A Proactive Approach
In having a proactive approach- one where topics like likes prejudice, discrimination, racism, and stereotypes are openly discussed- you will be changing the conversation about diversity. Rather than treating them as taboo topics, students will feel comfortable in sharing their thoughts and feelings on these topics.
By initiating conversations on diversity, the teacher sets the standard for how to discuss potentially sensitive topics. There are several ways for teachers to introduce and discuss these topics with their students. Sharing personal experiences and inviting students to do the same is one of the best ways to start the conversation. Teachers should acknowledge that there are potential differences between their own racial, socioeconomic, and cultural backgrounds that create a different perspective than what their students have experienced. Although a teacher will be the one leading this conversation, it's imperative that they tell their students that they do not have all the experiences or answers to topics on diversity.
For open and honest discussions to take place, students must feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, feelings, and experiences on diversity. One of the keys to creating this environment is in having a zero-tolerance policy that does not permit or allow for any culturally insensitive behavior. A teacher cannot control the conversations that students are exposed to outside of school or control the potentially insensitive things students see on the media. Because of this, it's important that teachers first explain to students what discrimination and insensitive behavior looks like. Next, a teacher must create, explain, and implement a policy that allows no room for insensitivity. As with other classroom procedures, discipline in this policy should be firm, consistent. and include conversations between student and teacher about why the behavior was inappropriate.
After establishing a classroom environment that encourages conversations on diversity and enforcing a zero-tolerance policy for negative language, a teacher must teach students about respecting differences. Regardless of where you teach, there will be diversity in your class. There will always be some difference in socioeconomic status, heritage, native language, religion, political opinions, etc. As the teacher, you must show value and validation for these differences. Your example will model appropriate behavior for students.
Many classrooms across America include students whose native language is one other than English. Some of these students may have immigrated to the United States from another country, or these students might be raised in a home where English is not spoken. Whatever the reason, it's important to support, value, and validate English language-learning (ELL) students who speak a different language. An easy way to do this would be by incorporating a Share and Tell time, where students could teach other students about their native language or culture. If students are shy to share in front of the class, partner together two or more students with the same native language.
Activities that Support Diversity
- Include books that include characters from a variety of backgrounds. Whether reading the books during independent reading time or as a class, students will learn about other cultures and understand that it is ''normal'' for people to be different.
- Ensure that, as the teacher, you're correctly pronouncing student names. Overly simple, right? Often, a teacher may mispronounce a student's name if the student has a different cultural background than the teacher. Mispronouncing a student's name without correcting the action potentially sets up the student to be teased by peers. Even more seriously, however, it can make students feel that the teacher does not value their uniqueness enough to simply learn their name. This is not how any teacher wants students to feel in her class.
- Take advantage of themed months of the year such as Black History Month, Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, etc. to teach about unique aspects of different cultures. Basing cultural lessons off of these topics is a great way to systematically cover many different aspects of diversity.
- If you teach students who are old enough to have discussions on current events, set aside time every week or bi-weekly to discuss current event topics that include an aspect of diversity. Today it's easy to find events going on locally, nationally, or globally that relate to race, gender, or religious relations. Fostering a discussion of these events in your classroom will help students learn the truth about these events and allow them to form an opinion based on fact. Before discussing current events in class, be sure to do research on the event, and don't be afraid to tell students ''I don't know'' when you don't have enough information to answer the question.
- Also, as a note of caution, evaluate your own opinion and bias before initiating these conversations and do your best to take your bias out of the equation.
More than ever, students today will have the opportunity to interact with people vastly different than themselves. As teachers, we have a responsibility to expose students to diversity, embrace the individuality of every student, and prepare them to accept people with backgrounds different from their own. As a teacher, have a proactive approach to conversations on diversity and avoid letting the topic have a taboo stigma. Encourage classroom community and acceptance by enforcing a zero-tolerance policy towards insensitive behavior. Teach respect by modeling accepting and welcoming behavior to students from all walks of life.