Teachers get new tools for inclusive classrooms

Summary

After four years of research, project recommends ways to manage diversity in Flemish schools

Teaching for diversity

A framework that will help teachers better approach diversity in the classroom has been developed by academics from six Flemish universities and colleges. The aim is to ensure that teaching methods give all children the same opportunity to learn and develop.

Flemish schools have become increasingly diverse in recent decades, partly due to demographic changes and partly because of legislation that encourages a broader social mix in the classroom. The Potential project was put together to develop a training pathway that would help student teachers create inclusive learning environments.

Lasting four years, the project involved staff from Ghent University, VUB, KU Leuven, Antwerp University, imec, Artevelde University College and University College Leuven-Limburg. Thirty-two primary schools, 24 secondary schools and eight teacher training colleges also took part. Funding came from Flanders Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Vlaio).

One of the most important factors identified in the project was the level of collaboration between teachers. “When teachers work together, they draw on the strengths of the school team and compensate for any weaknesses,” it says. “In addition, teachers learn a lot from each other through collaboration, and they feel supported.”

While this might seem obvious, it is not how Flemish schools have traditionally worked. “In many Flemish schools the teacher’s class is still an island, and there is relatively little cooperation in comparison with other countries,” the project says. For this reason it is important that time for collaboration is built into school management policy.

Inclusive lens

The project also found that a teacher’s mindset – the lens through which they see the class – affects their ability to create an inclusive learning environment. “For example, teachers who attach great importance to a quiet and structured classroom see fewer opportunities for inclusive teaching practices.”

The challenge is to help teachers realise that the two are not mutually exclusive. “After all, both inclusion and classroom management aim to keep all students involved and motivated while they learn. Teachers who are positive about diversity, and growth-oriented and student-oriented thinking, see more opportunities for inclusive working.”

The project is also keen on differentiation in the classroom. This is fashionable at the moment as a way of responding to pupils’ interests or managing differences in learning pace, but it can also be used to create a more inclusive classroom environment.

The results of the Potential project are now to be published in a book, and the tools it developed made available online.

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