Creating an Inclusive Learning Environment

Students need to be seen, heard, treated fairly, and protected in order to thrive in a learning environment
77 teachers like this strategy

About This Strategy

According to the Clover Model of Youth Development published by the PEAR institute, a sense of belonging is one of the four essential elements that people of all ages need in order to thrive, learn, and develop. It is also a fundamental part of establishing a welcoming and inclusive learning community. This strategy provides the support needed for teachers to create and sustain such an environment, not only for the students in their classrooms, but also to represent the diversity in society.

Implementation Steps

30 minutes
  1. Evaluate your classroom environment and practices to determine if the representation on the walls of your classroom, in your school, and in the curriculum honors and includes your students and their families. Do you express interest in your students' personal stories both in and outside of the classroom and demonstrate care of your students beyond academics?  If done effectively, your students will be able to respond to the question Do You See Me? In the affirmative.

  2. Evaluate your classroom practices to determine if you proactively incorporate the prior knowledge and experience of your students, seek and respond to student feedback, incorporate student choice in the curriculum, have a well-developed empathy reflex, and engage in authoritative disciplinary practices. If done effectively, your students will be able to respond to the question Do You Hear Me? in the affirmative.

  3. Evaluate your classroom practices to determine if you set clear and high expectations for your students, employ equal discipline and rewards, support students in struggle and push in success, engage in consistent and predictable assessment and empower different kinds of success. If done effectively, your students will be able to respond to the question Will You Treat Me Fairly? In the affirmative.

  4. Evaluate your classroom practices to determines if you understand your students' identities and experiences, interrupt exclusive or oppressive behavior, teach and discuss cultural power and difference, and encourage and practice collaboration. If done effectively, your students will be able to respond to the question Will You Protect Me? in the affirmative.

  5. Refer to Rosetta Eun Ryong Lee's Practical Questions and Strategies for Increasing Inclusiveness linked below for support as you evaluate your practices.

  6. Reflect on your responses to the above questions, and make the necessary changes to ensure that your students are seen, heard, treated fairly, and protected.  

Creating an Inclusive Learning Environment For Distance Learning

Caitlin MacLeod-Bluver
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

In a traditional school setting, it is essential that all students feel seen, heard, treated fairly, and protected in order to thrive. In a distance learning setting, this is all the more important. Reaching out to students individually, building a welcoming online class culture, and creating an inclusive curriculum are ways to create a supportive online learning environment. 

Implementation steps:

  1. To support students to feel truly seen and heard in a distance-learning setting, consider: 

    • Making sure you connect individually with students. Consider creating a free Google Voice account. This will give you a number (that is not your personal cell phone number) that you can use to connect with students via calls and texts. Reach out to students one by one to see how they are doing, ensure they have critical resources, and be a presence in their lives. 

    • Creating virtual spaces for students to share about their identity, their background, or their interests. Also, consider using synchronous video sessions for students to share how they are doing in a remote setting, and what is challenging and what they like about online learning. Adapt the strategy "I wish my teacher knew" and consider tools like FlipGrid or Padlet. 

    • Building an inclusive distance-learning curriculum. In a traditional setting, students must feel like their experiences are reflected in the curriculum. This sentiment doesn't change in a distance-learning setting. Find videos, images, and texts to include in your curriculum that reflect students' lives. Consider a tool like Seesaw or Sutori which makes embedding texts, videos, and images easy. Consult the Better Lesson strategy Integrating Inclusive Content, Windows and Mirrors found in the resource section below. 

    • For students with limited technology, consider sending packets home to students that reflect the same inclusive digital-curriculum. Also, remember that most students have access to a phone, especially through their families. Call students, or send encouraging pictures or images to their phone. Use the phone to ensure that students are still included in the curriculum. 

    • Identifying community resources for food and relief and sharing these with students. Consider making an Instagram account that students can follow where you can share these resources. 

    • Using Google Translator to send individual messages to students and families whose native language is not English. Make sure you continue collaborating with the EL teacher so that the proper modifications can be made to any documents or assignments. Consider recording yourself with the Talk and Comment Google feature or Vocaroo. 

  2. To support students to feel treated fairly and protected in a distance-learning setting, consider: 

    • Creating resources to reestablish routines and expectations around digital tools, grading policies, and assessments. Consult the Better Lesson strategies found in the resources about creating shared work time expectations and creating norms for digital tool use. 

    • Communicating new expectations, norms, and policies with families. Consider an app like Remind that allows you text with families and students. 

    • To modify this step for asynchronous distance learning, try creating screen-casts that feature you explaining new routines and expectations to students and their families. 

  3. Ensuring that students' have access to online learning is one important way to help create an inclusive learning environment. Creating modifications and providing scaffolds helps build an inclusive learning environment. Consider the following tech tools to help all students access the curriculum: 

    • Screencastify or Loom to create step-by-step directions for students and provide self-created tutorials. 

    • Newsela to offer differentiated texts for students. 

    • Graphic Organizer maker to support students' to organize and their thinking.  

  4. Design your online learning with the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as your framework. Ensure that new content is represented in multiple ways, that students have multiple means of action and expression, and that there are multiple ways for students to engage in learning. Consult the UDL resources shared below. 

EL Modification

Shannon Coyle
English Learner Specialist

This strategy is an imperative exercise for teachers who have English learners in their classrooms. While English learners have language learning in common, they bring to school diverse experiences that are to be honored and valued as an asset in the classroom. 

In order to support English Learners consider the following modifications:


  1. Consider ALL English learners. The term English learner is applied to a diverse group of learners. Some have recently arrived to the country, while others were born in the U.S. Still others have lived in a variety of locales and are learning English as a third, fourth or fifth language. Some learners are literate in their home language while others have limited previous schooling. Learn individual learner stories and avoid assumptions about cultural representation and experiences to ensure all are seen and heard. See the following resources in the resource section below for more information: "Newcomer Toolkit," "Creating a Welcoming Classroom Environment," "The Difficult Road for Long-Term English Learners," "FocusOn-SLIFE" and "Ecology of Identity."
  2. Understand where learners are in the language acquisition process. Each individual English learner in the classroom will be at a different stage of the language acquisition process. Learn about the characteristics of each stage and support them accordingly to ensure learners are treated fairly. See the "Language Acquisition: An Overview" resource in the resource section below for more information.
  3. Practice culturally responsive and trauma informed teaching. Develop a deep understanding of culturally responsive teaching and best practices in responding to learners who have experienced trauma to ensure learners are treated fairly. See the following resources in the resource section below for more information: "Using a Strengths-Based Approach with ELs: Supporting Students Living with Trauma, Violence and Chronic Stress," "Culturally Responsive Teaching: 4 Misconceptions," and "Culturally Responsive Teaching Checklist Re-Imagining Migration."
  4. Ensure and advocate for equity for English learners. Teachers are charged with teaching content as well as affirming learner identity in the classroom and school-wide. Ensure English learners are seen, heard, treated fairly and protected by differentiating instruction and assessment, as well as standing up for such accommodations.  See the "Equity for English-Language Learners" and "Affirming Identity in Multilingual Classrooms" resources in the resource section below for more information.
  5. Continually engage in self evaluation. Ensuring teachers see, hear, protect and treat English learners fairly requires a continuous evolution of teaching practice. See the "Affirming Identity in Multilingual Classrooms" and "We Must Always Look Inward" resources in the resource section below for more information.

Special Education Modification

Nedra MassenburgDEMO
Special Education Specialist

Working to create an inclusive learning environment is a foundational tool teachers can use to support students with disabilities.   Building an environment where these students feel safe and valued is the first building block to helping them form relationships and thus build overall engagement and investment in their learning.

Creating an inclusive learning environment for students requires significant executive functioning (task initiation, prioritization, working memory, etc.), emotional regulation, reading, and written expression skills.  In order to support students with disabilities in these areas, consider the following modifications:


  1. Teacher knowledge and acknowledgment of student disabilities is a key way to create an inclusive learning environment. Teachers should consult with special education department administrators or specialized teachers for information on not only specific disability types and needs present in a classroom, but how students want those needs acknowledged. See the "Dear Teacher: Heartfelt Advice for Teachers" resource in the resource section below.

  2. Teachers should take care to research resources around teaching disability awareness to ensure that students with impairments see themselves represented and valued in the classrooms. See the "25 Disability Awareness Activities for Kids of all Ages" and the "Mini-Lesson-Understanding-Disability" resources in the resource section below for more information.

Questions to Consider

How can you help students in your classroom to see and hear others from diverse groups in society who may not be represented in your school community, and to treat others fairly and make others feel safe?

Related Resources

Explore the resources linked below in order to learn more about how to create an inclusive learning environment.