Teaching Diverse and Inclusive Classrooms.

“We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.” – Maya Angelou

The following information is taken from this article.

It’s 2017 and you can bet your bottom dollar that any class that you are put into these days is going to be diverse. For some teachers who are stuck in traditional ways of teaching, this is intimidating, but for some it is a challenge to incorporate each learner into the woodwork and to make sure each of their needs are met.

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Research shows that, “traditional teaching methods are often ineffective for learners outside of the majority culture.” The article states that many students from minority groups, especially women and people of colour, are most likely to prosper when their classroom has a focus on collaborative work where they can share personal experiences and, “examine relationships between persons and ideas”. In parallel, more competitive learning environments may cause students from minority groups to feel isolated and unable to speak their mind. In classrooms that model competitive learning, such as calling on students who raise their hands quicker than others, some students fall between the cracks. In environments such as this it is important to outline clear expectations for when it is appropriate to speak, to always show respect, and that it’s OK to make mistakes.

Some of the questions outlined in the article are:

  • Do your examples or illustrations acknowledge the experiences of people from different backgrounds in non-stereotypical ways?
  • Have you examined your own conscious or unconscious biases about people of other cultures?
  • Are the students welcome to share from their own lives and interests? Are they treated as individuals?

I found the question regarding the resources used in the classroom showing perspectives of people from an array of backgrounds to provoke a lot of thought around what that would like in a BC classroom. Incorporating materials written from the perspectives similar to those of students in your class could seriously promote empathy and acceptance within your classroom dynamic. For example, including stories or books by First Nations peoples into social studies lessons or science lessons could spark new ideas for many students in your classroom and could also allow for First Nations children in your classroom to take pride in their culture and share their own experiences. Again, it is important to allow room for cooperation, sharing, and relationship building in the diverse classroom.

Ultimately, if you are working to create an inclusive classroom then you are also making strides towards making your classroom a safe space for every child. By incorporating times for students to connect, share experiences, and work collaboratively you are creating space for students to celebrate and respect their diversities as strengths rather than weaknesses. Keep in mind that small group work should be monitored so that students are working in new combinations of partners often.

“Whichever methods you choose to make your classroom more inclusive, know that remaining sensitive to and flexible about the ways diverse populations communicate, behave and think, will help create a supportive learning environment for all students.”

 


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Every Child Needs a Champion.

The following video is a TED Talk by the late Rita Pierson. Rita had been around the school system her entire life. Her parents were educators, her parent’s parents were educators, and she had been an educator for 40+ years herself when she gave this talk. In all of Rita’s experience in the school system she had found that building relationships with students is probably the most effective thing a teacher can do to help their students be successful.

Building relationships with students is a very important key to creating an environment where students feel safe and supported. In this TED talk Rita explained that in her time in the school system she had witnessed many students drop out from poverty, low attendance, negative peer influences, etc. Rita said that educators know why students drop out, but they rarely discuss the importance of human connection — relationships.

“No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.” – James Comer

Rita explained that, “kids don’t learn from people they don’t like”. She believed that relationships are built on simple concepts, such as apologizing and honesty. Rita had classes that were so academically deficient that she would cry and she would often find herself asking,  “How do I raise the self-esteem of a child and his academic achievement at the same time?”

In times where Rita found herself in front of a challenging class she decided to give them a motto. She would tell her students to say,

“I am somebody. I was somebody when I came and I will be a better somebody when I leave. I am powerful. I am strong. And I deserve the education that I get here.”

Rita believed that if her students said this long enough then it would start to become them, and she was right.

Something that I found extraordinarily valuable when listening to Rita’s talk was when she spoke of her mother. She said that she would watch her mother go out and buy combs, brushes, crackers, and peanut butter to put in her desk for students who needed it. I found this to be incredible, and something that I wish to emulate as a teacher myself. When I think of a safe learning environment I think of a role model like Rita’s mother. She was so intentional and compassionate with her students that when she passed on she left a legacy of relationships that would never disappear. A teacher like touches the hearts of so many lives and thats what children need – a champion.

A final note from Rita’s talk that I think is important to mention is the fact that you won’t love every single one of your students but they can never know that. Rita said, “The tough ones show up for a reason.” The classroom needs to be a safe and supportive place for each and every student. Teachers are great actresses and especially so in this case and the toughest kids are the ones who need the most support and connection.

“Teaching is tough, but it’s not impossible.”

I think that any teacher that is looking to create a safe space in their classroom can learn a lot from Rita Pierson’s work. Relationships are important and a teacher can never know just how much they will impact a child’s life, they can only do their best to make that impact a positive one. “Every child deserves an adult who will never give up on them. An adult that understands the power of relationships and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be. Every child deserves a champion.”

 


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