By: Grand Pacheco, NBCT
Diversity in the classroom is essential because it elevates teaching practices and students’ experiences to more meaningful teaching and learning. When I serve a community of learners from different backgrounds, I become more reflective on improving my pedagogical practices to ensure all my students feel welcomed, respected, and valued while meeting their individual needs. For example, during small group discussions or projects, I must figure out how to effectively group students beyond the below-on-above grade level grouping. I must also consider students’ English language proficiencies or cultural backgrounds to create a dynamic heterogeneous group where everyone can learn from each other.
With an increasingly diverse student population, I must also continue to become a lifelong learner in enhancing my instructional and relational skills with my students. A safe and inclusive environment is critical to students’ learning and development. I am learning more about trauma-informed, social justice, anti-racist, and social-emotional learning-focused education for economically disadvantaged, refugees, linguistically diverse, LGBTQ, or students with exceptionalities.
Diversity also benefits students. When they interact with other students who are different, which may include national origin, religion, English language skills, exceptionalities, gender preferences, and cultural backgrounds, they develop –
- Empathy. Seeing other students volunteer to support their peers is amazing. For example, I observed students acting as a translator for a newcomer, peer support for a struggling friend, or a peer resource on finding online resources or completing electronic projects for a confused peer with limited instructional technology experience. All these experiences build students’ abilities to be proactive in the needs of others.
- Cultural competence. Students interacting daily with students from different countries and cultures learn to understand and respect others’ cultural beliefs, values, and practices. As a result, students build more meaningful relationships, essential for classroom collaboration.
- A sense of security and belonging. When students feel heard and respected in the classroom despite their different backgrounds, they develop a sense of security because they know they are in a safe environment. Students also develop a sense of belonging because they can build meaningful relationships with others who differ from how they speak or dress.
- Soft skills in an increasingly diverse and global workplace. Lastly, exposing students to diversity will develop them to become productive members of an increasingly diverse and global workplace. Students will develop open-mindedness, emotional awareness, curiosity, empathy, communication styles, flexibility, creativity, and more. Students with soft skills acquired from diverse learning environments will be advantageous because they become more flexible and can adapt to an ever-changing work environment.
In summary, diversity is beneficial to both teachers and students. Teaching diverse groups of students allows educators to reflect and improve their practice. On the other hand, students who learn alongside diverse peers will facilitate the development of empathy, cultural competence, a sense of security and belonging, and soft skills necessary to thrive in an increasingly diverse global workforce.