Classrooms today are more diverse than ever. Different backgrounds, cultures, and religions are interwoven into the average American class. However, not all students that come from various diverse backgrounds feel included or accepted. In a day and age where the political climate has started shifting into a mindset of not accepting those who are different than us; something I thought would be on its way out in the year 2016, we as teachers have more of a responsibility than ever. We have a RESPONSIBILITY to celebrate diversity in our classroom and to make every single student feel accepted by their classroom community. Today, I would like to share with you 6 ways educators can celebrate diversity in their classroom.
Discrimination happens. Unfortunately, it is starting to happen more. We may not always hear about the bullying and discrimination that students from different races and religions deal with on a daily basis, but it is there. Some extreme cases make it on the local news, but for the most part, students just “deal,” with it. They shouldn’t have to deal with it though. What can you do?Build trust with your students. Students who may be feeling discriminated against or feel left out need to know their teacher is there for them and will stand up for them. Take time out to talk to your students individually to learn about them.
Go a step further and visit with their families and go to their house. Show your willingness to learn and understand their culture. When you have your students’ trust, you will see a different side to them you didn’t know existed! Sometime students just don’t feel comfortable going to their teacher for help. But once they know you are there for them, it will help them tremendously.
Give students the platform to share what makes them different. Make it a THING; a THING that is important to your classroom culture, a THING that is a building block of your class, and a THING that students are excited about. Get students to prepare an activity or presentation that helps others understand their culture or religion, and how it is similar and different than other students. This could be a perfect opportunity to add some learning with comparing and contrasting Venn diagrams. You can do this on an individual or case by case basis spread out through out the year, as well as an activity where you can have yourself a grand ‘ol feast in a cultural celebration.
Cultural Day is probably one of the most engaging things I have done. During our Social Studies unit on culture, I sent out a parent notice way in advance letting them know of our culminating project. Students had to bring in a food dish representative of their heritage and also try to dress in clothing that represented their culture. They also did a project- either a brochure or poster explaining one aspect of their culture – from clothing to music to sports, etc. The day of the feast of course is the best. Tons of food and fun all day! This type of activity celebrates inclusion and diversity in the classroom. Invite parents as well, so that everyone can participate and learn from one another. I’ve written a parent letter for you to help prepare for this event. The text is editable! You can grab it below.
Sometimes students can be too shy to speak up about what makes them different. They may be scared of embarrassment and being put on the spot. They may feel like someone will make fun of them later or think that their culture is weird. If you know that a student may be feeling this way, get parents to help! Approach them and ask them to work together with their child to prepare some sort of presentation or activity that teaches others about their background. Those students who are too apprehensive to do it on their own will probably be super excited about having a parent or relative come in and help them. Please don’t think that parents will be offended if you ask them questions about their background or religion. Most parents will welcome the fact that you took the time out to WANT to learn more about their child. I’ll give you an example. I’m Muslim and no one is blind to how Islam and Muslims are being portrayed in the media. I know of many Muslim students in schools who are being targeted by other students in discriminatory remarks and actions. I also know that educators might not always be aware of what Islam really teaches. I WANT people to approach me and ask me about my religion and to ask me their questions so that I can help eliminate any misinformation. If teachers approach parents of students with the intention of wanting to help the child and learn, it could create a world of a difference in the classroom environment.
Increase the range of books in your classroom library that celebrate diversity and are by authors from different backgrounds. There are tons of both fiction and non fiction story books that teach directly or indirectly differences in backgrounds. Mainstream books are great and should stay in the classroom library. But also take the time out to research and go to the library to find books with characters who have different experiences and cultures. Students with diverse backgrounds will feel so included if they see a character that is kind of like them! HERE is a LIST of 50 multicultural books you can look into today!
How about international Pen pals? You may want to start thinking about this during the summer and try to connect with schools in different countries to see if anyone is willing to connect with your classroom through letters and even Skype. Imagine how excited your class would be to see students through live streaming in another classroom across the globe! Two websites that I came across that help make international Pen pal connections are International Pen Friends and ePals.
All teachers should first and foremost reflect on how their own understanding about different cultures and religions is reflected in their classroom. In this day and age, with tons of misinformation present in the media, there are biases that can be so subtly ingrained in every day life that they can be hard to personally pinpoint. But we never want any students to pick up on any type of unintentional behavior that makes them feel like their teacher doesn’t understand them or allows other students to show discrimination. Teachers have to take a good hard look at their own thought processes and see how they can consciously make sure that their classroom is one that celebrates diversity and shuts out discrimination and biases. Are there stereotypes that affect your thinking of a particular group or student? It’s hard to face this, but I don’t know if any of us are immune to it However, once we acknowledge that it happens, when it is happening, and why it is happening, we can take that first step to confront those thoughts, learn more, and begin to help ourselves step away from preconceived notions in order to help our students feel accepted.
While the above mentioned activities are great starting points to setting a strong solid foundation or a culturally responsive and accepting classroom, we as educators must go a step further to make sure this acceptance is inherent and ingrained in their classroom from the very beginning and that the lessons learned during the year are something that students can carry forward with them. The end result should be that students develop a mutual respect towards others with differences and teachers make sure they are teaching with cultural sensitivity.