Supporting Diversity in Our Classrooms

By Cristy Bennett, MEd
Faculty Mentor and Site Supervisor, College of Education

Posted on November 19, 2015  in  [ Teaching & School Administration ]

“This is a time of newly acknowledged diversity in U.S. culture. Voices are becoming audible; faces are becoming visible; and we are realizing, some of us for the first time, how many silences there have been in the past, how many blank spaces in our history… We are discovering the range of perspectives that must be taken into account as we work to remake community, as we strive to achieve a common ground.” (Greene, 1993, p. 1-2)

This excerpt summarizes the cultural and linguistic diversity of our classrooms and the importance of our role in meeting the needs of our students. However, what is culturally responsive teaching? How can we actively advocate for equity for all and challenge prejudice of any kind?

The answer is to have deliberate conversations on this topic. How can we celebrate diversity and help students build on positives while paying special attention to disenfranchised students?

The first way is to open a dialogue on the topic. One of the first discussions I have with teacher candidates is to explain what it means to be culturally responsive in teaching. As an educator, you have to understand how language and culture affects a student’s self-worth.

We all know that research is abundant in showing the connection between self-worth and academic success. There is not, however, a lot of emphasis in teacher preparation programs on the impact of a student’s culture on their self-worth. Yet, research shows the significance it has on a student’s self-worth.

It is critical that educators take an active role in learning about the cultural and linguistic diversity of their classrooms. This can be done through home visits, discussions with students and parents, campus activities, academic references and deliberate discussions with fellow educators and administrators.

As educators, we must seek to understand the cultures within our classrooms. We must also recognize that there is a difference in equity and fairness. To make a blanket strategy for all students, regardless of their diversity, may be equal, but it does not equate to fairness.

One statement that I hear frequently in these discussions is that “I treat all students the same.” That strategy only works if all students share the same background, have access to resources and have the same shared values.

This is not the demographics of our classrooms.

Treating all students the same does not equate to fairness and is not a best practice in teaching. This is why we must make accommodations in our lesson plans to meet the needs of all our learners.

Additionally, we really need to start with helping our students, parents and colleagues in talking openly about identity and to help foster a positive sense of self. There is a fear in some that doing so creates a separation, but research shows that instead it serves as a foundation for students and does the exact opposite (Gonzalez-Mena, J., 2004).

I think one of the most effective methods is to involve families and communities as much as possible in school and classroom activities. Part of a school or classroom vision statement needs to focus on special events that raise awareness about diversity.

That being said, it cannot be limited to a multicultural night once a term. We must create an environment that fosters students to be proud of their culture and see the value it brings to the classroom.

The goal should be to have diversity represented in your campus activities as well as throughout the curriculum.

Grand Canyon University’s College of Education helps students grow into compassionate educators with a framework of learning, leading and serving. To learn more about our college and our programs, contact us today.

References

Gonzalez-Mena, J. 2004. Diversity in early care and education: Honoring differences.4th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill.
Greene, M. (1993). Perspective and diversity: Toward a common ground. In F. Pignatelli & S.W.Pflaum (Eds.), Celebrating diverse voices. Newbury Park, CA: Corwin Press.

More about Christy:

Cristy Bennett grew up in a lovely small town in the Midwest. She left Missouri when she graduated from college, and did a semester teaching ethnographic approaches to research abroad in India. Upon her return, she headed out to Arizona. Cristy served in various roles for Title I schools over the last decade. She has earned her reading specialist endorsement; SEI and ESL endorsements; and, of course, her administration and teacher leadership certifications.

After some time, her adventures led her to Grand Canyon University. Cristy came to GCU with a BA in elementary education and four Master of Education degrees. She lived in Phoenix and worked at the GCU campus until April 2012. Then, she moved to the wonderful city of Austin, TX to begin working for Western Governors University. Cristy is blessed as a single mother of two little boys. Wyatt is six and Jesse is two. These boys are the lights of her life.

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