages your students speak at home. Hang maps, flags, and artwork that represent the cultural diversity of your community. Communicating affirmation in the design of your physical space is a great first step to creating an environment of inclusion.

Class Norms. Inclusive class norms begin with a conversation. Rather than explaining classroom expectations to your new students, de-center yourself from the process.  Students and families feel affirmed when they see their own values reflected in the expectations of a classroom. A conversation (or many conversations) around class norms gives an educator the chance to step back and be a learner, a habit encouraged by many Toyota Family Teachers of the Year. 

Inclusive Conversations. Encourage conversations about differences. And before you do so, remember that students may not know how to have these conversations. That’s why you teach them. Show students these conversations aren’t scary by inviting them to learn about your differences first. Model respectful questioning techniques. Explicitly teach inclusive vocabulary. Hang an anchor chart to help students remember conversation strategies. You may find that teaching inclusion isn’t all that different from teaching anything else. 

Student Collaboration. Finally, encourage student collaboration. This might seem like a no-brainer. After all, educators have known for decades that children are social learners. However, many practitioners still see student-centered collaboration as “letting go” of the learning environment, and that can be scary. But the more often practitioners give students a chance to work with and learn from those who are different from them (and all students are different from each other), the more they encourage a classroom climate that is open, respectful, and compassionate. 

Building an inclusive environment comes with challenges. But it’s worth it. Just as with teaching any new skill, it takes practice, and it takes time to truly see the impact. Stick with it--we can’t wait to hear how your efforts to build an inclusive environment will benefit your students in the coming year!


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NCFL Partners

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Toyota Family Learning Program

Toyota, one of the nation's most successful corporations, began a partnership with NCFL in 1991. In addition to a commitment of more than $50 million, Toyota has also contributed a wealth of in-kind support — including advertising, planning and management expertise — to form one of the most progressive corporate/nonprofit partnerships in the nation.

Three major programs have been developed through the Toyota partnership based on the family literacy model of parents and children learning together. These models have influenced federal and state legislation, leveraged local dollars to support family literacy and led to successful programs being replicated across the country.

Read more about Toyota's commitment to communities

William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

NCFL received its very first donation in 1989 from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust to promote and implement family literacy programming, first in Kentucky and North Carolina and later nationwide. The Kenan Family Literacy Model in part laid the groundwork for 30 years of subsequent family literacy and family learning programming developed by NCFL.

Kenan has continued to support NCFL’s place-based family literacy programs since our inception. Most recently, they invested in the organization’s Innovation Fund, which will launch emerging ideas and programmatic evolutions in the multigenerational learning space.

Learn more about the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

Dollar General Literacy Foundation

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation began partnering with NCFL in 2006. A signature effort of this partnership is the National Literacy Directory, a resource that launched in 2010 and strives to reach the 35.7 million adults ages 18-64 who do not have a high school diploma by guiding them to better-paying, more stable jobs.

The National Literacy Directory contains over 10,000 educational agencies located across the United States and has a dedicated toll-free number to help support those wanting to pursue educational opportunities in their communities.

Dollar General also provides support for development of NCFL’s innovative family learning resources centered on financial literacy and Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time®.

Learn more about the Dollar General Literacy Foundation

PNC Grow Up Great

PNC Grow Up Great believes deeply in the power of high-quality early childhood education and provides innovative opportunities that assist families, educators and community organizations to enhance children's learning and development.

PNC Grow Up Great has partnered with NCFL since 1994 to advance early literacy and learning resources for vulnerable families. Current efforts supported by PNC include a collaborative initiative in two at-risk Detroit communities that engages families to support vocabulary development for children under age 5.

NCFL's work is also featured on the PNC Grow Up Great Lesson Center website. The Lesson Center includes over 100 free, high-quality preschool lesson plans and research-based instructional techniques and strategies. All lesson plans contain Home/School Connections printouts, in English and Spanish, to help families extend and reinforce the learning at home.

Learn more about PNC Grow Up Great

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

NCFL was named a recipient of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s "Voices for Economic Opportunity Grand Challenge," which seeks to elevate diverse voices in order to broaden the conversation about the issues inhibiting economic mobility and generate deeper awareness along with actionable understanding. NCFL will develop and launch a podcast series that will highlight the remarkable stories of low-income, diverse families across the U.S. who have improved their communities through Family Service Learning.

Foundation Website

Goodling Institute

NCFL has partnered with the Goodling Institute for Research and Family Literacy at Penn State University since 2001, working collaboratively to further research, professional development, and policy efforts for family literacy and intergenerational learning.

The work of this partnership includes, but is not limited to, a strong research strand at NCFL's national annual convening, the Families Learning Summit; advocacy for family literacy and learning to further support for and inclusion of family-focused education in new and ongoing legislation; and dissemination of the latest research, resources, information, and professional development opportunities for literacy and learning practitioners and advocates, including the Certificate in Family Literacy provided by the Goodling Institute.

Learn more about the Goodling Institute for Research and Family Literacy at Penn State University