Bringing Diversity Into the Classroom
3/7/2022 | Mikhal Weiner
Bringing awareness of diversity into the classroom is something many educators aspire to, but it isn’t always easy. For one, it can be easy to make missteps and say or do the wrong thing. For this reason, some may want to avoid the topic altogether, choosing instead to just go with tried-and-true activities and books instead. Another challenge is making the introduction of diverse experiences feel organic, not forced. We want the existence of multiple identities and narratives to feel natural in our classrooms, but we also want them to be notable. Striking that balance isn’t always easy.
There are, fortunately, a few things that you can do in order to make things simpler. From dolls to celebrations, let’s take a look at a few helpful ideas.
Consider your decor and other classroom items
The best way to ensure that your school celebrates and welcomes families of diverse backgrounds, heritages, and abilities is to make sure that all of those families are represented in the school itself. This means carefully considering your hiring practices, yes, but also taking a look at the objects in the room. If you have dolls, do they have diverse features? How about the pictures on the wall—are they representative of a diverse population? If you have a play kitchen, does it have different types of foods from various cultures? All children and their families need to see themselves reflected in the classroom setting in order to feel a sense of comfort and belonging. Even if your roster doesn’t include a diverse population, this is a valuable practice because it fosters understanding and awareness of the diversity of the wider population. Also, remember that diversity doesn’t just mean heritage—it’s also about ability, gender, and more. As pertains to your decór, this means making sure that you are providing a space that’s accessible to people of differing abilities. A parent who uses a wheelchair, for example, can’t come to a school event if they have to climb a flight of stairs to get there.
Take another look at your bookshelf
As educators we know how important books are for introducing themes, helping children process emotions, and teaching them to learn how to tell stories about who they are and their lived experiences. The same is true about themes that have to do with all types of diversity. If we want to foster understanding and acceptance of different types of families, abilities, heritages, having those themes included on your bookshelf goes a long way. If you want to simply ensure diverse representation, there are some incredible books out there that show different cultures and experiences in a subtle way. There are also, however, some wonderful resources for educators who are trying to take a more direct approach when bringing diversity into the classroom. It’s good to have a mix of both on the shelf. These books inevitably lead to conversations and questions, which is great! Consider what your approach to these questions and conversations will be ahead of time so that you can be sure your response fosters communication and celebration of all the ways to be.
Revamp your calendar
One great way to make sure that you’re celebrating the diversity of cultures and experiences is to, quite literally, celebrate them! Take a look at the academic calendar—does it reflect the many important days to different cultures, not just the holidays noted by the state or local government? Do you have a plan for honoring Día de los Muertos in November and Pride Month in June? How about the Lunar New Year and Kwanzaa? Think about which holidays and important celebrations you’d like to incorporate into your curriculum and how it can best be done. To this end, it could be a good idea to Invite parents and guardians into the conversation. They’ll have traditions and ideas about how to celebrate. In lieu of these homegrown resources, there are some great tools online as well for teachers who want to bring diverse celebrations into their calendar.
Mikhal Weiner is a freelance essayist and journalist originally from Israel, currently working and living in Brooklyn. Her writing has been featured by Newsweek, Real Simple, Parents Magazine, and Lilith, among other publications. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @mikhalweiner
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