Recognizing and Celebrating Diversity in the Classroom


We recognize that our students are different academically which is why we differentiate their learning experiences. It is also critical that we recognize and respond to their social, racial and cultural differences. 

I spent a lot of years saying “I don’t see color.” What I meant by that was I am fair and equitable in the decisions I make for and about students. That is what I should have said instead of I don't see color, of course I see color! I also meant that I was not keeping a mental note of how many students I had of a specific race because it wasn't important to me. I realized that by not making color important, I was not celebrating diversity and therefore denying my students the same opportunity. 

When I started to recognize and celebrate diversity in my classroom, we opened the door to truly amazing conversations. Conversations that people said kids could not have. Believe me, they can!

Back in May, a student shared with me that her older brother was jealous of her because he never had the opportunity to learn about and discuss his Asian heritage when he was in elementary or middle school. It made me sad for her brother but reminded me how important this work was in the classroom. It also made me proud to know that students were going home and sharing our classroom discussions and learning.

In recognizing the importance of celebrating diversity in my classroom, I had to be sure that I did this in an authentic way. Celebrating diversity authentically meant being appropriate, purposeful, and responsible with the information that was shared and the activities and experiences that students were being exposed to. 

Authentic (n) - not false or copied; genuine; real; supported by unquestionable evidence; verified.

Here are ways I began to do this in my own classroom: 

Learning about and discussing names
The very first books we read and assignments I gave were about my student's names. Our beginning of the year activities included students talking with their families about the meaning and origins of their first names and asking their parents why they decided to name them what they had and why they decided on a specific spelling. The students then took turns sharing what they had learned with our classroom family. 

Recognizing, celebrating, and discussing differences and heritage
Just about every month has a national recognition of a specific group or heritage. I used this as an opportunity to teach my students about different groups, races, and cultures even if they were not represented in my classroom. ESPECIALLY IF THEY WERE NOT REPRESENTED IN MY CLASSROOM! I allowed students opportunities to share the customs and traditions their families have. This was really important! Students were able to see that some children who did not look like them were very similar to them and some that did look like them were very different. 

Completing Research
I did the work. I researched. I took the time to talk to friends of different makeups and backgrounds. I also allowed my students to be leaders. When asked questions about something I had no experience with, I allowed my students take the lead and share information about their experiences if they volunteered. (It is important not to defer to students unless they volunteer. Being put on the spot could be uncomfortable and harmful to a student who is not ready to celebrate being different, especially if they feel alone.) 

Engaging in meaningful discussions and experiences
I did not want to engage my students by perpetuating stereotypes, sharing misinformation, appropriating cultures or having them participate in emotionally harmful re-enactments. Research and discussions serve as a better avenue for understanding. I allowed students to complete projects and bring in things to show and tell.

Diversifying my classroom library
When I started recognizing and celebrating diversity, it opened my eyes to who was not represented in my classroom library. It also made my students take note of who was not there and and prompted us to add new faces. We all have our favorite books that we love to share year after year but we discovered that there are so many other great books and series available when we simply looked. The pride I began to see in my students faces when they picked up a book that talked about their culture or had a character that looked like them was priceless. 

As you prepare to welcome a new set of faces into your classroom, please consider ways in which you can recognize and celebrate diversity.



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