Have you ever stopped to think about your office space? What items do you see? Is this space accessible to everyone who comes to see you? Who is this space designed for? What barriers prevent students from coming to meet with you or accessing the space?
Following, you will find nine questions that ask you to reflect on your office in order to reduce student barriers and increase accessibility—for English language learners specifically and for all students in general.
1. Is your office accessible to students who are from other cultures?
As ESL teachers, we are constantly learning from our students and viewing the world from their eyes. We learn about their experiences, languages, cultures, and more. Our offices—as safe spaces for them—need to reflect different cultural perspectives. This needs to be more than just items from around the world that we might collect on vacation; these items and cognitive framing must authentically and mindfully reflect our students.
Pro Tip: One great way to have an office that reflects different cultures is to hang student work, share student quotes on the walls, and share other artifacts from our students and classrooms. Bringing student perspectives and cultures into your office allows for the space to seem more accessible and more like home.
2. Is your office accessible to families?
Depending on your teaching context, you either see lots of parents and families or you seldom see parents and families. However, an office should be a space where parents, families, friends, and advocates are welcome. The people we work with are more than just language learners; they are people. Our offices need to be accessible to them.
Pro Tip: It is good to assume that students are not coming alone. Have extra resources for students and any guests that they might bring. Have additional seating in your office or in a nearby space for students and their guests.
3. Is your office accessible to students who speak other languages?
Your office is probably full of materials for students. These could be written materials, campus/school materials, or even community resources. But what percentages of these materials are written in a language other than English? If these resources are important enough to share or hang in an office, they should be accessible to all who visit the office space.
Pro Tip: Having more bilingual and multilingual materials in your office is easier said than done. Sometimes, these resources do not exist. However, if your campus or school has someone to translate resources, seek them out to have resources translated. If translation is not possible, urge your school or campus to provide this service. Ultimately, all resources should be offered in multiple languages.
4. Is your office accessible to students experiencing Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?
Our students come to us, our classrooms, and our offices carrying their many lived experiences. This is something that they cannot and should not be expected to leave at the door, and something that we have to think about when welcoming students into our office space.
Pro Tip: There are many things that can be done to support students who are experiencing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, there are a few simple places to start. Make sure that students have easy access to an exit, giving them some control over their surroundings. Stay in a horizontal space with the students, and avoid standing up and talking down to them. Lastly, allow for seating where you never find yourself behind the student; consider putting the chair against the wall so that they know what is behind them.
5. Is your office accessible to students with physical disabilities?
If a current or potential student was in a wheelchair, would they be able to freely move around your office? Would they be able to comfortably enter and exit the room? Though you might not have a say over how big your office is, you probably have some control over the organization and accessibility of the room. Keep in mind, the optimal turning radius of a wheelchair is between 48–60 inches.
Pro Tip: Clear the doorway and entrance area to your office. Have an accessible chair nearby; however, make sure that it doesn’t interfere with entering and exiting the room.
6. Is your office accessible to students with sensory processing disorders?
Think about your office from the perspective of each of the five senses. Does your room have lots of background noise playing when you are talking with students? Do you have a computer screen that is constantly flashing photos from your trip to Italy? Is your office still filled with the smell of your leftover Indian food? All of these can impact a student’s ability to access this space and thereby access support from you.
Pro Tip: When your office is open to meet with students, be mindful of the sensory stimulation in the room. If there are senses that are overpowering in the room, try to reduce the stimulation to allow all students to focus on being present in conversation.
7. Is your office accessible to students who are feeling stressed or anxious?
While your office is filled with teaching materials and supplies, is it organized and clean for incoming students? Is there an open seat for a student to sit down, is the table cleared off, and are student resources in a clear spot? These might seem like small details, but they can make or break a student’s experience when they are meeting with you. If they are stressed about an exam or organizing their schedule, your piles of paper could psychologically add to their anxiety.
Pro Tip: Keep your office organized, but do not do it just for yourself and your productivity. Think about how clutter and organization will impact your students when they meet with you. Find ways to reduce clutter and items in your office.
8. Is your office accessible to students who are depressed?
Think about the energy in your office. If a student came to you and discussed their feelings of depression or other mental health experiences, would they find your office to be a place of support, comfort, and knowledge? Think about adding mental health resources to the outside of your office door. This is a great way to share resources without vulnerable students having to reach out. You might also consider the verbiage used on signs in your room and even the lighting in the office space.
Pro Tip: Think about the décor in your office. Find an authentic space in the room to have inspirational materials, photos, and tools for students to see as they enter. Also, be sure to have school, campus, and community tools to share with students.
9. Are your office and the resources in your office accessible to students who are hard of hearing?
We live in a society that assumes everyone is able to hear everything. Our restaurants are full of chatter and background music. Even offices have radios playing in the background. In our office spaces, we need to be mindful of how people hear. We need to think about what sounds are present and what sounds could be amplified.
Pro Tip: Be sure to turn down or turn off music when a student comes in to speak with you. Be mindful of students if they say they are unable to hear you or need you to repeat. Think about the speed and loudness of your voice in your office. Be sure that all electronic materials shared in class in your office have closed captioning. You might even provide students with the ability to record your meeting on their phone or SmartPen.
In sum, there are only a handful of considerations that we need to make when we are reflecting on and creating our office spaces. In order to best support our students, we need to make sure that they are able to fully access our support. We need to be mindful of our language, space, and all other items that might create unforeseen barriers.
I would argue that as faculty and staff members, our office is not our own. Though our office might hold our books and lunch, it is truly a space for students. As we engage with the space, decorate the space, and maintain the space, we must think about the intended audience. Our work is to support our students, and our offices are a space to complete that work. Therefore, our office is for our students.
We must find ways to create more inclusive and accessible spaces to increase mentoring, advising, and students support. The best place to start is your office.
If you have more ideas on how to make our offices more welcoming and accessible to our culturally and linguistically diverse students, please share in the comments, below!