As it turns out, not all of the people on this planet are exactly the same. We live in a society with a diverse population and as globalisation and social media increases our connection to other parts of the world, more diversity is inevitable. When we teach children, we want them to get as much knowledge as possible. We want them to know about math, science, history, and many other subjects. However, communicating and really understanding other people is the basis of all learning and it is rarely spotlighted. We see the hope for the future in the eyes of our children and we have high expectations about who they will be one day, but without learning within a positive, nurturing, and diverse classroom climate, we might be allowing our children to miss out on something important. Each student deserves the opportunity to learn from and share their identity with others. If we are to teach the future lawyers, doctors, and teachers of the world, we need to make sure they are able to do those jobs working together in the global economy effectively - and that can begin in the classroom.
The data has revealed that diversity in schools improves many necessary skills. For example, diversity improves critical thinking skills, problem-solving, intercultural and cross-racial knowledge, understanding, empathy, leadership skills, psychological health, intellectual engagement, intercultural effectiveness, and democratic outcomes while reducing implicit bias (WCCCD, 2016). This is a pretty impressive list of benefits for all students to receive from diverse schools. You might be thinking, that's great, didn't America already desegregate schools several decades ago? Don't we already have diverse schools? Not so fast. Watch the report John Oliver did recently for an entertaining version of what is going on. For another version of the data click the button below.
I am a straight, white, middle-class cis-gendered, able-bodied male raised in the suburbs of the Pacific Northwest of the USA. This is important to recognise because my students may differ from me on any one, or more, of those descriptors. My history, culture, and life experiences can affect the way I interact with those students. In order for me to really offer a safe, comfortable environment for my students to learn in, I need to recognise where I might be implicitly bias and counteract that as much as possible. Diversity is the goal, but we must also make sure there is no 'othering' or shunning of students to make sure it is an open environment that all students can thrive and learn in.
How does the classroom culture help promote diversity in education? Starting with the idea that diversity is an asset, not a hinderance is key to beginning the challenge of tackling this issue. As mentioned before, there are tons of benefits for all students, so this should be viewed as a classroom asset. The teacher should avoid and challenge stereotypes. Make sure you are not using stereotypes or using materials with stereotypes in them. Many schools have mandated material/textbooks, so make sure to lodge a complaint when necessary over any material that is not inclusive of any group represented by any students (Teaching Tolerance, 2014).
Be open to other cultures. Recognise those differences and appreciate them in class, rather than punish or get frustrated by them. Cultural humility is key for this. As a white American, I would need to make sure my culture is not overshadowing the cultures of my students. Also, let students define their own identities for themselves. This is especially important for gender openness, but would apply to any number of identities. Offering an identity for a student can seem harmless, but can be seen as forcing a certain viewpoint on that child that might not fit with their culture, orientation, or racial identity (Teaching Tolerance, 2014).
Getting to know the cultures of the students in your class from them and outside of class can help awareness of cultural "hot spots" (Teaching Tolerance, 2014). For example, I teach in South Korea and have already seen a fellow teacher get asked to quit after debating students on a very touchy subject here. The teacher believed it to be just having fun and teasing the students, but parents had a very different view of the ordeal. Understanding a culture means you can be aware of subjects to avoid or phrasing that can cause disruptions or worse from your students or their families or their communities.
Develop intergroup awareness (Teaching Tolerance, 2014). Every school has their own subcultural groups that have their own dynamics within the school and with other subcultural groups. Movies like to point out the issues between the "jocks" and the "nerds", but being aware of the groups can change the way you might deal with a problem between students or groups of students. Each student has a story, even students of the same culture as the teacher. Get to know the students and develop a caring student/teacher relationship. Always appreciate any contributions from students, especially when they are sharing personal information about their identity to let them know this is a safe place to share, and encourage them (Teaching Tolerance, 2014).
For more information on how to develop positive relationships with students take a look at the presentation below.
When a student walks into class, another element that affects their learning is the physical space. Learning should be student focused, so I make sure to arrange the desks so that students are facing each other in order to work more effectively together. In regards to making sure this is an open environment for a diverse student population, make sure the posters and quotes on the wall are from a diverse population of people. This can seem minor from the perspective of a person from a dominant culture because we are used to seeing ourselves depicted in all possible circumstances, but many students do not have that luxury. Having diversity represented on the walls can help students understand that because they have positive role-models from their culture and ethnicity represented here that this space is open to diversity and their opinions and ideas. There can even be overt posters that say things directly about the issue, like "Diversity Matters" (Teaching Tolerance, 2014).
For more information on the learning environment click the button below.
Safety is of the utmost concern when we are talking about physical space. Bullying is a problem the world over and is compounded when dealing with diverse student populations that do not yet possess the ability to empathise with other students. Educating students on the dangers of bullying and what it looks like are important to make sure any differences are settled in safe, effective ways and not in harmful ways.
Another space that children should feel safe in is cyberspace - or as your favorite aunt calls it - the inter webs. Cyberbullying is an unwelcome side-effect of the quick moving world of the internet and social media.
For more information about how to keep kids safe and how it all works in Korea click the link below.
What can teachers do outside of school? Teachers can continue to educate themselves on different cultures, ethnicities, and identities from around the world to get a better grasp of differences that might need to be addressed in class. Teachers can collaborate on lessons with a diverse group of teachers to get a cross-cultural analysis on each others' lessons. Teachers can also advocate for more diversity in schools to help students have the opportunity to get the most out of each day at school. One day, I hope writing on this subject, like this, will be an historical footnote, but in order to get there we must face the issue head on.
Teaching Tolerance. (2014). Critical Practices for Anti-Bias Education. Retrieved from http://www.tolerance.org/sites/default/files/general/PDA%20Critical%20Practices_0.pdf
Wayne County Community College District (WCCCD). (2016). Why Diversity Matters: An Introduction to the Science on Diversity. Retrieved from http://instituteforsocialprogress.org/why-diversity-matters-an-introduction-to-the-science-on-diversity/