As it gets closer to back-to-school season, teachers across the country are getting ready to welcome students and families from a variety of different backgrounds into their classrooms. While you may already be familiar with nontraditional families, like ones with same‐sex parents or students with parents who have remarried, you might not know very much about the families created through or impacted by adoption.

In your classroom this year, you might be in a situation where one of your students was adopted, has adopted siblings, has a sibling who was placed for adoption, or has been impacted by adoption in another way. In that case, it’s time to think about what you can do to create a safe, welcoming environment for students and families impacted by adoption. Here are some tips for keeping adoption in mind during the school year.

Address Your Student’s Adoption Story Ahead of Time

If you have a student who comes from a “nontraditional” family, either because they’ve been adopted themselves or because they have siblings who have been placed for adoption, it’s important to do some research about adoption before they walk into the classroom. You can learn about these differences from the student’s parents, or in some cases, from your student themselves. The more you know about their family background and their experiences can make them feel that much more welcome once the school year starts.

Focus on Adoption-Inclusive Activities

Male teacher working with elementary school boy at his deskThere are some projects, like creating a family tree, that are staples in every elementary school classroom. But while projects like these might work for students who can easily get in contact with their biological family members, they can be challenging for students who were adopted or have siblings placed for adoption. Assignments like these might bring up difficult feelings or single out a child unintentionally.

Similar projects and assignments, like bringing collections of family photos, can accidentally make a student feel even more left out and isolated from their classmates. While you don’t have to get rid of these popular projects entirely, there are some more adoption‐friendly projects that you might consider that can help your entire classroom feel included.

Use Positive Adoption Language

As a part of making the classroom adoption‐inclusive, teachers should also learn about positive adoption language and the correct terms to use. For example, you should use the phrase “placed for adoption” instead of “gave up for adoption” when talking about your student or his or her family members. You should also use the terms “birth parent” and “parent” to refer to the different adults in your student’s life. Remember, they are all “real” parents to your student and an important part of their history. You might also explain these terms to your other students who have questions about adoption.  Learning the correct language is just one more way for teachers to support adoptive families and students who have been impacted by adoption.

Respect their Privacy

Your student’s adoption story is theirs to tell — and no one else should take that away from them. As such, if they say that they’re not ready or willing their share more details about their adoption story, don’t press them. Depending on how old they are, they may still be processing their adoption story themselves. If they have siblings who were placed for adoption, they may not want to talk about what life is like without their biological sibling. If and when they’re ready to share their adoption story with you and their classmates, they will. Every adoption story is different, and children who have been impacted by adoption come from a variety of different situations that they may not be ready to share.

Step in if Your Student is Being Treated Differently because of Adoption

Part of maintaining a welcoming environment for your student is making sure that they’re able to learn safely.  Bullying because of adoption does happen, and sometimes children who don’t know any better or don’t have enough education about adoption can be especially cruel. If you see that your student is being harassed because they have a sibling placed for adoption or if because they were adopted themselves, don’t be afraid to step in to stop the harassment. Showing your student that you’ve got their back will make it easier for them to have a positive learning experience in and out of the classroom.

Whether you’re a teacher, a birth parent or an adoptive parent, there are plenty of ways to create a learning environment for students impacted by adoption that’s warm and welcoming. These are just a few of the ways that you can create an adoption positive environment in your classroom. For more tips, check out additional resources for adoptees and their parents on how you can give a child their best start to the school year.