Similar figures express that as the population continues to increase, so will the diversity of the country. People with disabilities, people who are LGBTQ, people of color, all have traditionally been marginalized- even in our classrooms- and will be tomorrow’s leaders. In fact, many of them are already leaders.
The call of the educator is to serve every child. How can we best serve the diverse needs in our classrooms?
Here are 4 ways to honor the diversity of your students in a way that supports learning for all:
1. Become a student.
How exactly do you pronounce each student’s name? Do you know what languages are spoken at home? What traditions are celebrated? What cultural considerations accompany the neighborhood make-up? Throw your expectations out the window and ask, listen, learn.
Encourage students to explore their identities and histories in assignments and writing exercises, but be aware and sensitive. Discuss with coworkers and a diversity committee if you have one. Consider multi-cultural education a priority. Research supports this.
Here are some amazing resource to use in the classroom. There are several lesson plans on ability, gender, social justice, and overcoming discrimination.
2. Remember that representation matters….a lot.
Students need to see themselves in literature, in science, and in as much of your classroom as possible. Research shows us how important it is for students to see themselves represented in what you are teaching.
Intentionally select literature written by and about people of differing abilities, color, identity, and as free from easy stereotypes as possible. Consider that if you do not deliberately teach social justice and representation, it will not happen on its own.
Here are some excellent resources on the matter. <——-These books include lists of diverse graphic novels, diverse board and chapter books, diverse fiction & nonfiction titles, and much more.
3. Watch Language.
Besides making sure that you are sensitive and considerate with your language and pronunciation, help students understand how language affects each other. It all needs to be taught. If your specific identity isn’t degraded or offended with a term or phrase, or if you don’t really know what it means or what the origin is, it is very easy to assume that it isn’t a big deal. Help your students to understand clear boundaries in your classroom. Language within your walls should be edifying, uplifting, inclusive.
Similarly, don’t assume that students recognize all of the references that you do. Literary, cultural, current events- all are filtered through the lense of culture. Expect to be clear and explain so that everyone understands.
4. Focus on being a facilitator, rather than a lecturer.
No matter the age group, your job is to facilitate learning through structure, encouragement, scaffolding, and enthusiasm. The safe and nurturing space you provide allows for that growth.
Your willingness to step back and listen to your students, respond considerately and then encourage them to do their own investigations is critical. Many cultures and subcultures and groups (with good reason) distrust authority or at least assume you are on a different “side” than they. Level the playing field in your learning space by making it clear that it is encouraged to ask questions, try, fail, experiment, play, and try again.
These ideas are a starting point. Obviously, encouraging your school administration to put together a diversity committee and diversity plan is essential for moving forward as well.
How does your school do diversity well? What have you learned in your classroom about being inclusive and teaching social justice?