Preparing for and Learning from a Diverse Student Body in Schools

Why Diversity in the Student Body is Important?

A large body of research demonstrates the important educational benefits—cognitive, social, and emotional—for all students who interact with classmates from different backgrounds, cultures, and orientations to the world. Diversity among the student body in schools has a direct impact on their performance. Students concentrate better and push themselves harder when there are people of diverse backgrounds studying and learning alongside them.

Diversity means understanding that each individual is unique. It means recognizing their individual differences. The differences can be along the dimensions of age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, physical abilities, religious or political beliefs, and other ideologies.

Each student in a classroom brings something new and distinct to the table. They differ in their world views, backgrounds, experiences, cultural contexts, preferences, dislikes, personalities, etc. Such students are necessary for the global economy because they provide more creative approaches to problem-solving by integrating different perspectives and moving beyond linear, conventional thinking.

As was noted in a 2015 case in the USA Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, students from a diverse classroom are “better equipped to understand a wider variety of consumer needs, including needs specific to particular groups, and thus to develop products and services that appeal to a variety of consumers and to market those offerings in appealing ways; they are better able to work productively with business partners, employees, and clients in the United States and around the world; and they are likely to generate a more positive work environment by decreasing incidents of discrimination and stereotyping.”

Amy Stuart Wells, Lauren Fox, and Diana Cordova-Cobo of Teachers College Columbia note in their report published on on February 9, 2016, that there is increasing evidence that “diversity makes us smarter,” and “researchers have documented that students’ exposure to other students who are different from themselves and the novel ideas and challenges that such exposure brings leads to improved cognitive skills, including critical thinking and problem solving.”

Diverse student body also enhances students’ leadership skills, among other skills that are helpful when working in ethnically and culturally diverse workplaces. And finally, students’ experiences in diverse classrooms can provide the kind of cross-cultural dialogue that prepares them for citizenship in a multifaceted society.

Students develop improved civic attitudes toward democratic participation, civic behaviors such as participating in community activities, and intentions to participate in civic activities resulting from diverse learning experiences.

Bringing Diversity into the Classroom

Teachers should not treat every student in the class the same. To ensure that each student gets the maximum benefit, teachers have to understand and treat each student as a unique individual. Doing so is the first step in fostering diversity in the classroom.

If a student doesn’t feel like he/she belongs, or that he/she is not valued for who he/she is, they will become less interested in being involved in the class. This will lead to decreased participation, short attention spans, low self-esteem, and general feelings of detachment from students who feel excluded. Teachers should make extra efforts to make the classroom as inclusive as possible.

Here are a few tips that teachers should keep in mind to bring diversity into the classroom:

1. Know Thy Students

A good way to create an inclusive environment in the classroom is by understanding each individual student. Take the time to learn about each student’s strengths, weaknesses, cultural background, hobbies, learning styles, personality traits, and what makes them unique.

To establish trust and allow you to form a bond with your students so that they feel valued, have and display a genuine interest in learning about each student and their culture. Also, by taking the time to understand each student, you will find the teaching process to be easier.

2. Incorporate Diversity in the Lesson Plan

Ensure that diversity is represented in your actual lesson plan. For example, broaden history lessons so that they encompass the world beyond one’s country’s history and culture. Or, use references and analogies to other cultures in your lessons and assignments. Bring in diverse speakers to add varying points of view and real-life context to different subjects. Always try to present and connect lessons to real-world issues the students can relate to. Include material which represents multiple viewpoints and perspectives.

3. Incorporate Diversity in the Teaching Styles

Each student learns in different ways. Some students may be more visual, while some may be more hands-on when it comes to learning. Incorporate different teaching styles to accommodate different ways of learning. This ensures that each student learns the material more effectively, and you also broaden their abilities. Also, students might learn to step outside their comfort zone when exposed to different teaching styles.

4. Give Students Freedom and Flexibility

Do not take on a strict, authoritative approach when it comes to managing the classroom. Giving the students some freedom in the course encourages more connection to the curriculum. Allow students to read and present their own materials and approach the topic from their own perspective. As a teacher, act as a facilitator and encourage conversation and healthy debate between diverse opinions.

5. Equal Access to Opportunities

Ensure each student participates and contributes to what’s going on in the classroom. Find a way to get them involved. Introducing lesson plans, activities, and projects which mandate everyone’s participation is helpful.

6. Celebrate Diversity

Talk about and celebrate diversity. The easiest way to nurture diversity in the classroom is by recognizing it and encouraging students to celebrate it.

If there is a tremendous amount of diversity present, allow students to share their diversity with their peers. This allows others to benefit from the experiences that they would otherwise never know or hear of.

7. Encourage Differing Perspectives

In the classroom, there will be ample opportunities for students to come together to solve problems. Group assignments expose students to diverse perspectives, allowing them to explore and solve a problem together. This will encourage students to come up with different ways to solve the problems that they are faced with. This will also help prepare them for a diverse workforce.

This practice also teaches students the invaluable lesson that there is often no one correct way to do things. If students are encouraged to contribute different solutions to a problem, not only will participation increase in the whole class, but students will also feel as if their input is valuable.

Call to Action

As a company with diverse workforce, we at Butterfly Fields know a thing or two when it comes to nurturing and benefiting from diversity. Call us in for a discussion and we would be happy to share our thoughts and views on the subject.

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