Embracing Diversity in Your Classroom
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the color of America is changing. According to The New York Times, by 2044, the United States will no longer have a white majority. The rapidly changing demographics of the country are likely reflected in your student population, but even if you teach in a mono-cultural setting, embracing diversity in the classroom is important because it will help prepare children for a future workplace filled with different people. Diversity is really much more than race and ethnicity. It means you consider all the factors that make your students unique and challenge them to see the world in much more complicated terms where every person is an individual. Some other factors beyond race and ethnicity include gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, ability, age, religion, and political beliefs.
Teaching your students to embrace their differences has an impact on their learning. It improves critical thinking skills, builds empathy, and encourages students to understand and engage in different ways of reasoning. Culturally responsive teaching helps students appreciate different ways of navigating the world. It opens their eyes to a much more open and accepting enriched global understanding that will benefit them for years to come.
Without an understanding of cultural difference, students often react in fear to groups that are different from their identifying group. This leads to a dichotomous way of thinking which contributes to the marginalization of BIPOC individuals, where there is an in-group and various different out-groups. By encouraging your students to embrace cultural differences, you teach them to become more inclusive and empathetic.
How Do I Do That?
Even small changes make a big difference in helping your students understand diversity. Here are some ways to celebrate diversity in your classroom.
Learn more about your students. Ask your students and their parents about their cultural backgrounds. Incorporate their holidays and traditions in your classroom lessons.
Use inclusive resources. Examine your teaching materials to see whose voices are represented in the literature of the classroom. If it is mostly Western middle class white men, you may need to discover more diverse sources for your students to read.
Don’t worry about offending anyone. If you are new to celebrating diversity, it can be awkward and uncomfortable at first. Remember, you’re not promoting any one culture or belief system, you’re just sharing a variety of them with your students.
Highlight race and culture when you can. Don’t ignore examples of race and culture when they are relevant to the material you’re studying. Color-blindness, the idea that ignoring differences in race and culture brings more harmony, doesn’t teach children the reality of the world. If you are studying the Civil Rights Movement, for example, tie in struggles from the American Indian Movement or Latinx farm workers that were happening at the same time as the marches on Washington. Students will see the broader scope of the issues this way.
Explore the many facets of representation. Show your students that people who may not look or dress like them are still essentially people like them. Include representations of different cultures in pictures and posters you hang in your classroom. Invite a diverse group of guest speakers into the classroom to show your students that diverse people have made contributions to society and can be community leaders.
Teach your students the importance of multi-cultural role models. For example, share information about Black Americans that have gone into space in your lessons. If students only see Black Americans as pioneers of civil rights, it may be easy for them to build the belief that Black Americans are limited in what they can do and in what interests them.
Use a map to engage students’ interests in diversity. Hang a world map on your wall marked with the locations of origin for your students’ families or your students’ favorite countries if they are from the United States. If you have students who are descended from people who lived in the Caribbean, for example, it will help the class visualize the world more clearly and see how a global culture builds society. You can also assign a research project based on different countries around the globe and have students research the country of their choice.
Teach your students that their cultures are important. Plan a lesson where students can talk about their own cultural heritages and customs. Having students interview family members and report their findings to the class is an excellent example of how you can incorporate culture into your classroom.
Speak up, honestly and openly. Be willing to talk about issues of inequality in your own school and classroom. If you see that children who receive free lunch are being treated differently, speak up about it. Part of embracing diversity should be about being vocal to inequality and injustice when you see it playing out in your classroom.
Address the diverse learning needs of your students. This may mean opening yourself up to the use of adaptive technologies for students with learning difficulties or disabilities. Make sure all students can take an active role in your classroom, even those for whom it is difficult to communicate. Be prepared to adjust your teaching strategies to be inclusive.
Learn more through professional development. Different organizations like the Center for Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning can provide you with resources that you can utilize to grow professionally. They offer half-day to multi-day workshops and other resources you can check out.
Celebrate Heritage Months! Heritage months are a great way to incorporate diversity into the classroom. Here are the current heritage months:
September 15th - October 15th is Hispanic Heritage Month. October is Italian American Heritage Month.
November is Native American Heritage Month. February is Black History Month. March is Women’s History Month. May is Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month.
Share relevant news and events of today. Discuss current news events with your students and really listen to their perspectives. You may need to guide them toward a broader understanding of issues.
Uplift your students to Be The Change. Encourage your students to problem-solve and teach them how to resolve misunderstandings themselves.
Use more inclusive language. Use “family” instead of “Mom and Dad,” for example.
Create channels of communication that foster cultural exchange. Set up a pen pal program in your classroom to pair students with pen pals from other countries.
Recognize and acknowledge your students’ contributions. Show all of your students that you value their contributions to the classroom by giving them different stickers for their work. Make sure each child feels that they are contributing to the class in unique ways.
Involve your students outside of the classroom. Organize community outreach activities where your class goes to visit different community leaders and learn about their contributions and cultures.
Embracing diversity in the classroom is important because it helps teach children about the world they will navigate as adults. If you are not currently embracing diversity in your classroom, you are doing a disservice to your students. Your students spend a significant portion of their day with you and the lessons they learn from your classroom go beyond the “three Rs” of "reading," “riting,” and “rithmetic.” You can help them prepare for a future in a multi-culturally diverse setting by teaching them about culture and diversity now. Make it something to celebrate! In turn, your students will grow to be successful, respectful, and mindful of those around them. They will develop empathy and have a better understanding of different groups of people.
A creator of safe spaces, and an initiator of difficult conversations, M.J. Fievre, B.S. Ed, spent much time building up her Black students, helping them feel comfortable in their skin, and affirming their identities. Her close relationships with parents and students led her to look more closely at how we can balance protecting our child’s innocence with preparing them for the realities of Black life. When―and how―do you approach racism with your children? How do you protect their physical and mental health while also preparing them for a country full of systemic racism? She began to research the issue and speak to school counselors and psychologists to find (and apply!) strategies parents and teachers can use with their children to broach uncomfortable but necessary topics.
M.J. is the author of Badass Black Girl, a daily dose of affirmations for Black Girls
“You'll come away from Badass Black Girl feeling as if you've known the author your entire life, and it's a rare feat for any writer.” ―“Mike, the Poet,” author of Dear Woman and The Boyfriend Book
#1 Gift Idea in Teen & Young Adult Cultural Heritage Biographies, Publishers Weekly Select Title for Young Readers
Affirmations for strong, fearless Black girls. Wisdom from Badass Black female trailblazers who accomplished remarkable things in literature, entertainment, education, STEM, business, military and government services, politics and law, activism, sports, spirituality, and more.
Explore the many facets of your identity through hundreds of big and small questions. In this journal designed for teenage Black girls, MJ Fievre tackles topics such as family and friends, school and careers, body image, and stereotypes. By reflecting on these topics, you will confront the issues that can hold you back from living your best life and discovering your Black girl bliss.
Embrace authenticity and celebrate who you are. Finding the courage to live as you are is not easy, so here’s a journal designed to help you nurture creativity, positive self-awareness and Black girl bliss. This journal honors the strength and spirit of Black girls.
Change the way you view the world. This journal provides words of encouragement that seek to inspire and ignite discussion. You are growing up in a world that tries to tell you how to look and act. MJ Fievre encourages you to fight the flow and determine for yourself who you want to be.
Badass Black Girl helps you to:
Build and boost your self-esteem with powerful affirmations
Learn more about yourself through insightful journaling
Become comfortable and confident in your authentic self