Building an Inclusive Culture
What comes to mind when you think about culture? This expression is used often, but conceptualized in different ways. To a jazz musician, a mention of culture may conjure images of a jazz combo on a New Orleans street corner. To a biologist, thoughts of cultivating bacteria and tissue cells in a lab. For a newcomer to the country, it could be the smell of foods from a fondly remembered homeland. As an educator, I frequently think about school culture, how different the culture of each school is, and what makes for an inclusive culture – one that helps each student identify with the school and experience a sense of belonging.
Students experience the world from a lens shaped by how they live, with whom they live, primary language, color of skin, ethnicity, gender alignment, learning abilities… the list goes on. Each student is a very different student. Each one needs adults who can a do a few things to help them belong, such as:
• Provide unconditional acceptance: “I care about you, period.” Who is that adult at school who has a real connection with the student?
• Use an assets-driven approach: “I see what is right with you and good about you.” Who is the adult at school who sees the things that aren’t pretty in the student’s life, but also sees beyond those things and looks for the strengths?
• Acknowledge a student’s own culture for grounding: Who is the adult at school who can listen and learn from the student, then incorporate what is meaningful from his/her/their life so the student can flourish?
Spaces of caring and empathy lead to inclusive cultures. Growing these spaces is an ongoing commitment to action. If you were to commit to doing one thing every day to grow your culture of inclusion, what would it be? Go ahead – commit to it. Your actions are dynamic. If you’re not perfect with implementing today, do it better tomorrow than you did today. Then even better the next day.
Liz Smith, Director
Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA)