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Building More Inclusive Classrooms with Dr. Mark Gooden

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Today on the podcast, we’re sitting down with Dr. Mark Gooden, the Christian Johnson Endeavor Professor in Education Leadership and Director of the Endeavor Antiracist & Restorative Leadership Initiative (EARLI) in the Department of Organization and Leadership at Teachers College, Columbia University. We are talking about More Inclusive Classrooms.

He’s got a new book out, 5 Practices for Equity-Focused School Leadership, offering five methods to increase educational equity and eliminate marginalization based on race, disability, socioeconomics, language, gender, and sexual identity, and religion. 

In this interview, I asked Dr. Gooden to bring his work right into the ELA classroom. You’re going to hear his thoughts on what it means to be an anti-racist teacher in the long term, how to listen better to the people in your community, how to fight for diverse books, and more. 

You can listen in to this episode below, click here to tune in on any podcast player, or read on for the full post.

What Does it Mean to be an Anti-Racist Teacher?

An anti-racist teacher is a teacher who shows up every day to fight to dismantle inequitable systems.

To understand inequalities it’s important to recognize that there are different levels of inequities – historical, institutional, structural and interpersonal. Anti-racist teachers understand all of these levels and work to create a safe and welcoming learning environment for all students.

More Inclusive Classrooms

These teachers reflect on their own various identities, including racial and religious identities, to help themselves be more aware of the students who come to them with different identities and to be aware that their students may be facing different types of oppression because of their identities.

Anti-racist teachers understand it’s important to work with a supportive learning community. This could be a PLC group within your school district or even an online community of like-minded professionals who are dedicated and care about anti-racist work.  

Self-aware teachers continuously evaluate the systems around their school, community, and neighborhood, as well as any possible interpersonal dynamics that could be at play in the school. They’re always looking for ways to ensure students feel accepted, safe, and part of the school community to build more inclusive classrooms.

Creating an More Inclusive Classroom Community

Start by establishing a set of agreements to help students understand how everyone will treat each other within the classroom. 

These agreements will support a classroom where students are allowed to speak their truth and where students (and teachers) are allowed to make mistakes.

A school community is just like a family. At one point or another, people will make mistakes. When you’ve taken the time to establish the fact that it’s ok to make mistakes and you’ve come to an agreement about what will happen if those mistakes happen and how to forgive those mistakes when they do happen, students will feel supported and will feel their self-identity is being valued.

Listening to Understand

Some parents have gone through many years of their child’s education feeling like they haven’t been heard. As educators, we can make sure we listen and allow parents to express themselves completely without trying to calm them down or dismiss them. 

More Inclusive Classrooms

Having a protocol for listening to understand instead of listening to respond is important to help parents and students feel heard in the school community. One way to do this is to paraphrase what is said after someone is done speaking.

It’s not always about offering a solution. When a parent comes to you feeling passionate about an injustice that their child is facing, it’s not necessarily your job to jump in and fix the problem immediately. First, focus on listening to the parent and respond with acknowledgment of what is happening and an understanding of the situation. Making sure parents feel heard is a great first step to creating a supportive more inclusive classroom community.

It’s ok to not have a solution to a problem. One strategy to respond to someone who feels they’ve experienced an injustice is to let them know you aren’t sure how to help and to ask them what you can do to help or what they need from you. 

Go-To Practices for Inclusive Teachers

Do things differently. It will spark creativity and help you learn and be open to making mistakes. When you’re open to doing new differently, you can try things differently around inequities. Consider co-learning and co-teaching with your students to be sure you’re getting their perspectives.

There’s risk in being creative or imaginative, but the benefits outweigh the risks. One way to support diverse student populations in your classroom is to choose books with diverse authors (if you’re able to).

Feeling unsure of how parents will react to your diverse book choices? Consider working in partnership with parents of marginalized kids to ask for suggestions about what types of stories they would like to see included, if possible. Parents of marginalized students are living with these children everyday and can offer help and support with suggestions to how teachers can make the learning environment safer for their students. 

Don’t be afraid to ask parents – What types of texts would they like to see their child reading? What topics would they like to be explored? We have to cover our curriculum, but with creativity and collaboration, we can make strides to helping all students feel seen in the classroom.

Working with School Leaders

Build coalitions can lead to more inclusive classrooms with parents and leaders by explaining your practices with clear, research-based reasoning and standards behind your lesson ideas.

When you’re thinking about your inclusive practices, be sure to explain your reasoning for wanting to support learners and for making sure they feel safe in expressing their identities for the safety of themselves and others in the learning environment.

In a time when many practices are being questioned, providing research-based reasoning can go a long way to ensure….FINISH THOUGHT

School Leaders have a responsibility to support teachers who engage in culturally responsive pedagogy and who engage in making their classroom more inclusive, engaging, and welcoming. 

Practical Steps Teachers Can Take to Protect an Inclusive Classroom Environment

More Inclusive Classrooms

Build a coalition with parents to create more inclusive classrooms.

Build a coalition with school leaders.

Have clear research behind your inclusive practices.

Have clear standards ready to back up your curriculum and resource choices.

Stand up for your students who need to be seen and heard in a way they may never have been before.

Connect with Dr. Gooden to build More Inclusive Classrooms

Mark Anthony Gooden is the Christian Johnson Endeavor Professor in Education Leadership and Director of the Endeavor Antiracist & Restorative Leadership Initiative (EARLI) in the Department of Organization and Leadership at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Mark’s research focuses broadly on culturally responsive school leadership with specific interests in principalship, anti-racist leadership, urban educational leadership, and legal issues in education.

Mark is the 2017 recipient of the UCEA Jay D. Scribner Mentoring Award and the 2021 recipient of the UCEA Master Professor Award for distinguished service in teaching, curriculum development, and student mentoring. His research has appeared in a range of outlets, including American Educational Research Journal, Educational Administration Quarterly, Teachers College Record, Review of Educational Research, and The Journal of Negro Education & Urban Education.

He is the Past President of the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA).

Be sure to check out his new book, 5 Practices for Equity Focused School Leadership. You can find it from all of your favorite book sellers.

Check out his website

Find him on Instagram

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