Equality, inclusion, and diversity have only occasionally been in the spotlight as they are today. History books depict stories of suffrage, inequality that often led to slavery, and the dehumanization of certain races and ethnic groups. While some historical practices are way behind us, it is vital to champion perfect equality and diversity practices in all spaces to ensure that services are accessible to everyone and that people are treated equally without bias.
In a bid to create a society that celebrates differences, school settings provide the ideal environments to drive change. Most of our future generations are defined by their educational backgrounds; hence schools make tremendous and lasting impacts on learners. It is possible to nurture these practices in classrooms and project positive change outside the rest of the universe.
Understanding equality and diversity
Equality refers to availing equal opportunities to everyone and protecting them from discrimination based on their natural and inevitable differences. On the other hand, diversity is all about acknowledging, respecting, and embracing people’s differences. There is no equality and diversity without inclusion which refers to promoting positive experiences for everyone within the workplace, school, and society to the extent that they develop a sense of belonging in these particular environments.
All these elements, sometimes called multiculturalism, promote fairness and create spaces that allow everyone to thrive and have an equal chance to succeed regardless of their native identity or background. Narrowing the equality and equity gaps often means unlearning some practices and highlighting the traits that make each of us unique without comparing or undermining each other’s human rights.
Since young minds need to be clear on right and wrong regarding equality, including these topics in classrooms is imperative. This opens the conversation to the grassroots levels and creates safe spaces for students to discuss, challenge and create lasting moral standards. Students can learn to respect each other’s opinions- sometimes agree to disagree- and develop open-mindedness and positive attitudes.
The following factors have been significant causes of prejudice in the past and today:
- Sexual Orientation
- Social-economic status
- Immigration status
- Individual experiences
Before we dive into how stakeholders can promote equality in schools, we should also understand the difference between equity and equality. While equality ensures every student has access to similar resources and support, equity refers to addressing their specific needs and ensuring they have the necessary resources to succeed.
It becomes more challenging to deliver equity due to the diverse nature of students and their teachers. Regardless, the education system can be standardized to cater to everyone despite the different traumas, identities, experiences, assumptions, backgrounds, and biases involved.
Ways to promote and advocate for equality in school settings
The classrooms bring together children from different backgrounds, brought up by parents and guardians with varying opinions and outlooks on different issues. Thus, the school setting inherently becomes responsible for creating a neutral, fair, challenging, and understanding environment. The following are meaningful ways to promote and lobby for equality in school settings.
- Challenging our own beliefs
Whenever the question of whether or not an environment fosters equality arises, it is easier to see the mistakes made by others or point out stereotypes while overlooking our own. Promoting equality is a process rather than a single task, as it requires working on consistently evaluating personal principles, beliefs, and assumptions before criticizing those of others.
Similarly, the first step to promoting equality is examining our opinions on the various entities, including our views on socio-economic status, immigration status, gender, etc. This part of the process allows you to identify your biases and factors that have led to your current assumptions while equipping yourself with valuable insights when engaging students.
- Embrace equity in the classroom
Although the terms equity and equality vary in meaning, the two acts can complement each other. As a teacher, you must learn your students’ differences; know who might need more support. It begins with the simplest acts, like moving around the classroom to create a balance of power towards the entire room and encouraging all students to participate in the learning process.
The teacher, instructor, or any other professional in the room has the mandate to model equity; thus, creativity is essential. A huge responsibility is to ensure everyone reaches their potential, which is only possible when they feel included. You can promote equity and inclusivity by showing each student that you expect highly of them. Humans have proven to generate opinions based on attitudes and other external factors. In this case, a student will work towards reaching or surpassing the expectations seemingly set by their teacher or guardian.
You can also model equity by encouraging informal and formal conversations. Ensure to remain very open-minded. For example, ask how their winter break was instead of asking students what they did for Christmas.
Lastly, you can foster equity, creating a safe space for hard conversations. Create room for difficult conversations like asking for your students’ opinions or experiences with racial justice. Allow students to be honest and show empathy to encourage such reactions from their peers.
- Encourage a shared sense of belonging
Remember your first day at work? You probably knew no one, and the unfamiliarity of the new environment probably made you uncomfortable. However, you probably made a friend on the first day and used them as your security net until you were comfortable enough.
These experiences are similar for students. Some naturally learn to navigate, while others need an extra push. When on unfamiliar ground, it can be challenging to concentrate or get work done, or even express oneself. When that goes on for too long, thriving becomes challenging since human beings find it easier to succeed based on positive experiences.
It is up to teachers and other educators to help knock down that wall of unfamiliarity to support learning. There is a direct relationship between the feeling of belonging and other characteristics of success, including persistence, motivation, and excellent academic performance. Therefore educators can give students a sense of belonging by:
- Making introductions as soon as possible- learning your students’ names is a great ice breaker for you and the students.
- Build high-quality relationships with students- take time within office hours to know your students while paying attention to their individual needs.
- Encourage students to be supportive and caring – sharing personal stories of failure and resilience may help model the same vulnerability and build resilience. Also, set an excellent example by commending students.
- Promote a sense of community by inviting them to participate in activities such as creating ground rules. Encourage discussions that welcome respectful criticism and fairness.
- Immediately shut down inappropriate remarks
While educators are supposed to encourage the different voices in the classroom, some students may air their views in a disrespectful, inappropriate, insensitive, or misinforming manner. Part of promoting equality is addressing opinions that may discriminate or upset others and providing proper guidelines for students to follow when expressing themselves.
As an educator, you may often find yourself stuck trying to ensure that the classroom is an open and safe space for each opinion but in a respectful fashion.
It takes a lot of effort and practice to ensure that you are not calling out students or passing judgment but rather showing their expression’s impact on their peers, as sometimes, they innocently share their views.
In the event of an appropriate remark, follow the following steps:
- Stop the lesson to address the problem, ensuring that impact is preserved in the discussion.
- Explain the problem in the remark without shaming the student. Point out reasons why the remark may be harmful. For example, tell them it would make their peers feel bad and ask them how they would react if the tables were turned.
- Discuss the problem privately with the student to ensure they understand why their comment was inappropriate.
- Follow up with the student and look for repetitive behavioral patterns before deciding further actions. This may involve sending a student to counseling or doubling as the teacher and the counselor. Thus acquiring this additional skill may help you handle situations more diligently. St Bonaventure University Online helps people to find out how to become a school counselor in PA.
Following these steps promotes equity as you can address the student’s need while considering factors that may have led to their opinions, helping you model an ideal remedy for the student and the situation.
- Accommodate different learning methods
Human beings process information at their own pace; thus, it is normal for learners to understand faster than others. Sometimes, educators must implement various teaching styles to ensure students are included. It is only possible to tailor the best methods for your students when you understand their unique needs, what they like, and factors that may trigger and promote fun, even in a formal class setting.
For example, some students have a shorter concentration span than others, and learning aids such as models or props can help capture their attention for longer. In such a case, simple, informal measures like moving the student closer to the front of the class can be beneficial as they are less likely to get distracted when they are close to the board and the teacher.
- Be flexible and compassionate with online learning
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated the establishment of innovative ways to facilitate learning. Consequently, most institutions embraced remote learning, which imitates the conventional learning styles but dramatically highlights student inequalities. Many learners do not have access to the internet, grapple with food insecurity, and face various family issues.
The educators’ scope extends beyond working with the learners to include their families to meet the student’s needs. With these challenges often getting in the way of learning, teachers must understand the barriers and offer solutions to mitigate them. You can promote equality in a virtual learning setup by collecting data on each student’s schedule before creating time frames for the submission of assignments. Additionally, you can allow students to leave their cameras off as some students may find the sessions intrusive to their personal spaces. Mixing in-person activities and pre-recorded videos may help students keep up in class.
Despite the problems, the primary goal of the educator is to cheerlead the class into overcoming the challenges and being compassionate to help beyond the classroom setting.
- Frequently review teaching materials
While it is necessary to have a standard curriculum, the voices presented in teaching materials do not always promote the spirit of equality. For example, most history books often depict the stories of Western culture, portraying the narratives of white males or the middle class.
Fortunately, there are conscious efforts to create resources that every student can relate to. Influential persons in society are working towards driving for a more inclusive narrative and creating characters that students can identify with. For Instance, when Lupita Nyong’o partnered with Vashti Harrison to create the picture book, ‘Sulwe,’ they intended to create heartwarming stories that inspired children to see their beauty despite their racial or ethnic backgrounds. Such moves demystify traditional ideologies that have traumatized and isolated some people from others due to ethnic and racial differences.
- Implementing students’ input
Collecting feedback from students should be an intentional process that seeks to find ways to improve the classroom environment. Some students will certainly be more confident and willing to defend their perspectives. However, it is crucial to find ways to collect feedback from the less verbal group to make them comfortable sharing with you and their peers. One-on-one discussions are a better way to get information from everyone as long as you can approach each student carefully. Finally, the students can only open up to voicing their opinions when they see change based on their feedback. You can start by building on the ideas they introduce in class, including the various opinions in your teaching, and implementing them whenever possible.
As it takes an entire village to nurture a child, it equally takes a community to impart the right values. Equality may be about freedom of expression and fairness, but it is also about redefining different perspectives to create positive experiences and an environment that serves everyone equally. All in all, promoting equality is a long-term process requiring learning, unlearning, and relearning for educators like their students.