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Inclusive education starts with names.

Inclusion is a simple concept, and yet it means so much to all of us.

To be included is to be appreciated. To be respected. It’s something every human being deserves from the communities around them, no matter where they’re from or what their name is.

Inclusion is so important. It leads people to be their best selves. And that’s why so many organizations, institutions and companies are committing to building inclusive spaces for their people.

Some might say inclusion is in the best of our nature. But we also learn about inclusion, as we do many other things, in the early years of our lives.

Inclusion, then, is perhaps most important in the world of education, where a future generation learns how to interact with the world and each other. Today, we’re discussing inclusive education, and how it starts with names.

What is inclusion in the classroom?

Inclusive education is critical to creating a learning environment. After all, how can a student engage with materials if they feel unwelcome, or excluded from the lesson?

As our society becomes increasingly diverse, our need for systems that promote inclusion increases. Everyday, we are learning how to care for the unique people around us, how to respect who they are, and where they came from.

child in class
Photo by CDC on Unsplash

By denying people (and especially children) that inclusion we all desire, we are denying them the ability to collaborate, to share their perspectives, and to help build a better world.

And the numbers back this up. Stat about education that suggests inclusion in the classroom increases performance. Plus, we already know that diversity helps engender better problem-solving.

Why are names so important for students?

Many children from diverse backgrounds find their names are different in school and at home.

A child at school might feel pressured towards different values than at home. If they are hearing — and pronouncing — their own names differently in these two spaces, they might become further conflicted.

This can lead to deeper divides between their home and school lives, leading to a fractured sense of self, and, more drastically, impaired performance in school.

children participating in class
Photo by CDC on Unsplash

If building an inclusive environment for students is a priority, then educators must make this clear from the beginning of a student’s time in their classroom. That can only be done by taking the time to learn to pronounce their name.

Inclusive education requires serious strategies, and can often colour a lesson plan in a myriad ways. But the details matter, and names are a massive detail.

Names tell us who we are. They identify us, and we identify with them. They carry our pasts: even those who choose their own names are telling their story with them.

Respecting them is the first step towards building a truly inclusive educational environment.

How would inclusive education make a real difference?

We linked to a study earlier that suggested there is a marked relationship between mispronouncing a student’s name and their performance in school.

There is a substantial bit of research on the Internet covering this, and as more diverse folks come forward with their own stories about their names and the struggles they may have faced, the issue becomes more clear cut.

Rita Kohli, an associate professor at University of California, Riverside, suggests that mispronouncing a students’ name can build a wall between them and the student.

an empty classroom ready for inclusive education

Building an inclusive classroom means that no student would feel alienated from their teacher or peers. But learning to properly honor and pronounce a new student’s name is a critical first step in ensuring that free-flowing relationship in the classroom.

My Name, My Identity, a campaign by Santa Clara County Office of Education, was started for this very reason.

With the dropout rate above 30 percent for immigrant students as recently as 2016, it’s critical that initiatives like My Name, My Identity continue to recruit schools and districts to respect the names and backgrounds of their students, no matter where they come from.

“[Names are] one of the first things children recognize, one of the first words they learn to say, it’s how the world identifies them.”

Corey Mitchel, Education Week

Inclusive education starts with names.

So many interactions begin with a name.

By accepting students for who they are, you create a nurturing environment where they can do their best work.

Educators are realizing this, and taking steps to improve the experience for their students by building inclusive education into the first days of class. This collection of strategies offers some pretty interesting insights, such as name games and learning rules from different languages.

And of course, we’re always here, with thousands of names in 20+ languages, if you need us.

There are millions of names in the world, and we’re not expecting anyone to pronounce every name correctly. You’re always going to encounter an unfamiliar name. What matters is how you treat the person whose identity is tied to it.

Every interaction starts with a name. Educators can foster more inclusive classroom environments by starting there too.

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