Little Justice Leaders Blog

Your first steps to creating a classroom culture rooted in social justice

by Shelby Kretz

You want to have a truly inclusive classroom, but with all the other demands on your time as a teacher, it can feel impossible. Here, we’re presenting a few steps you can take to move towards a more inclusive classroom culture. 

This is just a starting point, but it will give you a great head start on thinking about a culture rooted in justice.

To join our FREE mini-course on creating an inclusive classroom culture, which includes 3 done-for-you templates you can start using today, click here

Here are a few practices to get you started: 

Reflect on your own identity and biases

How do you view your students? How does your classroom reflect your students’ experiences, cultures, and values? How does your identity impact the way you teach? 

When it comes to justice, one of the most important steps is always to go inward. Spend some time thinking about your own identity and how it impacts the way you teach. Think deeply about what biases you may be bringing to the classroom.

For example, if you do not have a disability, have you given serious thought to how your classroom supports students with disabilities? 

If you are white, how are you showing up for and supporting your students of color? What support might you need to ensure you’ve worked through any internalized bias you may be holding? What structures can you put in place to reduce or eliminate any bias you may be bringing to your classroom? 

You can think about these questions for all different identity characteristics. How are you showing up for and supporting your emerging bilingual students? How are you showing up for and supporting your LGBTQ+ students? 

How are you showing up for and supporting each and every one of your students? 

Even if you share a certain identity, you may be overlooking the ways you’re impacting your students. No matter your gender, ask yourself if you’re centering your male students’ voices in the classroom. Are you responding to students of different genders differently? Do you have different expectations of behavior, achievement, or obedience for students of different genders? 

Spend some time reflecting on your identity, potential biases, and ways to ensure those biases aren’t impacting your students. 

Rethink your policies and practices 

From discipline to grading, all of our policies and regular classroom practices impact our students. How are your policies improving or hindering how safe your students feel in your classroom? Here are a few areas to think about: 

Discipline: Are you punishing your learners for unwanted behavior, or are you creating a restorative setting for justice in the classroom? Have you considered what you consider to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ behavior, and where that comes from? In what ways are your cultural norms dictating what you consider to be appropriate classroom behavior? How can you build a culture of restorative and transformative justice? 

Gender: Do you have policies or practices of splitting up students by gender? Not only does this leave nonbinary students out completely, but it also reinforces the gender binary and attaches undue significance to gender. 

Grading: How are your grading practices supporting an inclusive and just classroom? In what ways do your own cultural norms influence your view of how grades work? Check out this post from @teach2resist on Instagram for a more in-depth look at some specific grading policies and why they are inequitable. 

These are definitely not all of the policies and practices you should question, but interrogating these would be a great start. 

Incorporate justice into your curriculum 

It’s important to bring our students into the justice work we do. Young people understand more than they are given credit for, and they are interested in learning more about the world around them. Use topics of social justice to teach content by incorporating it into social students and English Language Arts lessons. Use word problems that integrate information about justice in math and teach about environmental sustainability and climate change in science. 
By drawing on these issues of justice, you will help develop young people who care about making an impact and are capable of thinking critically about complex topics. 

Remember, this is just a start. There are so many things that should be done for a truly inclusive classroom culture, but don’t let that stop you! Start with one step at a time, and do what you can now. These are a few steps, but they shouldn’t be your only steps. 

Want 3 more easy steps, along with 3 done-for-you templates to make setting up an inclusive classroom easy this year? Sign up for our FREE mini-course to start the year out right with 3 done-for-you templates and 3 quick videos to help make your classroom more inclusive today.