Professional Development

We need more (not less) diversity in the classroom

I had to write a blog post style assignment for a recertification course I took this spring, so I figured I might as well share it here too!

All too often the culture and diversity of the adults are on the periphery. But in order to navigate the intersection of student and adult cultural diversity, we must first acknowledge and understand our adult beliefs and practices.

A Classroom Where Everyone Feels Welcome, Wyatt-Ross)

As an educator who is tasked with “engag[ing] [their] students in literacy practices that develop awareness, understanding, respect, and a valuing of differences in our society,” it’s imperative that I first do my own development (South Carolina Literacy Competencies for Middle and High School Content Area Teachers). As a white cis-woman who grew up in a middle-class family in a homogenous community in Michigan, I have immense privilege. If I am not willing to dive into my own biases and educate myself on the diversity of the human experience, I have no business being an educator. 

…classroom teachers should view their school or classroom spaces as culturally inclusive classroom communities where everyone is welcome.

A Classroom Where Everyone Feels Welcome, Wyatt-Ross

Once we view being human as the thing we all have in common, we can then embrace our diversity. While this can happen in all facets of our lives, the education system is where we should be intentionally creating safe spaces for students to be exposed to diversity (cultural, racial, gender, ability, etc.) and process their experiences.

No matter where my students come from or how they identify, one thing I love about teaching French is that it naturally lends itself to “build[ing] upon the students’ cultural and linguistic diversity” (South Carolina Literacy Competencies for Middle and High School Content Area Teachers). The ultimate goal of learning another language is finding the “intersection of language proficiency and cultural competence, or Intercultural Communication (The South Carolina College- and Career-Ready Standards for World Language Proficiency). As world language teachers, diversity is part of our standards!

It is impossible to teach students to communicate across cultures if we do not also teach students about and expose them to the diversity that exists in the world. Some of my favorite experiences in the French classroom have been when students are “Investigat[ing] Products And Practices To Understand Cultural Perspectives” and “Interact[ing] With Others In And From Another Culture” (The South Carolina College- and Career-Ready Standards for World Language Proficiency).

As content teachers and lovers of language, it can be easy to forget about this cultural objective. My students in South Carolina rarely left the state, let alone the country. Understandably, they wondered about the purpose of learning French if they were never going to use it after they left my class. It was my responsibility to provide them authentic experiences to use their new French skills and expose them to French culture and all of its diversity. One learning experience I will always remember is when my students tweeted with a class learning English in France. This activity allowed me to formatively assess their writing in a way that captivated my students. At the time, I reflected “My students not only were able to communicate in French with students in France, they were also able to learn about their culture.” I can’t think of a more exciting outcome for my students! If my students can walk away from my class having “develop[ed] awareness, understanding, respect, and a valuing of differences in our society,” I feel successful as their teacher. 

To be antiracist is to think nothing is behaviorally wrong or right- inferior or superior- with any of the racial groups. Whenever the antiracist sees individuals behaving positively or negatively, the antiracist sees exactly that: individuals behaving positively or , not representatives of whole races. To be antiracist is to deracialize behavior, to remove the tattooed stereotype from every racialized body. Behavior is something humans do, not races do.

How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi

As a white, privileged human being and educator, I am a work in progress. It is essential that I continue learning in order to best meet the needs of my students. During my 13 years as an educator, I have taught in 3 countries (South Carolina/USA, Kuwait, Beijing/China) and never taught in a school that serves the white, homogenous population that I grew up immersed in. This makes it even more important that I am attuned to the diversity around me and how my bias might impact my students. 

Whenever I move to a new place, I should start by learning as much as I can, in a broad sense, about my students’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds. This is usually made slightly easier because I also live in these new-to-me cultures. However, I still have to be intentional about taking the time to learn and grow while acknowledging and exploring my biases. Then, I need to put aside my new knowledge and get to know my students, and deal with them as individuals (Recognizing Individual Characteristics, Strickland). 

Some white teachers fall into the trap of “positive feedback bias” with students of color, providing less-critical comments in an attempt to protect the self-esteem of students they see as vulnerable. Teachers need to provide honest feedback, belief in students’ capability, and specific suggestions on what needs to improve. One study showed that the best combination is critical feedback accompanied by a clear statement that the teacher believes the student is capable of reaching their high expectations, along with strategies for reaching them.

The Power of Asking Why?: Attribution Retraining Programs for the Classroom Teacher, Graham & Taylor

I recently read this Graham & Taylor article and saw connections between this quote and the topic of diversity in education. I appreciate their focus on clearly communicating your belief in the students’ abilities. As Wendy Nelson-Kauffman shares in the CREC Culturally Responsive Teaching video, I must build strong relationships with my students by showing them that I genuinely care about them, address the differences in my classroom, and be cognizant of the types of assessment that I use. One way for me to do this is by paying attention to the types of text and other learning materials that I am selecting. 

An enabling text is one that moves beyond a sole cognitive focus—such as skill and strategy development—to include an academic, cultural, emotional, and social focus that moves students closer to examining issues they find relevant to their lives.

Enabling Texts: Texts that Matter, Tatum

I believe that creating opportunities for students to both be exposed to diversity and see themselves in the content is at the heart of a good curriculum. It is my responsibility to advocate for diversity in the published curriculum and to ensure that the taught curriculum in my classroom reflects the diversity of the world.