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Educators: Creating an Inclusive Classroom Culture

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Colored Pencils February 2022 Educators Creating an Inclusive Classroom Culture

An Inclusive, Anti-Racist, Anti-Bias Classroom Starts with You.

In the past, an inclusive classroom typically referred to the inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classrooms to the greatest extent possible. Sometime in the more recent past, the definition shifted to mean that all students have equal access to education and education services. Today, creating a truly inclusive classroom is about so much more than access. Not only is it about creating a sense of community and belonging, it's about making sure that what we are teaching and how we are teaching are truly inclusive.

We're not going to sugar-coat it - it's tough out there for educators right now. While teachers have never had an easy job, the complexities of teaching are greater than ever, with teachers' plates being fuller than ever. The process of creating an authentically inclusive classroom takes work. 

Creating an inclusive classroom requires teachers to do their own internal work and grow their capacity in understanding racial equity and anti-bias, anti-racist work. It means learning and unlearning ways in which what and how we teach create learning environments that are oppressive and marginalizing. And it means that there will be times where we feel very vulnerable and uncomfortable as we come to terms with the ways in which we may have caused hurt or even harm in the past, and accept that we will make mistakes in the future. Growth is about being brave - it happens when we sit in our discomfort and reflect on it. Inclusive classrooms are brave spaces, not safe spaces. Creating an inclusive, anti-racist, anti-bias classroom requires persistent intentionality, despite knowing that these conversations will never feel comfortable.

But here's the thing: holistic inclusion is powerful when applied in classrooms. An inclusive classroom creates a lens for students to evaluate the world around them - it builds their empathy and sense of identity by creating a space where representation and lived experiences not only matter, but are valued as part of learning. It creates invaluable learning experiences rooted in the world in which students live, and provides students with agency in their own learning. It teaches them to ask questions and to think critically, while also learning how to connect with others through empathy. Powerful proof of successful outcomes from thought-leader in economics, business and industry, Forbes, asserting that empathy is the most important skill for leaders to have while strongly rejecting that empathy is a 'soft skill', and concluding that one's empathy can impact cooperation, innovation, identity, and even overall success in the workplace. 

The inclusive classroom you create now can have a lasting, meaningful, positive impact in the lives of every one of your students, setting them up for real personal and professional success in their adult lives. It's the whole point of why you do what you do. (Imagine what would be possible if every teacher they have was doing this, too.) Once you see how impactful an inclusive classroom can be on student learning and motivation, you'll want to keep going. And once others see what's happening, they'll be eager to learn from you.

This is deep, challenging work that won't happen overnight. Start where you can. Start  with what you have control over. Start with small things - easier lifts - that will lead to bigger things. Give yourself space for setbacks, and know that there may be times where the most you can do is maintain, rather than move forward. As much as you are able, they key to success will be to  consistently and intentionally working toward taking steps forward.

Here are some great resources to help educators as they navigate this work.


As you learn and read, these key questions in Decolonizing Our Classrooms Starts With Us  fromPBS Teachers can help you to assess how you may be replicating and/or perpetuating a culture that supports biases, racism and oppressive structures in the classroom:

  •  How do you view success? 
  • What are your expectations for your students? 
  • Now, think about your seating arrangements and the types of learning activities you plan and have your students engage in. Are students seated facing you at all times? 
  • Do students collaborate and engage in interactive learning structures? 
  • Think about if and how you actively amplify student voice and build student agency in the classroom. Do students have a voice and do they have a say in their learning? 
  • Think about the student to teacher talk ratio and the nature of discussions in your classroom. Are you the sole or loudest voice in the classroom? 
  • Think about how you talk to your students and about your students. Do you use deficit-based language or hold assimilationist beliefs? 
  • Think about how you resolve issues in the classroom. Are you inquiry-stanced and solutions oriented? 
  • Do you engage in power struggles with students? 
  • How often do you give students referrals and how quickly?




Tools for Anti-Racist Teaching Collection  PBS Teachers (all grades, free, on-demand professional learning series)

Deepening Your Understanding of Race and Racism

Using Media to Know Better, Teach Better

Amplify Student Voice

Focusing on Young Learners

Deepening Understanding: Systemic Racism’s Impact on Education

Affirming Identities: The Content We Teach

Mental Health: Centering Our Learners

Designing a Path Forward


Rethinking HOW We Teach  PBS Teachers

Decolonizing Our Classrooms Starts With Us  PBS Teachers

The Stigma Around Linguistics  Black Youth Project

AAVE in the Classroom The Gorax

Why Person-First Language Doesn’t Always Put the Person First Think Inclusive

How Autistic People Are Showing The Limitations Of Person-First Language Buzzfeed

Unpacking the Debate Over Person-First versus Identity-First Language in the Autism Community Northeastern University

Pronouns 101: What Are They and Why Do They Matter?  Nationwide Children's

Why Using Chosen Pronouns and Names for Students is Important  Indy Education

Strategies for Using Pronouns and Names in the Classroom  Anti-Defamation League

Creating Gender-Inclusive Classrooms  We Are Teachers

10 Tips on Talking to Kids About Race and Racism  PBS Teachers

Let’s Reflect, what do we mean when we say inclusion?  PBS Teachers

How Should I Talk About Race in My Mostly White Classroom?  Anti Defamation League

From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces: A New Way to Frame Dialogue Around Diversity and Social Justice  Arao & Clemens,


Nurturing Positive Self-Identity in Young BIPOC Children  Embrace Race

Learning with Littles Collection  PBS Teachers  (grades PreK-2, free, on-demand professional learning series)

Nurturing Curiosity and Critical Thinking

Developing Cultural Awareness

Demonstrating Empathy and Perseverance


Cultivating Good Neighbor Skills Collection  PBS Teachers (grades PreK-5, free, on-demand professional learning)

Practicing Mindfulness

Exploring the Community

Building Relationships


Who Tells Your Story Collection  PBS Teachers  (grades 3-12, free, on-demand professional learning series)

Cultivating Inclusive Spaces for Empathy Inquiry

Credible Primary Sources to Analyze Perspective

Strategies to Elevate Student Voice


Culturally Responsive Teaching with Molly of Denali  PBS Teachers  (grades K-5, free, on-demand professional learning series)


Handling Family Heritage Assignments with Adopted Children  PBS KIDS


Understanding LGBTQ+ Identity: A Toolkit for Educators (Grades 6-12)

Who Tells Your Story Collection  PBS Teachers  (grades 3-12, free, on-demand professional learning series)

Cultivating Inclusive Spaces for Empathy Inquiry

Credible Primary Sources to Analyze Perspective

Strategies to Elevate Student Voice




These Key Questions, found in The Importance of Windows and Mirrors in Storiesfrom PBS Teachers, are important to ask in creating inclusive classroom culture and learning experiences for your students:

  • Who are my students?
  • What are their interests?
  • What do my students find curious?
  • What world knowledge can we build together?
  • What connections to prior knowledge can we make?
  • Through what ways can I learn different things about my students?
  • What more do I need to know about my students?
  • What are their funds of knowledge? 
  • How does intersectionality live in our learning spaces?
  • How do my students see themselves?
  • What activities can I design to help students explore their identity/identities?
  • How can I prepare myself so I can best support students in this process?



Universal Design for Learning Framework  Engagement. Representation. Action & Expression.

Resources for Educators, Parents and Families  Anti Defamation League (includes lesson plans)

Classroom Resources  Learning for Justice (includes lesson plans)

You Have an Anti-Racist Book List - Now What?  PBS Teachers

The Importance of Windows and Mirrors in Stories  PBS Teachers

Unlearning: Kindness, Color Blindness and Racism  PBS Teachers

Unlearning: Who is the Main Character?  PBS Teachers

AllSides for Schools  in Partnership with Living Room Conversations

How can teachers engage in current events and controversial topics without causing serious divisions in the classroom or being charged with bias? How can teachers prepare students with the skills and knowledge they need to navigate modern media, social networks, and their in-person relationships? This resource helps educators have these discussions and teach essential skills in critical thinking, collaboration, listening and respectful discourse, media and digital literacy and social-emotional learning. AllSides' unique focus on building relationships and revealing multiple viewpoints across the political spectrum avoids the potential problems with bias and disrespecting individual beliefs.


Story Corps 

One Small Step  by Story Corps

Where to Find Diverse Children’s Books  Embrace Race

Books That Support Kids to Think Critically About Racial Inequity  Embrace Race

Talking About Race  National Museum of African American History and Culture

Grand Rapids Public Library Social Justice Book Club for Kids and Teens


Move to Include Collection PBS Learning Media (Grades 5-12)

18 Children’s Books to Prompt and Further Conversations on Race  PBS Teachers

59 Children's Books That Celebrate Pride  No Time For Flashcards

75 Children's Books About Disabilities  Teaching Exceptional Thinkers

41 of the Best Children's Books About Identity  Children's Library Lady 

Jelly, Ben and Pogo Collection PBS LearningMedia (Grades PreK-K)

Molly of Denali CollectionPBS LearningMedia (Grades K-2)

Alma's Way Collection PBS LearningMedia (Grades PreK-2)

Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood Collection PBS LearningMedia (Grades PreK-2)

Sesame Street Collection PBS LearningMedia (Grades PreK-K)

Arthur Collection PBS LearningMedia (Grades K-5)

Start with Hello Sandy Hook Promise

Educator Guide (Grades 2-5)


Story Circle: Social & Emotional Learning The Arts for Every Classroom PBS LearningMedia (Grades 6-12)

Why Do We Say African American? Origin of Everything PBS LearningMedia (Grades 9-12)

What is Cultural Appropriation? Origin of Everything PBS LearningMedia (Grades 9-12)

What is Racial Passing?  Origin of Everything PBS LearningMedia (Grades 9-12)

Confronting Anti-Black Racism CollectionPBS LearningMedia (Grades 6-12)

Move to Include Collection PBS LearningMedia (Grades 5-12)

News and Media Literacy Collection  PBS LearningMedia (Grades 6-12)

PBS NewsHour Classroom (Grades 6-12)

Blackademics Learning PBS LearningMedia (Grades 9-12)

The 50 Best Multicultural Young Adult Books of 2020 The Color of Us

30 Essential LGBTQ+ Books for Young Adult Readers Abe Books

40 YA Books Showcasing Diverse Disability Representation Epic Reads

Diverse and Inclusive Books to Inspire Young Adults Scholastic

Start with Hello Sandy Hook Promise

Educator Guide (Grades 6-12)

Student Leader Guide (Grades 6-12)

Say Something Sandy Hook Promise

Educator Guide (Grades 6-12)

Student Leader Guide (Grades 6-12)

Looking for ideas on talking with young children about identity and equity? 

Visit our Parents: Talking About Identity and Equity Blog