When a teacher thinks about the population of students in her classroom, they are likely well aware that their students look different, sound different, and come from different backgrounds. They may also be aware of the diversities amongst the group, from Camila who is new to the country this year, to Robert who lives in a generationally homeless housing facility, to Andy who is gone a week or two here and there while his family travels to their second home in the Bahamas.
Because every classroom has a melting pot of learners, it is critical that teachers evaluate their teaching for diversity and inclusion. Below are some areas that teachers should continuously reflect on, build upon, and learn from in order to meet the needs of the unique group of students they are educating.
Curriculum is not always something teachers have input in. They likely walk into their classroom and find their set of instructional tools readily sitting on their desk. Sometimes there is little leniency or flexibility to stray from these materials. Yet many resources are outdated and the funding is not there to replace them in a timely manner.
It is important, necessary, and urgent that educators lesson plan with a lens of equality and with diversity at the forefront of their planning. Do the stories included in the reading passages have unique names? Are the children in the books participating in events that the students would be familiar with? Do the kids in the pictures come in all shapes and sizes and have skin tones that vary in all different shades? If the answer is ‘no’ to any of these questions, it is critical that teachers fill in the lacking areas and diversify their lessons to accurately portray their classroom.
It may sound strange to those unfamiliar with the unraveling of a new school year that little curriculum is being taught in the first few weeks. However, that is because the building of a classroom community is equally, if not more, vital to a student’s education then teaching story elements or long division. For students to have trust in their teacher and feel comfortable amongst their classmates, the first part of the school year is focused on building relationships.
Teachers should acknowledge the differences in the students and find ways to connect their similarities. Using texts like Same, Same But Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw or The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi can help shed some light on diversity, recognize differences, and foster respect for the uniqueness of every individual in the class.
An extensive body of research concluded that building a safe and caring school community and attending to social and emotional learning are essential to students’ overall academic success (Caring School Community Data). When students feel connected to their teacher, their classmates, and their school, they not only perform better academically, but also show other benefits such as a deeper emotional resilience and a stronger moral compass. Skills such as these will serve students their entire lives throughout their education and into their careers.
Educators should make time for direct teaching of social-emotional skills by using curriculums such as Collaborative Classroom or Move this World, through morning meeting conversations, and through teachable moments. Students can’t learn to their best ability without their social and emotional needs being met, so this is one subject area to be sure not to skip over.
Classroom Décor and Materials
Another way to show students they are welcomed, valued, and seen in a classroom is by making sure classroom decor and materials reflect people that look and live like them. Do the posters on the wall show students who are black, brown, and white? Do the books on the shelves show students from various cultures, participating in special holidays, and wearing traditional clothes? Do the families portrayed in these books and posters show big families, blended families, families with two moms or two dads? These are all simple things a teacher can change that can have a large impact on students’ acceptance and level of comfort in their classroom.
Classroom Activities and Games
Another simple change educators can make today that will help with inclusion is by making sure the activities and games in the classroom are diverse. Students should have choice in how they want to express themselves. This could mean that the teacher gives the students options in how they want to retell their text; act it out, draw a picture, sing a song, or write it down. This shows students that their preferences and talents are honored, while the teacher is still able to monitor for comprehension through the students’ choices.
Communication with Parents
Just as every student is unique, so is every parent. Getting to know the families of your students is equally as important as getting to know your class. Ask parents what their home language is, how they prefer to be communicated with, what kind of access to technology they have available, and how you can best support them in your parent/teacher relationship.
Building relationships with families will help open the lines of communication which will, in turn, give you a clearer picture into the education of the child. Knowing what students have going on outside the classroom walls can help answer many questions about behavior, grades, and emotions.
Looking around at a classroom of students, it may be obvious that the students don’t all look the same. As sure as that statement is, it is even clearer to students when they don’t see themselves represented in the classroom in posters, in curriculum, or in the way their uniqueness is valued. Students deserve to see themselves represented, to be given the opportunity to share their families cultures and traditions, and to have their families be communicated with in a way that lets them be heard. Take the time to evaluate your teaching for diversity and inclusion. It is necessary, urgent, and will impact the classroom environment in a very powerful way.