A Guide to Teaching Diversity in the Classroom
As an educator, your mission is to teach your students about a wide variety of concepts, theories, subjects and cultures. In that pursuit of learning, many teachers find themselves wondering, how can I create an inclusive and well-rounded curriculum? While that can mean teaching about lesser-known historical events or unique grammatical nuances, it can also be as simple as teaching students about diversity, inclusion and acceptance of perspectives and cultures that are different from theirs.
Unfortunately, these are not universally taught concepts, so teachers don’t have as many resources at their disposal. To help you get started, here is our quick guide to teaching diversity in the classroom.
What is Diversity in the Classroom?
To define diversity in the classroom, it helps to understand what diversity is in and of itself. Simply put, diversity is everything that makes people different from each other, such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, ability or religious belief.
When it comes to education, diversity in the classroom is a phrase that refers to “a broad range of ideas and initiatives to create learning environments that are safe, inclusive and equitable for as many identities as possible. Recognizing, fostering and developing sensitivity to the needs of people in various identity categories are primary aims of educational diversity.”
Why Is Diversity in the Classroom Important?
The benefits of teaching diversity are statistically proven to improve a number of student outcomes. The following are just a few results from years of research and study into the value of including diversity teachings in the classroom.
1. According to research conducted by Queens University of Charlotte, when lesson plans reflect the students and their varied backgrounds, they develop a deeper knowledge of a subject as they explore it from varying perspectives.
2. Studies have shown that having diverse classrooms helps develop tolerance and a greater sense of security when in environments with other foreign cultures present. It also helps students learn about other languages and cultures, encouraging them to be interculturally sensitive.
3. When working and learning with people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, students gain a more comprehensive understanding of the subject matter.
4. Diversity among students in education directly impacts their performance. Studies show that students work better in a diverse environment, enabling them to concentrate and push themselves further when there are people of other backgrounds working alongside them.
5. Teaching diversity in the classroom promotes creativity, as well as better education, as those with differing viewpoints are able to collaborate to create solutions.
10 Ways to Support Diversity in the Classroom
Examine your teaching materials: This is a natural first step for anyone looking to focus more on teaching diversity in their classroom. While you may already be teaching some aspects of a diverse or inclusive curriculum, there are probably also subjects that will naturally be best-fits for some refreshed material.
Get to know your students (and their backgrounds): When the school year starts, consider sending home a survey to learn more about your students and their backgrounds. Always be mindful to word your questions in a thoughtful and inoffensive way. But by taking the initiative to demonstrate your interest in their culture or background, you’re already doing the work of building a foundation of trust and openness about who they are and where they come from.
Address inequality: This can be one of the more difficult subjects you broach in your classroom, but it is critical that students see their teacher demonstrate an awareness of inequality. You can use examples from history, from current events or from hypothetical scenarios, but using real instances that students can relate to can help improve their comprehension and understanding.
Connect with parents: This can be done through the survey you send home or as a separate initiative, but try to engage with your students’ parents too. They may have questions about how you will be teaching diversity as a subject or they may want to share their culture and background. Either way, having an open dialogue will prove beneficial for you, students and parents.
Be a culturally responsive educator: This may seem like a no-brainer, but work on actively being a culturally responsive educator. We all have unconscious bias to some degree, but by working to actively come to understand different cultural backgrounds, teachers can show their students that they are learning in an inclusive environment.
Seek out PD opportunities around diversity initiatives: This can come in the form of a workshop, conference, or even a professional development course. There are a growing number of diversity teaching professional development opportunities out there, and these can really help you start introducing these concepts into your own teaching.
Be honest about and aware of your own cultural biases: This will require some self-reflection and can be a bit uncomfortable, but to teach diversity and inclusivity you must first assess where you’re coming from or where students might be coming from. By understanding your own cultural biases you can be more aware of your perspective and choices, and help other students do the same.
Include classroom signs in multiple languages: An easy and quick way to display diverse cultures in the classroom is to include bulletin boards and signage in a number of languages. You don’t have to be a foreign language teacher to use this in the classroom, and a quick Google Translate will help you use the right terminology.
Invite guest speakers into your classroom: There is no better way to introduce your students to diverse people and cultures than by bringing people of diverse backgrounds into the classroom. This can be an opportunity to bring parents into class, or you can seek outside resources from perhaps a local college/university or a multicultural organization.
Take field trips to cultural events in your community: Many community organizations host events throughout the calendar that celebrate different holidays, festivals or significant dates in other cultures. These can be a great way to expose your students to the concepts they’re learning in the classroom, and will give them first-hand knowledge of what they’re studying.
Teacher Resources for Cultural Diversity in the Classroom
There are a handful of reputable online resources for educators looking to teach diversity in their classrooms in some form or fashion. Some of these resources come from nonprofits dedicated to diversity initiatives while others are from education-focused websites and organizations.
Professional Development in Classroom Cultural Diversity
Teaching diversity and inclusion can feel like an abstract concept. However, there are professional development programs that have courses dedicated to teaching these concepts across all grade levels. At the University of San Diego Division of Professional and Continuing Education, we proudly offer our Teaching for Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity in the Classroom series. This collection of courses focuses on giving educators the skills and strategies needed to create a culturally inclusive classroom, while also helping them to value inclusion and promote cultural respect and tolerance within their daily lives.
FAQs about Teaching Diversity
Q: What is diversity in the classroom?
A: Diversity in the classroom is a phrase that refers to “a broad range of ideas and initiatives to create learning environments that are safe, inclusive and equitable for as many identities as possible. Recognizing, fostering and developing sensitivity to the needs of people in various identity categories are primary aims of educational diversity.”
Q: Why is diversity in the classroom important?
A: There are a number of studies that show the many benefits of teaching diversity, some of which include: students have been proven to perform better, they learn tolerance and cultural sensitivity, and students work and learn better in a diverse environment.
Q: Are there PD opportunities around teaching diversity?
A: There are a number of resources for teachers, including online resources, as well as published books that educators have found helpful. Here are just a few: