Identity, Inclusion and Child-Centred Education
It might sound silly but I had never really thought about identity within education until I started working in a diverse multicultural school. Sure, I understood that everyone was unique and had their own skills, talents and experiences to bring to the classroom, but I hadn’t considered the multifaceted nature of identity and its importance in child-centred education.
Identity is the sum of all of the things that make you the person you are; like all of the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that come together to reveal the bigger picture. Everyone’s puzzle pieces are different and might include things like their name, physical characteristics, personality traits, life experiences, family structure, local community, culture, gender, religion, race, nationality, socio-economic background, interests, talents, fears, values…the list is endless. Although every child and adult within our school community has their own unique identity, we all share something important in common. We all want to feel seen, accepted, valued, and included.
Children (and adults) who feel like they are accepted and valued for who they are, generally have higher levels of self-esteem and self-confidence. They also tend to feel more connected with the people around them, which can mean stronger mental health and, in turn, better overall wellbeing. Children who feel positively about school and their role within their class/school also tend to stay in education for longer. They can also have a stronger growth mindset, due to positive self-talk and self-image, meaning that they are more likely to set and achieve their goals. As teachers, we can help to support our students in all of these areas by developing a classroom that celebrates diversity and embraces each child’s unique identity.
Child-centred education and inclusion are deeply intertwined and, in my opinion, cannot be achieved independently of each other. Both relate to looking at the child(ren) in our care and making sure that we give them the positive, holistic education that they deserve. To do this, we must think about all aspects of the child’s identity and use this to inform our teaching and classroom environment. We move away from having a theoretical child in mind for ‘child-centred’ to having an actual child-centred classroom for our own students. Every child-centred classroom is unique because each one reflects the individuality of the people in that room.
Some ways we can ensure that identity is reflected and celebrated in our schools/classrooms:
Ask questions: Start meaningful conversations with your students with open-ended questions that allow you all to share about yourselves, your experiences, your lives and the things that are important to you. Be open to learning and adapting your ideas/classroom/lessons to support students based on what you learn about them.
Choose resources wisely: An important aspect of being inclusive is ensuring that we use resources that are inclusive and representative of the diverse community. This could mean exploring the library books in your classroom and making sure that there are books about people of various backgrounds, abilities, religions, genders, ethnicities etc. You may also consider the levels of the books and if you have enough high-interest books for children of varying reading abilities and interests. It could also mean examining the visuals, toys and displays in your classroom; do all of the children/characters look the same or do they reflect the diversity of the world? Lesson resources could also be chosen with diversity and inclusion in mind e.g. learning about the works of a diverse group of scientists, artists or musicians, or exploring stories/poems/books from a variety of settings and backgrounds.
Projects: A lovely way to explore identity with any class is through identity-based projects. I like to give my class a week to work on an open-ended project like ‘What Makes my Family Special’ or ‘My Special Symbol’ and then present these the following week for our class. It is a great way for children to learn about others while also having the opportunity to share about their own lives, experiences and the people/things that are important to them. Depending on your class this could be a full project or it could be a fun and simple ‘show and tell’ using a drawing or photo. Another lovely idea is to create artworks about their name and display these in the classroom. Each September I invite my class to create a door display including messages in all of the languages they speak or languages that someone important to them speaks.
Celebrate: Celebrations are a huge part of people’s identities. Discuss special celebrations as a class and learn about each other’s favourite celebrations and traditions. Perhaps you would facilitate classroom celebrations for some of the special events your students enjoy e.g. birthdays, Christmas, Eid, national holidays, particular awareness days etc.
Student Voice: As already mentioned, child-centred learning and inclusion are all about ensuring that we are giving the specific children in our class the very best that we can, so, student voice is invaluable! Encourage your students to share their ideas and opinions on a regular basis and get them involved in decision making at both class and school level. It is their education so let’s keep them at the centre and take their views onboard.
Embracing identity and diversity has been, and continues to be, an amazing learning experience for me. Working in an Educate Together school is an exciting and interesting job, and I count myself lucky to work with such a wonderfully diverse group of students and staff from whom I continue to learn new things about the world.
Ciara Lynch is a primary school teacher and AP2 in an Educate Together school. She is passionate about inclusive multicultural education and places huge importance on celebrating diversity in the classroom.
Connect with Ciara on Instagram at @ciarasclassroom
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