We are fortunate to live in a society where people from many cultural backgrounds and experiences can come together to learn and share ideas. It’s likely your students will have differences in their ideologies, physical abilities, ethnicities, geographical backgrounds, academic interests, sexual orientations, religious affiliations, and personalities.
Our differences make each of us unique and should be celebrated as they allow new perspectives to evolve. Unfortunately, these factors can be limiting if students feel excluded from their peers or the educational system itself. This can leave students feeling uncomfortable, unsafe, and disrespected.
Here are a few ways teachers can encourage diversity and inclusion within their classrooms, allowing each student to feel valued for who they are.
Pay Attention to Yourself and Others
As with industries like healthcare, cultural competence is extremely important in the United States and other countries where people from vastly different backgrounds come together. For teachers, this requires the ability to learn about potentially sensitive situations and assess your own behavior. It’s important to note that this is a process that takes time, and your cultural awareness should evolve throughout your career as an educator.
Of course, cultural sensitivity training and private research can help teachers learn about how their interactions might be interpreted differently within diverse groups. However, your ability to best understand and help each of your students will also grow from real-life experiences, including your successes as well as your failures when attempting to help students. The most important thing you can do is pay attention.
Self reflection is one of the most important aspects of supporting people from diverse backgrounds. Acknowledging your own cultural identity and assumptions about how things should be will allow you to step back and examine situations from other viewpoints.
One of the best ways to get to know students is to ask them about themselves. You could schedule one-on-one conversations with students in which you ask about their interests, background, and any learning needs or concerns they might have. You might also create a written survey students can fill out in class or at home.
It’s important to create many channels for communication in order to avoid excluding students who may struggle with face-to-face interactions, expressing themselves in writing, or sharing personal information in general. Without singling out any particular student, you can also begin a course by explaining to the entire class that you are open to any communication that would better help meet a student’s needs.
Many students may have difficulty expressing themselves or asking for help. By creating a welcoming environment, you can avoid situations where a student feels the need to further cut themselves off from you or their peers.
Help Students Learn About Each Other
As a teacher, you can only affect a portion of a student’s educational experience. So much of their success depends on their ability to interact positively with their peers. These relationships can be hindered when students feel like they need to hide their differences from others. Similarly, some students might not know how to respond to people who seem different than them, which can result in bullying or other harmful reactions.
Teachers can inspire social consciousness in the classroom and beyond by laying the foundation for a democratic education. This refers to an education in which everyone is responsible for making meaningful choices within the society around them. Acknowledging the need for empathy and acceptance is at the core of this strategy.
You might create projects that allow students to share information about their backgrounds and experiences in a meaningful way. Bringing in guest speakers and other faculty from diverse backgrounds can also allow students to better understand other cultures and may even offer positive role models for those who feel different or excluded.
Supporting programs based on inclusion, such as gay-straight alliances, foreign language clubs, and cultural events are a great way to encourage inclusivity beyond the classroom. These benefit students of diverse backgrounds by giving them a chance to express their identities. They can also help other students by educating them about different cultures, encouraging empathy and further exploration of other cultures.
By creating an inclusive environment within the classroom, teachers can set students up for success within their education and beyond. While feeling accepted can help people to achieve their academic goals, this will also benefit society as a whole as students move on to encounter diversity in the workplace. It’s easy for educators to focus solely on the lessons they’ve planned in order to prepare students for assignments and exams. However, by supporting social consciousness as well, students stand to learn so much more about how to interact with others in an increasingly diverse society.
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