How can teachers prepare for diverse classrooms? Especially during a time when our classrooms and overall population include an array of cultures, colors, and backgrounds.
I think back to my own personal experience growing up as a young girl of color with Jamaican heritage. Both my parents were born and raised on the beautiful island of Jamaica. Along with my younger cousins, we were the first-born US citizens of the family that would change the legacy of my family and culture. It was an exciting experience that took a long time for me to fully embrace; because growing up, particularly in my elementary and middle school years, I just didn’t clearly feel like I fit in as an American, much less, as a Jamaican. What culture did I fully belong to? That was a question that consistently ran through my mind as I tried to make my way through elementary school hallways and middle school lunchrooms. Yes, I’d fully agree that at first glance, I was simply a person of color to many strangers or spectators. However, if you happened to catch me and my mom walking in hand down the grocery story aisle, you’d quickly hear the patois and dialect she spoke with as she directed me to pick up some jerk or curry seasoning for dinner.
I am a woman of color with a Caribbean background and parents who weren’t born or raised in the United States. My childhood growing up was clearly different from many of my classroom friends who spent their summer at the local YMCA, while I spent my summer breaks in Jamaica with my grandparents who had livestock and chicken coops in their backyards.
Therefore, I totally can relate and respect the importance of our teacher’s embracing diversity and cultural differences in classrooms. So many children come from cultural backgrounds that many wouldn’t be aware of at first glance. I guess the popular motto we all use from time to time, ‘looks are deceiving’ is a true and solid saying we live every day within our classrooms and the world.
We’re in an era and time where how someone may look or appear can’t tell the true and accurate story of who they are or their cultural background. Behind every face is a story that many may never know or embrace unless we open that door of discussion in the classrooms. As teachers, you can take the time to encourage cultural openness and the healthy expression of self-identity with your students.
Benefits of Teaching Culture and Diversity in the Classroom
According to the Northeastern University, when integrated into classroom instruction, culturally responsive strategies can have important benefits such as:
Strengthening students’ sense of identity
Promoting equity and inclusivity in the classroom
Engaging students in the course material
Supporting critical thinking
So, the numbers show, embracing culture and inclusivity in our classrooms is necessary. It breeds an environment of equity and builds a strong sense of identity for our students, which I struggled to find in my personal life as a young teen.
Of course, the looming question then becomes: what are some useful tips and key strategies to have a classroom that clearly welcomes diversity and inclusivity with students?
Follow These Strategies for Teaching Culturally Diverse Students
As educators, Walden University, Education for Good, gives some great tips we could all use, which include:
Express interest in diversity.
You can go a long way toward fostering a culturally inclusive classroom by demonstrating your own desire to be culturally aware. Ask students to share their stories and relate their cultural experiences to the lessons you’re teaching.
Remain sensitive to differences.
Some students will be more forthcoming about their cultural differences than others. Before assuming a student is lazy or lacking ability, consider what cultural differences might be influencing a student’s study habits and learning—and how you can adjust your methods and/or provide accommodations.
Maintain high expectations for all students.
Cultural diversity does not require you to have diverse expectations. You should maintain the same high expectations for all students. Yes, you may choose to make special accommodations for those students who need them, but you want all students to excel. Maintaining different expectations for different students can wrongly teach students that cultural differences determine educational abilities.
Teach a culturally inclusive curriculum.
In the past, American education has tended to focus heavily on Western European history and culture and on the stories of white Americans, particularly men. You should make a concerted effort to teach a broad curriculum that more accurately captures the world in its whole. By doing so, you can help ensure students don’t feel as if their culture is unimportant or that their own contributions aren’t wanted.
There isn't a definitive answer, right? It’s a rather complex issue that requires a great deal of sensitivity and openness on our part as educators; but there is a wealth of resources at Design for Change’s media channel. The topics to cover with your students are endless, and really dive deep into current social trends and issues we all experience in today’s climate. As we all exist and navigate through this thing called life, we all appear in different shapes, sizes, cultures and familial backgrounds. It’s what makes our life experiences with one another so unique and unforgettable.
It’s time to invite our students into that reality sooner rather than later. Your classrooms are the perfect place to download and use the free Educator Toolkit that outlines activities to engage students in the Design for Change framework. If you are interested in building a unique experience for students, you can also visit the website and select from the library of social cause podcasts. Students build empathy around the selected topic by listening to the podcast, each of which is under 10 minutes.
Looking back, I’m just amazed at the toolkits and online resources educators have such quick and easy access to in order to create a healthy, culturally responsive dynamic in the classrooms. Boy, do I wish the resources were available during a time when I needed it most. However, I’m inspired by how far we’ve come to better address and embrace our children, their culture and families, within the classrooms. It’s an opportunity for our students to have such a great level of acceptance and understanding, not only for their fellow classmates, but the countless people they’ll make connections with throughout their lifetime. It starts today in our classrooms with educators like you, who can open the door and encourage both diversity and inclusivity in their day-to-day lives.