Creating Inclusive Communities in Schools

Community, Diversity, For Schools / /
A picture of Savannah Staley with three of her students.

Savannah Staley, Possip reporter and former AP English teacher, writes about creating inclusive communities.

Many learning communities want to build inclusive communities of belonging. And in the midst of a pandemic, the word “community,” takes on a whole new meaning. Educators and school leaders alike are trying to meet this moment by  prioritizing inclusive community in an innovative and authentic way.

What does this look like? 

Creating inclusive communities looks like considering the various needs and abilities of learners. It looks like providing them the necessary support so they can access rigorous, grade-level curriculum. Creating inclusive communities looks like considering the various languages, cultures, ethnicities, and races present within student, family, and staff communities. It looks like considering how our remote and in-person learners, and our vaccinated and unvaccinated students and families, are accessing equitable education. 

What do inclusive communities require of us?

Ultimately, creating inclusive communities requires a deep consideration of the identities present within our schools. We must get honest about how students and educators of various backgrounds experience our community differently. This work is hard. It doesn’t happen all at once. It requires courage, vulnerability, and authenticity from school leaders, staff, and students. And yet, it is worth it, because it will ultimately change the way students show up.

For instance, writer, activist, and thinker, Bell Hooks describes her idea of a “beloved community.” She says, “Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world.” As Bell Hooks so beautifully shares, community is not built on the idea that we are all the same, but the practice of celebrating and embracing our differences. This human-centered approach will truly change the ways in which we understand community.

Creating an Inclusive Learning Community 

While the desire to create an inclusive school community is important, it must be coupled with a thoughtful and intentional execution. Here are a few, non-exhaustive ways you might consider cultivating this community.

1. Routinely talk about equity, access, and inclusion as a staff.

Conversations around inclusion, differentiated learning, and identity should not be limited to beginning of the year professional development. These types of conversations should be common within the teacher and staff community. To establish accountability, consider quarterly training with local activists, leaders, or groups that specialize in equity conversations and action plans. Additionally, read books such as Bell Hooks, Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope, or We Want to do more than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom by Bettina Love. 

2. Prioritize the experience of staff, students and families.

Using a platform like Possip is an excellent way to gather family feedback. Regularly seek feedback from staff and students by providing climate/culture surveys, or weekly check-ins. This allows employees, students, and family members to authentically share their experiences. Above all, whenever possible, transparently share this feedback with your team and use it to inform decisions. 

3. Create student / employee / family resource groups.

Consider groups of people within your learning community who could benefit from a specialized resource group, and make the groups a part of your culture. In addition, ask leaders to ensure diverse representation on key decisions. Encourage resource groups to share their ideas, initiatives, and conversations with your larger community. For example, to share out their impact, you could even spotlight Employee Resource Groups (ERG) in your weekly newsletter or staff email.

4. Get honest about representation in your curriculum and differentiated instruction.

Is your student population accurately represented in the texts and voices included in your curriculum? Is instruction truly accessible for all learners? Consider spending time auditing your curriculum and instructional practices. Prioritize culturally relevant teaching and best instructional practices.

5. Center restorative justice practices and social-emotional learning.

Spend time thinking about your own discipline and behavior models. Think about who’s comfort you are prioritizing within those existing practices. Consider the cultures of your student population. Encourage teachers who have strong relationships with students, or effective behavior management, to lead courageous discussions. 

Creating Inclusive Communities Looking Forward

When we think about creating truly inclusive communities, we must focus on the lived experiences of our community members. In so many spaces, the idea of inclusivity exists, but it is not congruent with the experience itself. This is why we need to listen to those whose voices should be highlighted before we decide and act. 

Bettina L. Love, author of Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom, states, “The struggle for educational freedom does not somehow vanish when you apply theory, but your barriers are no longer hiding in plain sight; now you have the language, understanding, and, hopefully, coconspirators not only to fight but also to demand what is needed to thrive.” As previously stated, inclusive community is not built all at once; it requires time and attention. However, slowing down enough to establish an authentic foundation, and getting really honest about where we are and where we want to go, will create trust within our communities. 

This year, consider the ways in which you might create an inclusive community within your own school, and consider sharing your success with Possip! We love to hear your stories, add to book lists, and acknowledge that we too are learning with you.