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Global Education

Windows, Mirrors, and Doors: Literature and Inclusive Classrooms

At Participate Learning, our mission to unite our world through global learning begins in the classroom. We believe that fostering environments where all students are respected, valued, and seen is fundamental to growing global leaders who feel empowered to pay attention to issues in their communities and the world, feel connected to those issues and the people affected by them, and take action to address those challenges. For this reason, building inclusive classroom environments is one of the key instructional practices of Participate Learning’s global leadership framework.

Cultivating inclusive classroom environments

We hosted a three-week learning experience in October in which we focused on cultivating inclusive classroom environments. Teachers from across our global leaders community joined us to discuss best practices and share resources and ideas. We explored strategies to nurture inclusive classroom environments in virtual and hybrid settings and reflective discipline practices based on the global competencies.

Throughout the month, a theme emerged: books are mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. This phrase was coined in 1990 by Rudine Sims Bishop, and her idea feels more relevant now than ever before, with children learning in increasingly diverse settings where culturally responsive teaching is best practice.

In our conversations with educators, we heard over and over that diverse book collections are among the best tools to create a classroom environment in which all students can be seen, respected, and valued. Likewise, diverse book collections invite students to read about characters who demonstrate global competencies.

These books also help expand young minds by allowing children to visit places they haven’t seen before and inhabit characters who are different from them. The virtual trips that reading affords support the development of global competencies such as self-awareness, curiosity, empathy, and respect for difference; the characters students encounter as they read provide models and inspiration for them.

Connecting literature to the world around us

Learning together in a collaborative community setting has the benefit of leveraging teachers’ personal expertise in the classroom. Throughout the conversations, our teachers shared their own experiences and book suggestions that have helped them in creating a diverse classroom environment.

Elizabeth Farris, media coordinator at Startown Elementary, and Ana Herrera, a dual language teacher at Bethany Elementary, recommended Teach Us Your Name and ¡Solo pregunta!. Not only do these titles empower students to celebrate their own differences, but they give them the vocabulary they need to express their differences in words.

Karen Puckett, the media center coordinator at Isenberg Elementary School, shared that she is building a reading list of books that are aligned to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). By using these books as read-alouds, she encourages students to see how we are connected through global challenges. Here are some of the books she includes in this list:

Our learning experience in building inclusive classroom environments culminated with Constance Moore and Nancy Johnson James’s book Brown: The Many Shades of Love. Following a read-aloud, Constance, an artist and art educator, shared an activity that our teacher participants could bring back to their students.

They traced their hands and used different senses to describe the color of their skin. After facilitating the activity, Constance talked about how the lesson could be extended to support language development and serve as an excellent prompt to help students develop a vocabulary around skin color.

Reflecting student identity on classroom bookshelves

As we wrapped up our chat, I asked Constance to share what she thought her younger self would want from her as a teacher. She reiterated what we had been discussing all month, which is that books are the cornerstone of a diverse classroom. She offered this insight, which echoed this same theme: “…Make sure that your classroom bookshelf reflects all of the students in your classroom and even students who may not be in your classroom…[Make sure] that your bookshelf reflects the world in which we live and has a diversity of perspectives.”

This all ties back to the idea of windows, mirrors, and doors. As Rudine Sims Bishop says, “When there are enough books available that act as mirrors and windows for all our children, they will see that we can celebrate both our differences and our similarities because, together, they are what make us all human.”

Have a book you’d like to share with our community? Share it with us on Twitter: @Participatelrng. For more information on how diverse books can support developing global leaders in your classroom, check out this blog post.

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