Teaching Diversity in the Classroom

Jan 27, 2019 by

The United States is a mixing bowl of cultures, languages, ethnicities, and opportunities. With thousands of students from countless backgrounds, teaching diversity has become a necessity in most classrooms. When it comes to teaching core values, a few things come to mind including basic manners, accountability, and self-confidence. This article details how to incorporate diversity and acceptance into the classroom in both subtle and obvious ways.

Take Family Background Into Account

One thing to keep in mind when teaching diversity in the classroom is that every student walks through the doors with preconceived ideas and notions about the world around them. They are a product of their environment, which means they’ve been raised to believe certain truths. As a teacher, it’s not your job to contradict or combat these beliefs, but instead open the students eyes and mind to other possibilities. While this may be easier said than done, it is possible. If you encounter major resistance from either the student or their parents, don’t press the issue. You’ll actually reach more students with a less aggressive approach.Try building on their current stance rather than debating it. Sadly, there is resistance to diversity everywhere. You can learn more about some of these hurdles one this website. View a child’s parents as a resource, not an obstacle. Together, you can help teach students acceptance both inside and outside the classroom.

Adopt Cultural Sensitivity

All too often, young children equate something “different” with being “bad” or “wrong”. This is a common misconception and not one to reprimand or discipline. Instead, start by teaching students that when they’re faced with something “different”, it means the opportunity to learn something new and fascinating. The more knowledge students have about a variety of subjects (including cultures), the more well-rounded they’ll be. This concept ties into empathy. If a student reacts to a classmate’s foreign food at lunch with words like “gross” or “eww”, take the child aside and explain that those words likely hurt their classmate’s feelings. Don’t focus so much on the fact that the food is from a different culture just yet, but instead, teach the concept of respect and empathy. When a child realizes that their words can hurt, they’re more careful about choosing different ones moving forward or simply, not saying anything at all. Ask the student if they’re curious about what the other child is eating. Initiate a conversation between the two students. Questions are a great avenue into acceptance and understanding of different cultures. If the student is open to it, allow the inquisitive friend to ask about their meal – what is it, how is it made, and how does it taste? This instantly changes the interaction from a potentially negative one to a positive.

Capitalize on Teachable Moments

Once you’ve established a relationship with your classroom parents, you can approach them about becoming involved in the lessons regarding diversity and acceptance. Who better to explain their culture and help students experience it than a native of that country or background? Most educational establishments have entry surveys or questionnaires that help teachers better understand their cultural make-up. This may include questions like what holidays does your family celebrate and other questions related to cultural or religious beliefs. Ask parents of students from different cultures to teach a short lesson, do a craft, or plan a party or other fun activity for the class that showcases their unique culture. This may include a cooking project where students have the opportunity to taste and experience different foods. Perhaps wearing a certain dress is widely accepted in a specific culture. The more ways that you can showcase these differences in a fascinating way, the more apt students are to inquire in a healthy way, rather than a judgmental one.

Celebrate Language and Customs

One of the best and easiest ways to incorporate different cultures into the classroom is by introducing language. Most educational establishments encourage young learners to adopt a second language by incorporating Spanish into the curriculum. This doesn’t mean school age children are taught to speak fluent Spanish at a young age, but it is introduced when a child’s mind is most vulnerable and open to absorbing information. Start by including words that are easy for students to recognize and remember. Things like the Spanish words for “thank you”, “please”, and “yes” and “no” are great places to start. And it doesn’t need to end with Spanish! French, Chinese, German, and countless other languages can easily be introduced in small, digestible pieces. First, say the word in English and then follow it with that same word in another language. Label items in the classroom using both English and Spanish, or whatever other language you’re teaching. Numbers, days of the week, and colors are also easy to teach and reinforce through daily activities like circle time, lunch, and play.

Last Minute Tips

Here are a few tips and things to keep in mind when teaching diversity in the classroom.

  • Give an answer, even if you’re not sure it’s the “right” one. When students inquire about a certain subject, a lack of response or silence sometimes suggests that the topic is negative or shouldn’t be talked about. Respond to students honestly. You can tell them that their question is very interesting, but you need to get more information before answering.
  • Consider a child’s age and personality when introducing new concepts or discussing ideas that contradict what they’ve been taught. Not all children will be as open to new or foreign concepts so you may need to use an alternative approach.
  • Observe students nonverbal cues as well. If a child is staring at another student’s lunch or clothes, engage them in conversation. You can say things like, “I see that you’re interested in Johnny’s lunch. Do you know what it is he’s eating?” or “What do you think about Sarah’s dress today? I saw you admiring it from the corner.” Put a positive spin on your inquiries and take advantage of these teachable moments.

Diversity is one concept that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, the need for a diverse and accepting classroom will only become more prevalent and beneficial for students as time goes on. Practicing these methods and being open to alternative forms of teaching will only put you head of the game.

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