Valuing Diversity in Adolescent Development

Instructor: Amanda Robb
In this lesson, we'll be learning about the importance of diversity in young adolescents. By the end of the lesson, you'll be able to identify factors that lead to diversity, as well as their educational implications. You'll also look at strategies for incorporating diversity into your school environment.

What Is Diversity?

Picture your classroom. Thirty different faces stare back at you, eager to learn. They each have different names, different families, and come from different places. These differences in your students are known as diversity. Although we typically equate diversity with race, there is diversity in any group of people, even if they have the same skin color or ancestry. Students have different ethnicities, sexual orientations, genders, religions, and more. All differences between people lead to diversity in a classroom. Today, we're going to learn how to access and recognize diversity, understand the importance of diversity, and explore strategies that will help you celebrate and use diversity in your classroom curriculum.

Classrooms are filled with diverse students.
diverse classroom

Recognizing Diversity in Your Students

When you picture a diverse group of students, you might be considering their race alone, but diversity runs so much deeper and encompasses many facets. For example, your students have a range of ability levels, some with specific learning disabilities, others with advanced skills in reading or math. Language is also another aspect of diversity. Many students can speak more than one language, even students who were born here in the United States. When considering diversity, try not to let your preconceived notions cloud your vision. Listen and talk to your students to find out who they are.

Although people sometimes equate race, nationality, and ethnicity, these are separate factors in a student's diversity. A student might identify as caucasian, yet have deep roots in Romanian culture, but actually have lived in France for most of his or her life. A black student might identify as Nigerian, Spanish, Somalian, Haitian, or as an American. A survey in the beginning of the year can be helpful in identifying these traits in your students. Ask them about their home countries, their language, and their heritage. You will most likely find that they are eager to talk about it.

Students of the same race still have lots of diversity.

Gender and sexual orientation are also part of the diversity in your classroom. Although it might not be appropriate to include this on a beginning of the year survey, it's important to address these ideas with students as they come up. By creating an inclusive culture in your classroom, your students will feel comfortable opening up about these topics.

Importance of Diversity in Identity Development

From a young age, we strive to answer the question, 'Who am I?', as we go through identity development. Children internalize messages from their socialization groups about who they are and incorporate these into their idea of self. For many students, the parts of themselves that are the most diverse are reflected back to them and become part of their identity.

Let's look at an example. Jh'aird is a young black child that lives in a mostly caucasian neighborhood. From a young age, his dark skin color stands out against his peers, and his peers reflect this back to him, asking him where he is from and why he looks different. Jh'arid learns from a young age that being black is an important part of his identity. He might look to adults, popular culture, or the media to learn how to act black and embrace this part of his identity.

Adolescents everywhere are going through these questions of not only racial identify, but also identity of ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender. This diversity plays an especially important role for students that do not conform to the norm of a white, heterosexual student with a gender that matches their sex. The facets that make them diverse - being gay, Hispanic, Jewish, or bilingual - set them apart from the cultural norms in our society. These are the things that make them unique and become an integrated part of their identity. By valuing our students as individuals and recognizing their diversity, we are telling them that they matter, both in the world and to us as educators.

Teens struggle to find their identity by looking for models of their social groups and trying out different versions of themselves.
teen identity - image

'Creative Commons text girl' by Jeremy Noble is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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