During their time in school, pupils will not only learn English, maths and science, but also critical thinking, formulation of opinions and expression of feelings. It’s what makes us human, and our personal qualities are what makes each of us unique and special.
This week is school diversity week, a government-backed celebration of LGBT+ equality in education. It is organised by Just Like Us, the LGBT+ young people’s charity, which provides free resources to schools. But outside of this week, and Pride month in June, children can benefit from learning about diversity and inclusion, and from learning in an inclusive classroom. This article will explain what diversity and inclusion are, why it’s important and what you can do to create a more inclusive classroom.
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What does diversity mean?
Diversity means the fact of many types of things or people are included in something. You can have a range of things that makes your class diverse: from race, gender identity, socio-economic status, disability, sexual orientation and more. Embracing diversity means you are embracing these differences, not ignoring or even thinking someone is lesser for having them.
What does inclusion mean?
Inclusion is the practice of including someone or something, making them part of a collective or group. It follows on from diversity, and you’ll often find both words used together. Inclusion requires treating all individuals with dignity and recognising their inherent worth. It involves accepting people for who they are and embracing their unique qualities and perspectives. With this, you are promoting fairness by ensuring everyone has equal opportunities and access to resources, regardless of their background or characteristics.
Inclusion encourages active participation and involvement of all individuals in decision-making processes, problem-solving, and social activities. It values diverse perspectives and seeks to harness the collective strengths of a group or community, removing physical, social and attitudinal barriers that may prevent your students from fully participating in class.
Why is diversity and inclusion important?
By ensuring your classroom encourages diversity and inclusion, you will help break stereotypes and create an enriched learning environment. When pupils from a range of backgrounds come together, they bring a wide range of experiences, perspectives, and ideas. And by welcoming this, you can make sure all voices are heard in your classroom and each child feels listened to and respected. Your students can then learn from one another and gain a broader understanding of the world.
Inclusive schools ensure that all students, regardless of their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, or any other characteristic, have equal access to quality education. It helps create a level playing field, where every student can thrive academically, socially, and emotionally.
Diversity and inclusion also encourage critical thinking, empathy and creativity. By promoting diversity, schools can challenge stereotypes and prejudices. Pupils have the chance to interact with peers from different backgrounds and learn first-hand that diversity is a strength.
Breaking down stereotypes fosters a more inclusive and tolerant society, reducing discrimination and bias, while preparing your pupils for the real world. It helps foster a sense of belonging and acceptance, which positively impacts your pupil’s social and emotional development. When students feel valued and respected, they are more likely to engage in learning, build positive relationships, and develop a strong sense of self-worth.
How can I create an inclusive classroom?
The first thing you need to do is to keep yourself informed. Some elements of language that were once deemed acceptable are now not so. It’s your duty to keep up to date and understand why things have changed. Be mindful of gender or racial stereotypes and how they can influence your class.
For example, saying ‘boys and girls’ is completely acceptable, but could you use a more inclusive phrase like ‘class’? Think about the descriptive words you, or people around you, use. Are girls seen as bossy while boys are seen as assertive? Does one have more negative connotations than the other, and what could this be doing to your pupil’s unconscious bias? By modelling more inclusive language in front of your pupils, you can educate those who may not understand why certain words are offensive and set a positive example.
Secondly, look at your teaching material. Are you using a diverse range of images and characters in your examples and on the board? When looking at famous scientists or historical figures, have you shown a range of people from different backgrounds? By doing so, you can help students in your class feel represented while opening the minds of others.
If you’re teaching creative writing, make sure you encourage the children to seek inspiration from other cultures and genres. You can incorporate diverse materials, such as literature, artwork, and historical narratives, that reflect the backgrounds and experiences of all students. By incorporating inclusive content into their lessons, you can also validate students' identities and provide them with representation in the curriculum. You could set them a task to research someone in history who was oppressed due to their race, religion or sexual orientation and write a story from their perspective.
It's really important to remember that no child is born with prejudice, it’s something they have been taught somewhere.
If you get a sense that one of your students holds negative and closed-minded views, don’t get mad, get curious. Take them to one side and talk to them about their beliefs to help you understand where these ideals came from. You can then educate them on why it’s important to value and even celebrate each other’s differences. Creating opportunities for open discussions about diversity and encouraging students to share their perspectives can also contribute to an inclusive classroom.
Finally, Just Like Us has curated resources and activities for School Diversity Week and beyond, head to their website for more!
Inclusion requires ongoing education, self-reflection, and open-mindedness. It acknowledges that biases and exclusionary practices can exist, even unintentionally, and encourages individuals and institutions to learn, grow, and adapt their behaviours and policies accordingly.
There are some simple things you can include to promote diversity and inclusion, but this promotion also requires you to be constantly learning, growing, and educating yourself. Be sure to keep an eye on national and international news as well as causes that social groups and charities are campaigning about. Speak to your pupils too and find out what they are passionate about but be sure to not single out children or expect them to know just because they have a certain characteristic.
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