In a world of ever-increasing divisiveness, it is perhaps more important than ever that, as teachers, we promote and establish an accessible learning environment in which students of all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds feel valued, loved, and heard. Creating an inclusive learning environment is crucial for the success of ALL students in your classroom. While the tips below are listed to specifically address issues that your minority students may face, many of these tips will also help you meet the needs of other students in your classroom as well.
High Expectations for All
This is the number one tip when working with minority students, but it also applies to any student that walks through the door of your classroom. We must believe that all students can achieve at high levels, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or background. Studies have shown time and time again that the students of teachers with high expectations show greater achievement gains and a higher level of engagement. This is an aspect of your teaching for which you must spend time in reflection to make sure that you truly believe that all your students can achieve at high levels. At my school, approximately 25% of our students are English language learners, many of whom are brand new to the country with little or no experience with the English language. Our school has made an effort to establish high expectations for all students, regardless of language experience. Consistently, in our standardized testing, our ELL subgroup outperforms the whole population of our school. High expectations are very powerful!
Students need to know that it is ok to come to you to talk about issues that they are facing as a minority student. I know the temptation for some may be to avoid such topics, wanting to pretend that such prejudices do not exist. It is so important that we as teachers do not brush such concerns under the rug, but that we listen with understanding when minority students are struggling with something, whether academically, socially, or emotionally.
Work with Families
In order to provide the best possible and most inclusive learning environment for your minority students, it is very important to involve the students’ families as much as possible. Just as you want students to feel valued and heard in your classroom, you also want their families to feel the same. Also, students that have families that are involved in their education, consistently perform better than those that lack parental involvement.
Be Aware of Microaggressions
It is so important to be aware of what minority students can suffer through microaggressions throughout their day. While a person that is not a part of a minority group may not ever be able to fully understand, it is important to educate yourself and open your eyes to the difficulties that these students may be facing. Microaggressions are indirect expressions of prejudice. These are subtle words or actions that are not as overt as some blatant acts of racism. However, these subtle acts can be just as damaging. An example of a microaggression may be someone not sitting beside a minority student because of their race or implying that a particular race or group is not welcome. Sometimes these acts may even be unintentional. However, if the student perceives it as intentional, then it is just as real to them. Microaggressions can affect student self-esteem, mental health, and motivation. Of course, it is also to be expected that the student would be affected academically.
Know Your Students
Above all else, get to know your students as the unique individuals that they are. By spending time each day, listening to the student’s thoughts and feelings, you begin to gain a greater understanding of what their lives are like. This is critically important for all students in your class, not just minority students. If you develop a relationship with your students and make sure they know that you really care, then they are automatically more motivated to perform at their best. And by being a good listener, you can provide the support needed for all of your students, including those in minority groups.
With any minority group in your classroom, it is important to present material from diverse perspectives. Perhaps you can invite guest speakers from the particular minority group that you would like to have represented. You can have them come in to speak about their culture, experiences, and even social justice. Incorporate some African-American literature studies or Hispanic cultural experiences into your classroom depending on the demographics or your classroom. Do whatever you can to make your classroom welcoming and inclusive.
Provide Additional Support
Be available for your minority students to provide the additional support they may need. It may be academic help. This may be something you could provide before or after school. Perhaps there are resources in your area that you can make your students aware of. This also may mean providing social and emotional support as needed. This could be as simple as being an understanding ear or a shoulder to cry on. Or it could be more serious and require support from a counselor or other community members. Whatever the case may be, educate yourself regarding the resources available for minority students in your area and ways that you can contribute positively to their lives within your classroom and community.
By laying a foundation with the above listed tips, you can provide a learning environment that will help students overcome some of the challenges they face as minorities. Of course, there will always be challenges for these students that are unseen. However, Horace Mann, known as the “Father of American Education”, once said, “Education, then, beyond all other divides of human origin, is a great equalizer of conditions of men…”. So, as educators we have a special opportunity to help our minority students in a profound way if we only realize the power of our influence and take the time to make a difference.