By Greta Pauly
The world we live in is filled with diversity in every corner. Think of a natural ecosystem like a forest. Every tree, plant, and critter has its own unique makeup—different colors, shapes, and sizes—and yet they all come together to make a beautiful environment. When we begin to acknowledge and celebrate diversity in nature, we can start to admire it everywhere. In the classroom, educators play an important role in setting the stage to celebrate everyone’s differences and similarities in a way that brings students together in solidarity.
Educators can get started by taking a thoughtful approach. We all know change doesn’t happen overnight, but every classroom can turn into a more unified and inclusive environment with these simple ideas.
• Uncover Strength in Limitations: Try encouraging everyone to talk about what they have in common and how they’re different. One effective way to do this is by planning fun and engaging activities throughout the year that focus on empathy and inclusion. Students can break into small groups and complete a task together, but with the caveat that each student has a limitation assigned by the teacher. Then, at the end, the teacher can ask students questions like, “How might someone who has these limitations feel? How might those limitations help someone see the challenge differently or uncover approaches or solutions they might not have if given different limitations?”
• Starting Culture Within: Everyone has their own traditions, whether they’re family-oriented or not. Part of celebrating diversity includes taking a closer look at what makes us different. Maybe this year you have a student who grew up somewhere outside of the U.S., or someone who doesn’t speak English as their first language. Teachers can provide students an outside perspective on cultures that students might not have at home. Try integrating students’ cultural knowledge into your everyday lessons by talking about scientists from around the world, connecting your classroom with other students online, or even labeling classroom items in different languages.
• Model Inclusivity: We can look at diversity—and all the varied needs it brings with it—as a set of problems to be solved or as opportunities to improve the classroom environment and expand perspectives for everyone. Incorporating different teaching styles, like adding more visual lessons, is a great way to better reach students who are learning English or have impaired hearing. It can also benefit everyone else by presenting information in a new way they may connect better with or by helping them to become more comfortable with new learning methods.
If we want to see change take place around us, we must start at the source. Teachers aren’t going to know everything about creating an inclusive classroom environment, but that doesn’t mean they’re alone. By engaging in professional development at your school or community, and reaching out to sources for cultural information, teachers can be the key diplomats who open every student’s mind to the forest of diversity they’re living in.