This post is part of a three-part series on building an equitable curriculum.
In my last two posts, I’ve discussed the positive effects of equitable curriculum on all students and offered some suggestions on how administrators can work toward equity. Teachers, it’s your turn!
Once your administrators have empowered you with the tools you need to recognize bias and understand diversity, equity, and inclusion, reaching students through your curriculum will almost certainly become easier. Here are some things you can do to empower students and foster an inclusive classroom community.
1. Pick diverse books
Books that allow students to see themselves in the characters can help students feel like an important part of their classroom and like their story is worth telling, too. For students who are accustomed to seeing themselves in countless media, the opportunity to read about a character unlike them can broaden their world view and help them build empathy. Here are just a few worthwhile titles to consider:
Can I Play, Too? by Mo Willems
Chocolate Me! by Taye Diggs
Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
Knock, Knock by Daniel Beaty
Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash by Monica Brown
One Word from Sophia by Jim Averbeck
El Deafo by Cece Bell
Tomás and the Library Lady by Pat Mora
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Copper Sun by Sharon Draper
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Need more ideas? Search on diversebookfinder.org and weneeddiversebooks.org.
2. Welcome other languages into the classroom
Try to learn a few words in a student’s native or home language that you can teach to the entire class. For students who are learning English, this can be a powerful opportunity to see their classmates learn a new language, too.
If you’re not sure how to go about learning yourself, reach out to your multilingual students. Ask them to teach you some simple words. Or ask them to teach both you and the class at the same time. They’ll probably be happy to help, and the temporary role reversal could strengthen your teacher-student relationship.
For students who are accustomed to seeing themselves in countless media, the opportunity to read about a character unlike them can broaden their world view and help them build empathy.”
3. Think about how you ask questions
Reframe questions during discussions to open up conversations. For example, try asking “Can you describe?” instead of “What is?” This can help students feel comfortable sharing personal experiences, including aspects of their identity and culture.
4. Encourage sharing
Create opportunities for students to share unique experiences so they can all get to know each other; they may be surprised by how much they have in common. Some of this can come from reframing discussion questions, but activities like show-and-tell or reports on cultures and customs can accomplish this, too.
If you’re a high school teacher, your students might benefit from hearing from teens outside their school. Share the America to Me Real Talk video series with them. The website includes conversation guides for educators.
5. Rearrange your classroom
When a child looks around and sees a teacher standing over them and desks arranged from front to back, a hierarchy is established. Arrange desks in a circle or clusters instead to help each child feel they have a stake in the learning process.
6. Reframe the language around students’ backgrounds
You’re probably saying to yourself, “Yes! I want do that! But I don’t know how.” I’ve been in that same situation. Here are a few alternatives to common phrases or questions we’ve all used in the classroom.
Additionally, here is a list of descriptors that can help during discussions of race or ethnicity. Though note that it’s often best to ask a person what descriptor they prefer.
- Peoples of Hispanic or Latin descent: Hispanic, Latin, Latino, Latina, Latinx, or by country of origin (e.g., Panamanian, Colombian, Cuban). The terms listed here refer to an ethnicity, not a race, and it’s important to remember that skin color is not the sole identifier of a person of Hispanic or Latin descent
- Peoples of African descent: Black, African-American, African, or by country of origin (e.g., Ghanaian, Nigerian, Afro-Colombian)
- Peoples of European descent: White, Caucasian, or by country of origin (e.g., Italian, German, Polish)
- Peoples of Asian or Pacific Island background: Asian, Asian-American, Pacific Islander, Southeast Asian, or by country of origin (e.g., Korean, Chinese, Indian)
- Native/indigenous peoples: Native, Native-American, Indigenous, or by tribe (e.g., Cherokee, Algonquian, Sioux)
There’s no need to take this important work on alone. Involve fellow teachers and parents in what you’re doing. Through a joint effort, you might be able to do things like host events for Black History Month in February, Hispanic Heritage Month in the fall, and other holidays, like Day of the Dead or the Chinese New Year.
There’s no need to take this important work on alone. Involve fellow teachers and parents in what you’re doing.”
8. Think about other ways to be inclusive in your classroom
There are lots of other ways to build an inclusive school community. This can include intentional efforts to revise the curriculum, use data to inform policymakers on school climate and student well-being, and implement school-wide practices for teaching. What works for you? Working with your principal and other school leaders will be key.
We owe an equity approach to curriculum to our students so that like the fourth grader years ago, they know they are valued, empowered, and able to achieve their maximum potential in this world. It’s difficult work, but it’s worth every bit of effort. Thanks for taking it on.