The first step to accept and embrace diversity is knowledge.
We human beings are wired to detect and act upon whatever could threaten our existence. This comes as part of our survival instinct. If we hear a sudden, loud noise, we jump in fear. For a split second, we don’t know if the sound comes from a firing gun or worse – and our whole body prepares for flight or fight. Then we realize it was just a truck exhaust and we sigh in relief, our heart still pounding furiously inside or chests. But knowledge rises above instinct, and as we know it’s highly unlikely that this particular truck is set to kill us (unless of course we are to find ourselves crushed under its wheels), we disregard the threat and keep on to our business.
Anything that we don’t know well could be a potential risk – not just for our lives but also for our ways of living. Human beings are cautious or even up-front reluctant about whatever is unknown or different. Including other people!
So, How can you help students accept and work well with people of different beliefs, cultures, languages, socio-economic statuses, education backgrounds, and learning styles? Here are some ideas.
Open their world – and you will open their minds. Get them to know and ultimately respect as many different cultures as possible. Don’t neglect to explore your own community as well.
Create the environment. Even in very homogeneous schools, some diversity will always arise. But our school environment could be one that crushes it down – for example, presenting one single viewpoint as the truth, discouraging open discussion about certain issues or favoring just one approach to learning. Be open, inclusive and caring.
Set the example. If you have a preference for working with certain type of students, if you loose your patience with the slower kid in your class, if you openly dislike a colleague or parent, if you are biased in any way, even if you don’t say a word, it will show.
Don’t force it. Don’t think that you are doing a favor to the odd kid in class by forcing his classmates to work with him. It might be even worse. Instead, plan projects in which students can either work alone, in pairs or small groups. Offer incentives to those collaborating and creating new alliances: Bonus points if they team up with different classmates every project!
Act it up. Drama and storybooks are wonderful to create awareness for diversity. Cast your students in roles that are different and challenging. Encourage them to try to “become” the personage by actively exploring the feelings and beliefs behind the costume.
Empathy is an art. I like Harvard’s Artful Thinking Tools from Project Zero. The protocol called “Circle of viewpoints” specifically promotes exploring multiple perspectives to a problem by actively analyzing a work of art.
Above all, engage in caring relationships with your students. This will make them feel accepted and safe – which in turn will give them the confidence to venture outside of their own limits and work well with others – no matter how different they might be.
This is my answer to this month’s question for The Global Search for Education: Top Global Teacher Bloggers.