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Shared Space: Promoting Community and Unity in the Classroom

A high school teacher shares recommended questions, activities, and resources to create an inclusive classroom.

Inclusive Classroom

July 16, 2020

Fists up! LeShéa “Ms. A” Agnew (Charlotte-Piedmont Triad '18) teaches all levels of English II to an incredibly dope class at Harding University High School. She is the co-advisor of HUHS GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) and Tribe vs, a student-led social justice/education collective. Here, she shares strategies for creating an inclusive classroom. 

My fellow educators, 

Inclusion is a mindset. 

It is not a simple courtesy or favor we extend. It is more than a politically correct game plan to facilitate a real conversation with your students or “checklist” strategy to pull out of our back pockets. Inclusion is an authentic, consistent approach intended to open your shared space and its inhabitants to a well-nurtured, well-protected, safe classroom environment.

Instructional Guide Checklist

  • Teach students of color to LOVE themselves
  • Invite family and community members to become partners in educating students
  • Expose students to role models of color
  • Disrupt the single narrative of students of color
“Inclusion is not a strategy to help people fit into the systems and structures that exist in our societies; it is about transforming those systems and structures. Inclusion is about creating a better world for everyone.”

Diane Richler

Past President, Inclusion International

Building Relationships

I focus on building authentic relationships with each Block and each student. In fact, the first week of a new semester is completely dedicated to building meaningful relationships with my students and encouraging them to do the same with each other. I use brain teasers, quick writes, team-building activities, and collaborative discussions to explore our similarities and differences. We learn from polarities and extreme opposites; we forge bonds with synonymous souls. Provide ample time and space for both as you nurture relationships with your students. 

We are not a class. We are a family. My entire classroom environment was designed with a philosophy of community—this is a shared space and we are all responsible for the energy and level of effort we add to our space. 

Every class, we intensely and intently read and write because these are the skills of the free. We use these skills to discover and honor our own truths and identities to better understand the voices and viewpoints we critically analyze in lessons. We are a family. As a family we grow, learn, challenge, celebrate, and cry—together. Students need their village; aim to create one in your classroom. My village provides a space for all students to create, express, challenge, and question every aspect of their learning journey. 

Questions to Consider

  • Do I stand before my classroom as my authentic self?
  • Am I consistent in the norms I’ve established for myself and students to follow?
  • How do I incorporate insight and perspectives from diverse voices representing my content?
  • How do I address my students in ways that positively reaffirm their identity?
  • How do I stand up and show up for my students outside of the classroom?
  • How can I incorporate culturally diverse music, artwork, decorative water fountains, plants, relaxing scents, elements from nature, etc. in our shared space?

Their Eyes—Your Lens 

View your classroom from the vantage point of your young scholars. Our classrooms are our students’ second home, and sometimes, only home, where warmth, acceptance, and love thrives. Think about your own four walls. What do you need in your home to feel safe? Valued? Respected? Loved? 

Work and create from this place of awareness. 

A Few Co-Building and Collaborative Activities 

  • Poetry Slam: Class Blocks break into teams and grab the mic in the school auditorium performing original poems in a traditional poetry slam setting. Judges vote for the winner. This is a great opportunity for students to share in each other’s healing and honesty. All voices share a stage. 
  • Privilege Circle: This revamped “Privilege Walk” team building exercise requires students to stand in a circle. The teacher reads out various “If” statements and students who have shared that particular experience, step into the center of the circle. Students find out how much they have in common—especially with their teacher. 

Helpful Resources

Don’t Force the Relationship—Let It Flow 

Ensure the relationships you form between students extend beyond classroom walls. In every lesson, ensure your students feel welcomed, heard and seen. Protect the validity of their languages and voices. Do not allow them to be defined by their “perceived plights” while in your classroom. Shine a light on the dreams in their hearts. Honor the creative ways in which they express their identities. Encourage their exploration. Raise their expectations of self and support their ascent. Be brave in the truths you share about the inequality and systems we fight. 

Every student has wings—show them they are destined to fly.