Recognizing diversity in the classroom is the first step towards acknowledging and honoring the individuality and uniqueness of each of your students. It is an essential part of guiding them towards becoming the best and truest versions of themselves.
On paper, diversity refers to many social and demographic factors, including race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, among many others. Rather than just being a series of boxes we sometimes check off on forms, all of these factors function as lenses through which we interpret and understand the world around us.
Our experiences and identities affect the ways we perceive things, which is why it’s so important to promote diversity in the classroom. Since we’re all approaching life from drastically different starting points, it’s important to acknowledge those starting points and bridge any gaps by treating your classroom as a diverse and thriving community.
Benefits of Promoting Diversity
Increases Critical Thinking
The saying “two heads are better than one” fits here, but it’s more like “two perspectives are better than one.” When people are in diverse groups, they often have to take more time to explain things that may seem obvious in a more homogenous group.
Taking time to think about something in a new way engages critical thinking skills. Learning how to evaluate a situation from multiple viewpoints will also help students develop stronger empathy, which will help them interact with their peers successfully.
Helps Students Feel Represented and Included
One of the best ways to help students reach their full potential is by validating them and affirming their ideas. Promoting an inclusive classroom can help you accomplish this. Place value on all of your students’ opinions and feelings, and encourage your students to work together and respect each other.
Improves Academic Outcomes
The improved critical thinking skills and increased confidence in the classroom will translate to better focus, increased curiosity and willingness to try new things (like scary new math problems!) with less hesitation. All of these resulting traits contribute towards improved academic outcomes. As a bonus, students who develop these traits are also less likely to drop out of school and more likely to want to go to college.
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Ways You Can Promote Diversity
Re-evaluate Your Classroom and Lesson Plan
For students of any age, the classroom is where they’re probably spending the second-most time during the day. This is especially true for young learners who don’t have the autonomy to choose their own schedules yet. It’s up to teachers to represent the communities we live in inside the classroom.
Take a look at your classroom library, the books you read during the year and the media you watch and ask yourself whether those stories are representative of your students and their community. If not, consider different ways you can add to the curriculum to increase the diversity on display.
- Add more books that include different cultures, different types of families and different socio-economic realities to your classroom library.
- When you’re writing examples or math problems, include names from many diverse backgrounds.
Get to Know Your Students
Sure, you know all their names by the end of the first week (you’re an awesome teacher like that!), but how well do you really know your students? When young learners build strong relationships with trusted adults, they become more confident and are willing to take more risks (like giving an answer they’re not completely sure of) that result in greater learning opportunities.
Knowing where your students are from, what their communities are like and what issues are important to them and their families is useful context to have so that you can more easily anticipate their priorities and needs. With this knowledge, you can shift your lesson plans and focus to be more relevant to all the students in your classroom and support diversity by creating a place that’s safe for everyone.
An important part of building relationships with your students is keeping up with communication throughout the year. Try to find some time to talk with students one-on-one throughout the year, just to check in and see how they’re feeling about school and life.
This can be an effective way to address potential issues before they become bigger problems. Students can also benefit from these check-ins by setting clear expectations specific to them, their individual needs as a student and their learning plan.
Support Your Students’ Abilities to Discover New Solutions
When it comes to math, there’s usually one right answer (at least at the elementary level!), but when it comes to anything else, there’s probably more than one solution. Encouraging your students to discover new solutions is a great way to demonstrate that everyone’s voice deserves to be heard and respected.
Allowing students to work through a solution until they find out why it will or won’t work (and applauding the effort they put into it) is a great way to increase participation and encourage them to keep giving it their all.
Teaching students to hear each other out and respect each other, even if they don’t always agree with other people’s ideas, is a good lesson to learn as early as possible. In school and later in life, students will need to work together with people who they probably won’t agree with about everything. It’s a valuable skill to be able to do that while maintaining respect for those people, instead of dismissing them entirely because of a disagreement.
Meet Diverse Learning Needs
Supporting diverse learning needs is a crucial part of making sure everyone feels included in your classroom.
Tools like speech-to-text software, talking calculators and modified computer accessories are all options that may be available, depending on the situation.
Different Types of Instruction
Some students learn better by reading information, some by listening to information, others by seeing a concept represented visually, some through the trial-and-error method and others by incorporating tactile methods (like using fidget-toys).
Which style works best for each person can change depending on the topic, day or hour! This is why it’s important to make a sincere effort to use different styles of instruction throughout the day and to adapt instructions on the fly to connect young learners to the subject.
Find Ways for Everyone to Contribute
Have students trade roles within groups, making sure everyone has a chance to be the leader. Create roles that cater to each students’ strengths, like having students who enjoy reading out loud read the instructions for their team to follow.
Connect with Families to Build a Stronger Community
Let your students’ families know about your goals for diversity in the classroom. If they have any questions or concerns, listen to what they have to say. Invite them to let you know if there are any aspects of the curriculum or the school culture that they think would benefit from with more focus on diversity.
When it comes to finding class speakers, reach out to leaders in your community that can offer differing perspectives on a topic. Seek out those who are experts in their field, have specialized academic knowledge or work in community-building efforts.
Giving students the opportunity to meet members of the community lets them see examples of people from different backgrounds succeeding in their lives, which will inspire students to think about their own futures.
More than just allowing diversity to exist, we need to cultivate its growth by affirming students when they share something about themselves. Students naturally tell each other stories about themselves and their lives. Showing genuine interest in what they’re sharing and asking follow-up questions helps promote diversity and encourages students to be proud of themselves.
Having students draw a picture or write a story about how they celebrate the holidays, for example, seems like a simple and unassuming assignment to ease back into the school schedule after a break. However, it’s also the perfect opportunity to explore diversity in your classroom!
Depending on the community that makes up your student population, the differences might not be immediately obvious, but if you look a little closer, you’ll start seeing all the little details that make each student and their family different from everyone else. Those differences are worth celebrating!
People sometimes misunderstand diversity as being about “other people” without realizing that the core of diversity is about celebrating each person’s individuality—even our own!
When it fits with the lesson, give your students the opportunity to make a more personally relevant connection by finding out more about themselves while studying history or other topics. Giving students more context about where they came from can be an effective way to drive interest in a topic.
When they share what they’ve learned with their peers, they’ll probably find out that a lot of other people have similar stories, which will help to build more connections between students and promote a more diverse community in your classroom. It can also be a fun sharing activity to talk about family traditions or cultures so that the class can get a broader idea of what other families are like and how cultural differences can shape those interactions.
Sign Up to Receive Your FREE Classbook Publishing Kit
Another way to celebrate diversity and build your classroom community is to create a classbook with our FREE publishing kits!
Classbooks are meaningful keepsakes for your classroom that incorporate your students’ writing and illustrations and encourage collaboration. When you’re finished, you’ll receive a free copy of your book, and parents can order copies, too! We’ll help you through the entire process, from planning to publication.
You can also check out our blog and online Teacher’s Lounge for more writing activities, lesson plans and teaching strategies. Now that you’ve got some ideas to promote diversity in the classroom, you can start creating an environment that’s more inclusive for all your students!