Nearly everywhere you go in the world, you will find people who look, act, and think differently than you. Preparing students to acknowledge and respect those differences and the individuals who exhibit them is foundational to a healthy society. While parents are a student’s first educator, the classroom teacher is also tasked with exposing students to concepts of inclusion and diversity and creating classrooms that provide opportunities to explore these important issues.
What is Inclusion and Diversity?
All young learners will be civically engaged on some level when they become adults. It stands to reason, then, that all learners should be equally included in the education process and recognized for their unique perspectives, abilities, and contributions. In this context, diversity refers to acknowledging the wide range of differences we possess, whether those differences be cultural, religious, physical, intellectual, political, socio-economic, or racial. Inclusion, on the other hand, moves beyond acknowledging our differences to respecting them, even when we may not fully understand or agree with them. Inclusion embraces the truth that the individual is always worthy of acceptance and respect, no matter how different he or she may be from us. Inclusion and diversity also work to expand our knowledge and understanding of those who are unlike us – to embrace opportunities to get to know them, appreciate their uniqueness, and see them as equals.
Diversity in Education
The U.S. is often called the world’s melting pot, meaning we have people of nearly every nationality and demographic living within our borders. This makes the average classroom naturally diverse, though it can vary widely based on geographic location and school type. Regardless of the makeup of any given classroom, teachers are charged with ensuring that students develop a knowledge of and appreciation for the diversity within our world, country, state, and communities – all the way down to the peers sitting next to them in class. Creating inclusive classrooms is a vital role for educators. Teachers must find creative ways to explore differences, engage in conversations, and participate in activities that help students feel valued, supported, and able to express themselves without fear of reprisal. These differences could arise over such things as physical abilities, background, language, status, ethnicities, traditions, learning styles, or nearly any other variance.
The Benefits of Classroom Diversity and Inclusion
When teachers successfully build diverse classrooms, they help students see themselves as equals in the vast community of learners. And they help students see others the same way. Not surprisingly, when learners are taken out of a homogenous group and placed with a diverse cross-section of students they work together more efficiently. There are significant academic and social benefits of classroom diversity and inclusion for students. Students in integrated classrooms achieve higher test scores, are more likely to attend college, are less likely to drop out, and develop better problem-solving skills. Additionally, exposure to diverse classrooms helps students decrease racial bias, improve self confidence levels, exhibit more empathy toward others, and develop better leadership skills.
How to Encourage Inclusivity and Diversity as an Educator
Ottawa University’s Bachelor of Arts in Secondary Education (BASE) degree program in Kansas is designed to produce teachers who are sensitive and compassionate to the unique needs of students. The classes provide students with the knowledge, social competencies, methods, communication skills, attitudes, and values to become effective educators. For example, the Foundations of Schools: Diverse Society course addresses how educational policy is formulated and affects classroom practice. The course is taught by a variety of professionals from diverse backgrounds and provides teacher candidates with an understanding of the historical, philosophical, and social foundations of education in the United States. The course also addresses the legal and ethical issues of inclusion and diversity. Additionally, the program trains future teachers in structured English immersion (SEI) methods for the English Language learner, the exceptional child, different learning styles, working with diverse parents, and more. The program’s curriculum helps students gain strong awareness of cultural diversity within the social and political contexts of education.
Tips to Increase Diversity in the Classroom
So, what can teachers specifically do to create more diverse classrooms? More inclusive classrooms? There are endless opportunities, but here are a few starting points.
This must be the place you start in developing an inclusive classroom. Until you identify and confront your prejudices, you won’t be able to properly model acceptance to your students. Whatever your personal beliefs and background, come to a place of respect for all individuals and their worth, even if you have to agree to disagree.
Try interdisciplinary teaching
Some subjects meld well for teaching and modeling diversity. Before the school year or semester starts, reach out to a colleague to collaborate on a lesson or series of lessons that complement each other. For example, the Life Skills or Home Economics teacher could partner with the History teacher to explore the cuisine of a particular people group, preferably one represented in the class; or the English teacher could partner with the Civics teacher to explore diverse contributors to society.
Bullying usually results from a lack of knowledge of or respect for another. Make it clear in your class which behaviors are acceptable, which ones aren’t, and explain why. Then enforce the boundaries you’ve set.
Accommodate different learning styles
We don’t all learn the same, so it is important to provide students with the opportunity to succeed academically by presenting information in different ways and providing options for completing assignments that allow for varying learning styles, i.e. an art project vs a writing project, or taking a test orally.
A powerful way for students to be heard and understood is the opportunity to share specific differences, whether formally or anonymously, and have a constructive class discussion about the topic. This allows students to explore varying ideas and identify why their way isn’t the only way of thinking.
Demonstrate to your students that you value diversity by including all types of individuals in your life. Show them that you respect people who are very different from you, even in controversial areas, so that they see inclusion, equality, kindness, and civility at work.
Nearly any subject can include inclusion and diversity. By supplementing your curricula with books by diverse authors, providing relevant topics for writing or art projects, bringing in speakers, learning about all types of individuals in our society or from history, or even having educational debates, you can showcase the value of contributions from diverse perspectives.
Start Educating Today
Ottawa University values your uniqueness and what you have to offer! If you desire to instill the next generation with the values of diversity and inclusion, getting your degree in Secondary Education will pave your way to the classroom. Contact us today to get started!
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