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4 steps to creating a welcoming classroom environment

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The start of each school year is often intimidating for students, particularly for English learners (ELs) and newcomers whose first language and culture may not be represented at their school. But as educators, it is a fresh opportunity to design a classroom environment where every student feels comfortable, supported, and valued. 

When students feel comfortable, they are more engaged and motivated to learn. Discover four actionable ways to create a classroom that embraces diversity and empowers multilingual learners and newcomers to succeed.

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Learn everyone's name and proper pronunciation. 

Our names are the most integral part of our identity, and dedicating time and effort to being able to properly say each individual student’s full name is a critical first step for building a welcoming environment. For newcomers or students whose names have origins in another language or culture, we should particularly prioritize holding not only ourselves but all other students accountable for the correct pronunciation of their names.

This is also an opportunity to learn more about each students’ backgrounds and culture for a more meaningful “get to know you” than more surface level name games.If your district uses Ellevation, try our strategy called #IKnowMyFullName. This activity is a great way for students to research what their name means, its significance in their family and in their culture, and to present their findings to their classmates. The first step in the beginning of the year is to make clear to every student that your classroom is a safe space where they belong.

Share student work on the walls

Another step to take during the first day or week of a new school year is to display student work on the classroom walls. This is a simple way to use almost any activity you may already have planned for students to help them feel connected to their classroom and emphasize the idea that they belong. It demonstrates that their contributions are valued, promoting a positive classroom culture and encouraging active participation, in addition to celebrating diversity by teaching students to appreciate and respect different perspectives and abilities.

We are highlighting classrooms with creative ways of displaying student work on our Twitter - make sure to follow and share yours!

Use repetition and routines.

Repetition and routines create a safe community for students in your classroom so that they feel like they can take risks. It quickly builds feelings of familiarity and lowers students’ affective filter. Some ways to incorporate this practice could be introducing a routine for entering the classroom or beginning the school day together (a greeting at the door, starting the day in morning circle), or can be more content-specific such as using the same set of sentence stems for a math reflection question. Embedding routines into learning is crucial for language learners, especially for students who are already learning new content while simultaneously learning or practicing in a new language. Removing the added challenge of constantly learning new formats for sharing or working in groups can greatly reduce their cognitive load.

Similarly, repetition in content classes benefits ELs and newcomers by allowing them to focus on the content without being caught up in trying to understand or learn supplementary material. In our academic language program, we build on many of the same examples throughout a unit or beyond, and for our vocabulary terms we use the same visual anchor so students don’t have to learn extra terms to understand each concept and can make connections, even across grade levels. Consistency and continuity with language whenever possible will help your language learners feel more capable of mastering grade level content.

Provide tools for students to manage their stress

Students will inevitably feel overwhelmed or stressed, particularly at the start of a new school year when they are inundated with new experiences. We can be proactive in supporting students through this by finding activities and resources and teaching them how and when they can utilize them. You can print coloring pages that are detailed or even mimic a maze such as a Mandala which is a great way for students to distract themselves when they are becoming escalated, to refocus their attention into a more calming, meditative state. 

Sensory bins with items like stress balls or headphones and calming music can also be great tools to empower students with for self-soothing. Figuring out a few systems for stress management is a powerful way to set your students up to succeed and reiterate that they are in a safe and supportive space.

If you have additional ideas for ways to create a welcoming classroom environment, please share with our community. Have a great school year!