The word ‘diversity’ holds a different meaning for everyone. Diversity is a broad spectrum that includes race, gender, ethnicity, or religious beliefs. Despite their importance, people can be quick to dismiss how integral diversity measures are – whether it’s in the workplace or even in schools full of children from different backgrounds.
Why is diversity important when teaching?
When you’re teaching a class with kids of different races, cultures, or beliefs, it’s important to make sure that every student feels like they belong there. If they don’t feel valued or wanted, they’re less likely to be interested in the class and will not want to participate in activities. If they feel rejected by their peers and their teacher, they will do the best that they can to stay invisible, which could harm their academic performance and even their self-esteem.
The prevalence of the internet exposes today’s young learners to different ideas, cultures, and traditions all the time. They’re more connected than ever to people all over the world, and to issues dominating the news cycles. But the internet is also a place of misinformation and contradictions.
As educators, it is our duty to teach students how to deal with the information they receive daily. Being able to determine an objective news source from a biased one is an important skill in today’s world, and one that can make a big difference to a child’s worldview.
Giving your students the ability to discern between sources will make them more empathetic and will encourage a classroom environment open to all voices. That said, your voice need not be impartial. In fact, it shouldn’t be. Rejecting stereotypes in the classroom is integral to students’ understanding that the world is diverse and that generalizing people has no benefits.
People generalize based on a handful of interactions they’ve had with one group of people. More often than not, this leads to negative feelings towards particular groups – or even more extreme outcomes.
By talking about cultural differences and similarities, and rejecting stereotypes, you’re enabling your students’ understanding and tolerance of others in the classroom and in daily life. They’ll grow and become better people as a result.
A focus on diversity helps build students’ social skills but also impacts their academic results. It improves critical thinking skills and encourages academic confidence in students who come from different backgrounds.
5 ways to promote diversity in your classroom
A goal of culturally responsive education is to help students become respectful of all cultures and people that they interact with once they graduate. Achieving these results means tailoring classroom activities and lessons towards multicultural appreciation, not just tolerance. Here are five ideas to get you started.
1. Use visual cues
Make use of wall space to display posters or photos that depict cultural groups in non-stereotypical ways. We’re lucky to live in a time where there are more movies out there that have diverse casts and tell different stories. These would be a great inclusion.
Have a world map where students can mark where they’re from to showcase the diversity in your classroom. It makes students feel welcomed and proud to represent their countries within an inclusive group.
When you have minorities in the classroom, it’s important to encourage them to maintain their cultural norms and not conform to society’s standards. These students can sometimes feel pressured to disguise their own traditions and behaviors to fit in with society and can lose their identity. It’s important to reassure them that their backgrounds make them special and that they should embrace them.
2. Teach students about different role models
Jane Goodall, Martin Luther King Jr., Malala Yousafzai, Jack Ma, Nelson Mandela. The world is overflowing with role models, from the past and present, who hail from different backgrounds.
We can use these examples when educating students to inspire minorities. Show them that there are no specific criteria for success and innovation. They’ll realize they don’t need to come from one background or country to achieve what they want in life.
3. Make sure that each student participates
Encourage varied participation in the classroom by creating space for all voices to be heard. If you notice that some students aren’t contributing, find new ways to open up the discussion. Pose questions from new angles that excite them. Relate your lesson plans to varied cultures so that your students have the opportunity to teach their peers something new about themselves.
4. Encourage different perspectives
When trying to solve problems during a discussion, encourage students to come up with different ways to problem-solve than they would use on their own. This will facilitate collaboration to find a variety of solutions, teaching students that there is more than one way to do things.
This will also boost participation in the classroom as you’re giving everyone a chance to speak. Each student will see that the class values their input.
5. Address inequality in the classroom
Minorities may stay in the background, wanting to avoid conflict with people who either treat them with disrespect because of their race, or because they don’t want to get into an argument about specific subjects. Inequality is a touchy subject for many.
Today, there are lots of conversations on racism, reverse-racism, gender inequality, and more. There are also people who will still defend inequality. Many are in denial of the plights people of color have to face daily, ignoring the prevalence of inequality in our society. It’s important to teach students from a young age that inequality exists. Just because they don’t face it, it doesn’t mean they can ignore it.
Create a space for your students to talk about how discrimination affects them personally. Encourage discussion about various points in history where discrimination took nations by storm and created movements for change. Teach students that inequality can cause societal issues.
Your actions are also important
Do your best to shut down discrimination whenever you come across it. Use language that will promote positivity and language that will not reinforce stereotypes. While it’s important to teach, it is also important to practice what you preach.
Do you have any other tips from your teaching experience? Let us know in the comments!