Best Practices for Teaching Diverse Students
And being a great educator means understanding that relationships matter. It’s the idea that we must put our kids’ basic needs first before anything else worthwhile can take place (Maslow before students can Bloom).
In other words, a relationship with your kids is the most essential aspect of your educational career. Particularly when teaching diverse students from different backgrounds. Creating those relationships starts with knowing the answers to these three questions:
- Who am I?
- Who are my students?
- Who are we together?
Who Am I to My Students?
Every successful relationship starts with one person revealing themselves to the other. It’s why I created the “Welcome to the 4th Grade” video so that my kids would know the craziness that they were going to get with me from the very beginning.
As an educator, one of the easiest things that you can do to foster a positive relationship with your scholars is talk about yourself. I tell my scholars as much as I possibly can about myself so that they can find something to latch onto. For example:
- My boys like that I play basketball, and that I’m generally into sports.
- My girls like that I know about different hairstyles, the types of hair that they have, and I keep up with some of the famous singers and entertainers that they’re super into and that I’m super into.
Being the educator your scholars need means answering the question of “Who am I?” to your kids, so they can get to know you and like who you are as a person. If you tell them nothing, they’ll like nothing. But if you tell them everything, I promise, they’ll find something that they like. And, more than that, they’ll be more willing to listen to you, because they like something about you
Who Are My Students?
The “Relationships Matter” principle says that if you get to know your students, they’ll want to know what you’re trying to teach them. While your students are learning math and reading, you should be learning about them and the best ways to teach and love them.
Ask them questions about their interests, what excites or frustrates them, who they live with, what they want to be when they grow up. That’s what great educators do. They know that compiling data about their kids is worthless if they don’t use it to their benefit.
One way to do this is to make frequent references to the things you know about them during instruction. For example, like everybody’s kids, my kids love to play Fortnite. So during class I make references to the new skins, packs, missions, and I even do the little dances they do during instruction, because it gives me an five extra seconds of their attention. And it’s a connective piece of our day.
You’ll also need to learn about what kinds of things your students are dealing with at home. This could be abandonment, molestation, physical and verbal abuse, drug addiction, foster care woes, gun violence, gang affiliations within the school and food insecurity. So, if a student hasn’t eaten anything in the last two days, they really don’t really care about this reading activity. They need to be fed. It’s Maslow before Bloom.
Being aware of some of the mess that takes place in our kids’ lives will help us love them through some of the mess that they bring into our classrooms. If you believe that relationships matter, then that means knowing your scholars well enough to know exactly how they need to be loved and knowing that you always need to institute and employ grace
Teaching Students from Diverse Backgrounds: Talk About Race and Racism
You can’t understand who your students are without talking about race or racism. But schools in America and the teachers in them have not done the best job of speaking with young people about these issues. Some teachers might think they’re protecting students by not talking about race, or that students are too young to handle it. But that’s simply not true.
Young people can make sense of the world around them and how they fit into it. And, for many of them, they must make sense of these things. It’s a matter of survival.
These conversations that we have will give kids the tools they need to work through their thoughts, feelings, fears, misconceptions and concerns about the racialized world they live in. Not talking about race is not an option. In fact, not talking about race in school is like not teaching history. You’re setting your students back.
Another reason why teachers should talk about race with their scholars is because race is a huge part of your kids’ identity. It shapes how people are viewed and treated. Black, Brown, whatever they are, your kids of color deserve to be seen, to know that their teacher values them and sees all that they bring to the table in a positive light. When having these conversations with young people about race, ask questions, equip them with age-appropriate language, challenge them to think critically, address and correct fear and misconceptions. And finally, just listen. Let them talk.
Who Are We All Together?
The difference between a good teacher and a great teacher is intentionality. You don’t just end up with a positive classroom or school environment by accident. It’s always due to the connections and relationships that educators work hard to create.
Knowing who you are together means creating a “Culture of We.” Here are 4 ways to accomplish this:
- One of the easiest ways to do this is to greet your students at the door. There’s nothing better than a warm, smiling face greeting you early in the morning. Meet them at the door and set the positive tone for your entire day.
- Another way to cultivate this Culture of We is to play. Incorporate fun into the school day. Kids like to have fun. Let’s not create these miniature adults. Let’s let them be kids.
- Also, don’t take things personally. Over the course of the year, many of your kids want to lash out, call you names and blatantly disrespect you. The reality is, it’s probably not about you.
- Finally, think about how this Culture of We can exist outside the classroom. Go to your students’ sports games, recitals and shows so they can look into the crowd and see you, their teacher, smiling at them from afar, clapping and cheering. When they see you were there for them, they’ll be motivated to do that work for you in the classroom.
To become the educator your students need, you’ll need to remember that the most important thing in education is not academic. It’s that relationships matter.
Want More Insights for Teaching Diverse Students and Culturally Responsive Literacy?
Achieve3000 is committed to working with our partners to create a culture of learning and equity and supporting social justice in the classroom. Check out our free informational guide, The Power of Culturally Responsive Literacy Instruction, and download it here.
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