Nord Anglia Education
Nord Anglia
May 08, 2024

Fostering Inclusion in the Classroom

Fostering Inclusion in the Classroom - Fostering Inclusion in the Classroom
Fostering Inclusion in the Classroom

Inclusion and diversity are words we hear a lot in education and in the wider world, but how do we, as educators, ensure we are fostering these core concepts in our classroom? I believe the answer can be broken into two main parts – Environment and Language.

When I say “environment” I mean our classrooms, the resources within them and most importantly, the potential connections our young children can make with their learning environments. Just as we ensure resources are at an appropriate height and children’s sized chairs are ordered so students can connect with the room from a physical perspective, we must think crucially about the items we use in our rooms and their potential for children to connect with them on a personal level.   Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop wrote that books are mirrors, reflecting our own lives back at us, and that reading is therefore a means of self-affirmation. Dr. Sims’ “mirror theory” argues that “the positive mirror experience is exactly why representation matters” Seeing a character that looks like them or a family dynamic in a book that may reflect their own, enables children to form stronger connections with themselves and develop their sense of self-awareness. Therefore, as educators we can create classroom libraries and book corners that reflect the students in our care.

As an educator, it is wonderful to see inclusive children’s literature evolve in recent years. The CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center) release annual statistics relating to characters in children’s books, as well as the authors who write them.  In 2015, they noted that 73.3% of main characters in children’s books were white. By 2020, the number of books the CCBC received that were by or about a person of color had tripled. In 2022, almost 40 percent (1,362) of the books the CCBC received were by a person of color, having at least one creator (e.g., author, illustrator, or compiler) who is BIPOC.

Incorporating a diverse and inclusive collection of books and resources not only allows children to develop their sense of identity, but also introduces other cultures, heritages and experiences. In their book ‘Anti Bias Education’, Louise Derman-Sparks and Julie Olsen Edwards argue against a “tourist curriculum” and environment: this refers to the activities about ”other” cultures that are planned as part of a holiday or special unit,  but not then mentioned, until the same time, the following year. According to the authors of ‘Anti Bias Education’, doing this centers the experience and representation of middle-class, white, able-bodied individuals.  Instead, learning about diverse cultures should be embedded in the curriculum and a routine part of ongoing, daily learning.

In our Early Years department at BISC-LP, we have indeed embedded the “the mirror theory” into our classroom libraries and are actively trying to ensure that our daily practice is inclusive. For example, in my classroom we count how many children are present each morning in Circle Time.  In addition to looking at the numeral of the total number of children, we then sign the number, using American Sign Language.  We are also slowly beginning to learn some basic signs in order to sign “good morning” and “hello”. Just a simple addition to our morning routine has enabled our youngest students to step into a non-hearing world and begin to develop an understanding of the lives of others.

In addition to embedding an inclusive culture into our daily practices and environment, we need to consider our use of language and the impact it can have. Children’s inexperience and limited cognitive skills are not the only influences on their thinking. Children learn through modeled behavior; the words we speak shape their self-awareness and identity. As a result, they are at risk of being exposed to inaccurate facts, longstanding stereotypes and attitudes around racial identity, economic class, culture, sexual orientation, and abilities/disabilities.  Instead, children need empathetic and open-minded adults to help them construct a positive sense of self and a respectful understanding of others. We have a responsibility to not only model inclusive language but to also interrupt and educate if we hear students engaging in prejudicial or stereotypical language. It is important to recognize that inclusive language is ever-evolving, words have origin stories, and that inclusive language recognizes diversity, history and power.

Going back to the idea of books and children’s literature, an example of “stereotypes” we might see are books that show girls as passive care givers and ballerinas and boys as adventurous and daring. There are really simple ways to navigate this and that’s to look for more inclusive books that simply challenge the stereotype and encompass a more inclusive approach. A long-time favorite book of mine is ‘Dogs Don’t Do Ballet’. I have been reading this to children for about 9 years now and it so delightfully challenges stereotypes, while simultaneously sparking the conversation that we can be anything we want to be.  Biff the dog can be a ballerina, despite being repeatedly told “Dogs Don’t Do Ballet!” Books are an incredible way to model inclusive language and to reinforce inclusive, compassionate thinking. 


Fostering Inclusion in the Classroom - Fostering Inclusion in the Classroom


The staff at BISC-LP were recently fortunate enough to attend some training on Inclusive Language, which offered age-appropriate suggestions to support the practice of inclusive language at different stages within our school.

Finally, in the realm of using language to foster inclusion and diversity, it is important to use language to explore and validate feelings.  It is our job (as adults) to provide emotional support for children and to help them navigate their feelings, especially in relation to hearing a word/s that may have upset them or held some sort of powerful meaning.  We also have a responsibility to educate the child who may have unknowingly used inappropriate or offensive language. To do this, we can follow the acronym IQEE, meaning Interrupt, Question, Educate and Echo.

With all these things in mind, fostering inclusion and diversity in the classroom seems like a lot of work.  When in fact it is quite simple. Be compassionate, develop inclusive practices and make every child feel valued. Pause, reflect, educate and commit to our own development as inclusive educators.


Ali Matthews
Nursery Leader & Head of Early Years