Providing a FAIR² Experience for All: Five Elements of an Inclusive Classroom

The more I read in the field of education, and the longer I work with teachers, visit classrooms, and research up-to-date best practices, the more I see the integration among mind, body, and heart. In other words, the more I learn about brain science, and mindfulness, and social-emotional learning, and design thinking, and culturally responsive teaching, and the more I witness the daily interactions of teachers and students, the more I have come to see that the best teaching and learning environments are those that are inclusive of all of the above. Learning isn’t just an intellectual endeavor; it’s a human one. And one has to intentionally plan for it.

Over winter break I was re-reading some of my favorite theorists and educators as I was preparing for a workshop on strategies and habits for an inclusive classroom. And in the process, I was wondering how to distill this work into some type of framework, a list of criteria that could then be used as a rubric for an inclusive classroom. I also know the brain holds information better when it’s in some sort of acronym form–some sort of bite-sized approach. And while creating an inclusive classroom typically is a non-linear process, I settled on a framework I call FAIR² (which stands for Feedback, Assessment, Intake, Rapport, and Reflection). In practice, this means the following:

Feedback: While teachers certainly are experts in their craft and subject, we don’t know how we’re doing unless feedback is part of the process–from students, from colleagues, from supervisors. Feedback takes on many forms, whether anonymous surveys, direct non-anonymous questions, mirrored scripts of our classroom process, or videos of our teaching. All these types of feedback help us to determine how we’re meeting the needs of our learners, who were intentionally or unintentionally privileging, and how we can strive to grow in our craft.

Assessment: Another type of feedback is assessment, and the balance of formative and summative assessments allows us to gauge learning at different stages of the process. Teachers know that assessment is the lifeblood of classroom practice, and when I think about assessment, I think about the multiple ways we can allow students access to learning–and the multiple ways students can show their understanding. Inclusive classrooms think broadly about assessment, using non-traditional, authentic ways for students to show what they know and can do. This part of the framework begs us to ask questions about where our learners are as opposed to where we are–and provides us some reminders that we need to think creatively about how we provide access to our learners.

Intake: The best way to ensure inclusivity is to ask students about who they are as learners and as human beings. At the beginning of each term, I give my students a series of intake questions that allow me to learn more about how my students learn best, what their definitions of success are, and what matters to them. Throughout the term, it’s also important to return to this intake, either through finding moments to connect one-on-one with learners or to glean new information about what matters to students at a different point in time. Our students are learning and growing right in front of us, and those brief moments of check-in and intake ensure they know we’re paying attention to who they are and how they’re evolving.

Rapport: If there is any quality that distinguishes independent school teachers, it is the need for good rapport-building skills. Rapport is connected to intake, in that, while intake allows teachers to know students better, rapport cements relationships to give students the safety and courage to take risks. When we know our students and show we care–and when we practice a balance of empathy alongside appropriately challenging our students–we deepen our bond to our learners and offer students another adult who serves as a mentor and guide, one who cares about their well being as they navigate their various ages and stages.

Reflection: Finally, one of the most crucial elements of an inclusive classroom is opportunities for reflection. When we ask students to reflect on their learning, we’re helping them develop an awareness of their learning profiles, or as I like to say, we’re allowing students to “go meta” on their classroom experiences. Reflection is just as powerful for us teachers as well. When we take time each day to reflect upon how we taught, what went well, and what needs work, we sharpen our own tools for ensuring learning experiences are inclusive and equitable.<

Using a FAIR² framework keeps me honest and accountable in my work, ensures that I’m not only creating a curriculum that’s content and skills driven but that I’m using these crucial elements as the essential adhesive that holds my classes together–and allowing my students to access the world with compassion and care.

What frameworks work best for you? What are the strategies and habits you use to create and foster inclusive classrooms?

Lori Cohen: Lori Cohen is the Dean of Faculty at the Bay School of San Francisco. Prior to her current position, Lori taught Humanities, Literature, and Religion/Philosophy at Bay for many years. Lori also coordinates Teacher Development seminars, in-house professional development, for Bay faculty and has begun a Teaching Fellows program that will be entering its third year. This will be Lori’s fifth year as a co-facilitator/teacher leader in Teaching Foundations, a program that brings her joy and professional rejuvenation.