All About Diversity
A lot of communities today are composed of people coming from different races, religions, ethnicities, cultures, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Even in primary schools, there is diversity. Sadly, many people still do not know how to react to these differences. That is why it is important that children, while at a young age, are taught how to look at diversity as a strength instead of a weakness. As teachers, you are part and parcel of a child’s formation. You have a role to play in molding a child into becoming a better person not only towards the people who are quite like him, but also towards those with whom he has apparent differences. Let me help you turn diversity into strength in your school. Here are some tips:
- First and most important, evaluate your own cultural values and personal biases. If you think you are unable to set these aside, you will have difficulty in teaching your students how to respect differences. These biases could get in the way of teaching and learning. One way or another, they will become apparent. Your lessons will lean towards a particular perspective only, and you will not be able to be as impartial as you need to be. You must not forget that what a child sees an adult is doing, he ought to follow. This calls for you to set a good example. It could be quite a challenge, but you can start opening your mind through interactions with your neighbors who are of a different race, joining organizations for a cause regardless of the members’ religions, or by simply observing the differences you see every day and looking at them through a more positive approach.
- Get to know your students. It is one thing to know that a student is in your class, and another to actually know him at a personal level. Ask one student per day to stay after class and talk to him. Give him an assurance that you are there to listen and understand. Make him feel that no matter how different he thinks he is from the rest of his classmates, there is nothing wrong with it. This will also open your eyes to bigger realities. On your end, there will be recognition that indeed, there exist differences and these differences are beautiful things. When you are more open-minded, you will have the capacity to teach the same value to your students. When you understand the behavior of every student, you will know how to address diversity issues and explain why things are the way they are.
- Do not play favorites. Favoritism happens even in schools where there is not much diversity. Eitherway, do not play favorites. Make sure that every child feels safe in your classroom and that there is enough space for him to grow. Allow each child to learn and take things at his own pace. Do not compare one with the other. When you feel like one child is having difficulties in the classroom, extend more help. You can either do this yourself, or assign two or three classmates of his who will serve as his “guardian angels”.
- Do not tolerate bullying. At the beginning of the year, establish ground rules. Emphasize on how a child could get seriously reprimanded if caught bullying. Teach students to think before they speak or act. Instill in them the habit of first asking themselves, “is it necessary? Is it kind? Is it the truth?”, before they say or do anything. Developing this habit will help the students be able to evaluate themselves and have a deeper understanding of respect. They will be able to recognize that no matter where they are in this world, there will exist differences, and these differences are not reason enough for them to be rude, disrespectful, spiteful, or violent.
- Encourage group work. Structure your teaching style in such a way that there is more than just passing on of information to each individual student in the classroom. Make your lectures dynamic and interactive. Allow your students to work in groups where they will be encouraged to get creative and listen to the ideas of their group mates. Foster an environment where each opinion is given regard. This will make your students understand the importance of a healthy and positive intellectual discourse. This will teach every student to acknowledge that while each one of them has the right to speak up, their opinions could be opposed by someone else and such opposition is not a problem as long as it is done in a respectful manner.
- Have a food-for-the-day activity for a month. Assign one student per day to bring food which best represents his culture or ethnicity. Food is one of the things that bring people together. It is also one of the ways to tell stories. Giving each student the chance to bring one dish to share with his classmates also means allowing him to share a piece of his life. More than this, each of his classmates a chance would have a better understanding of their differences and learn how to respect these differences. This activity teaches respect in a very fun and exciting way. You may do this for a shorter or longer period of time.
- Have a cultural day. Save at least one day for an activity where the kids get to talk about their cultures, practices, traditions, and customs. Let them come to school wearing a costume that speaks of these. Allow them to share stories and experiences they’ve encountered in their own homes, communities, churches, or countries. Not only will this activity open the eyes of every other student while listening to his classmate, but this will also make each one of them feel that they are being heard and welcomed in school.
- Teach your lessons from different perspectives. Be as impartial and unbiased as possible. For example, when you are going to talk about the Cold War, make sure you cover both sides of the story. Lecture on both the Eastern bloc, which is composed of the Soviet Union, and the Western bloc, which is comprised of the United States. Most times, the children ought to tell to other people outside of school whatever they are taught in the classroom. More than that, you are the one responsible for instilling in them their mindsets because they come to your classroom with a clean slate. Whatever lessons you teach them and whatever actions you show them, in one way or another, are going to affect how they behave growing up.
What you teach your students matters a lot, especially in the kind of world we have today. You, as a teacher, have the capacity and the power to teach them how to be good, loving, and kind people. Show your students that in the world we live in, differences are inevitable. Until your students are able to embrace that fully, they will never truly know the meaning of respect. It is all up to you. Do not forget, you have so much power in your hands that you can turn differences into strengths.