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By Dr. Shanita Brown Aaron, Doctorate of Philosophy in Educational Leadership
In today’s culture and climate diversity is an important topic. Diversity is what makes each of us different and includes many aspects: race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, gender, religious beliefs and even political convictions. All of these components come together to inform how we encounter the world and teachers today must know that each child brings their own ideas, strengths and experiences to the classroom and all of these differences can enrich the learning environment.
According to statistics from the National Center for Education, In 2015, 75% of the total enrollment in our nation’s public schools were from racial and ethnic minority groups. Public schools consisted of 60% Hispanic, 58% Black, and 53% Pacific Islander students. While less than half of Asian students with 38%, American Indian/Alaska Native students with 37%), and White students with only 5 percent attended public schools. In addition, the majority of the students also came from low- income families.
Further Reading: The 3 Cs for Creating an Engaged and Positive Classroom Culture
As we teach children to prepare for college or the workplace, teachers must address and embrace living and working in a diverse country. Diversity in the classroom teaches children to appreciate different perspectives which is a skill they will use the rest of their lives. However, many teachers struggle in this area because they are not sure what diversity in the classroom even looks like. Here are a few strategies to start diversifying your classroom.
1. Including diverse learning and teaching material is one way to bring diversity into the classroom. Exposing children to material which represents multiple viewpoints and perspectives. Your materials should include different nationalities, races, languages, abilities, socio-economic backgrounds and current affairs.
2. Support students in differing viewpoints. There is always more than one opinion on how to solve a problem. Encouraging your students to discover different solutions allows everyone’s voice to be heard and respected. This can increase participation and teach children to work together even if they have a difference of opinion or support a different perspective.
3. Getting to know your students. This is a strategy that many feel they have mastered but getting to know your students is more than just knowing their name. Knowing where your students come from, their socio-economic status, culture, and issues that are important to the students and their families. Building personal relationships with students takes time but when you know your students you are more capable to promote diversity.
4. Connect with parents and the community. Schools are an important part of the community and should reflect and celebrate the diversity within the community. Listening and acting upon parents questions and concerns are the first step. Invite community leaders into your classroom; this will offer people from different backgrounds to inspire your students for their future goals.
Further Reading: 4 Successful Strategies to Increase Teacher Diversity
5. Celebrate diversity by acknowledging it and allowing children to celebrate it at school. Allow students to share their diverse stories with their classmates this will allow them to learn from each other and respect and honor the things that make them different.
Starting the conversation about bringing diversity into the classroom can be difficult because diversity can be voiced in many different ways, but schools are filled with diverse students and staff so the first step is to tap into those backgrounds to get started. Be intentional with learning from those around you and using the feedback to grow. Getting started is the key! A great place to start is Teaching Tolerance — they have an abundance of resources including lessons, professional development, and publications for K-12 educators.
About the author: Dr. Shanita Brown Aaron is a professor of education devoted to putting more books that featuring diverse characters into the hands of all children in schools and homes. Dr. Aaron holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, Bachelor of Science in Special Education, Master’s of Education in Administration and Supervision and a Doctorate of Philosophy in Educational Leadership. With over 20 years of experience in K-12 education as a teacher, and principal she knows first hand the need for culturally inclusive classrooms where students and staff acknowledge and appreciate diversity to deepen the overall learning experience. Diverse books are needed in today’s classroom where children can see themselves as well as expose them to the values, viewpoints and historical legacies of others. Dr. Aaron is the author of My Inspiration! A Black History children’s book for grades k-4.