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Diversity Education: Creating a Discrimination-Free Classroom

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What is Diversity Education?

“Diversity is not about how we differ. Diversity is about embracing one another’s uniqueness.

Ola Joseph

Celebrating difference, honouring uniqueness, and teaching acceptance. Diversity education is about creating an environment where all bodies are respected and all perspectives are valued.

Why should we teach diversity?

While it’s easy to point our finger at a certain president south of the border discriminating and creating an atmosphere of unacceptance, there are in fact still many places here in Canada where dominant groups of people are unaccepting of difference, especially based on race, religion, and sexual orientation/identity. Discrimination occurs between individuals as well as groups of people and creates an atmosphere and environment of fear, shame, and self-hate. Many children live every day without the acceptance of their peers and even their own families. Bullies exploit differences and use them as fuel for their crimes. Kids are growing into adults who are filled with hate for others, for what they don’t understand. And kids aren’t growing up because they have felt so ashamed of who they were, so much so that they took their own lives to end the pain. No child, no person should ever have to feel that they cannot or should not be who they are.

As teachers, we have the authority and the platform to build students’ understanding and appreciation of different cultures, orientations, appearances, abilities, beliefs, and interests. We have the opportunity to present kids with ideas and concepts that are inclusive and we have the power to create an environment where everyone feels like a contributing member of the classroom and school community. These ideas and practices need to start in the classroom since this is where kids do the majority of their socializing and are socialized. This power that we hold, as teachers and educators, is something that must be used to empower our students to become educated global citizens who are invested in creating a better future for all people.

Our student’s experiences now shape their future values and attitutes

Within the classroom, adolescents meet on the basis of equality, and support the same authority (the teacher). As such, the conditions that are needed to make interethnic contact lead to more positive interethnic relations are in place. And indeed, it has been found that ethnic diversity in the classroom is related to increased interethnic friendliness. Even if the adolescents do not form friendships, casual contact within the classroom, or positive experiences when working together on assignments may be enough to improve adolescents’ multicultural attitudes.

-van Geel and Vedder

How do we teach students about diversity in a meaningful way?

There has been a lot of disagreement amongst educational scholars as to how teachers should teach diversity. Some argue that Canada’s government policies for multiculturalism are creating more discrimination.

Will Kymlicka argues that in recent years many people believe multicultural policies and frameworks in many countries, including Canada, have “failed to help the intended beneficiaries – namely, minorities themselves – because [they have] failed to address the underlying sources of their social, economic and political exclusion, and may indeed have unintentionally contributed to their social isolation.” (Kymlicka, 2010)

So how can we teach this in a way that is meaningful and respectful of every body? First of all, we can’t just teach ‘Diversity’ as a lesson topic. Examples of diversity should be apparent throughout your classroom and within every lesson you plan. A diversified education is differentiated, allows for exploration and critical inquiry, and encourages thinking inclusively, ethically and equitably. Diversity education provides opportunities to learn about social justice, different perspectives, and promotes positive personal and social identities.

4 Ways to Promote Diversity in the Classroom:

1. Group Work

Intergroup contact theory suggest that students who have more contact with students from different ethnic backgrounds develop more tolerant attitudes and reduce prejudice (van Geel and Vedder, 2010).

2. Role-Playing/Perspectives Activities

Role-playing exercises allow children to practice empathy and think critically and ethically about their interactions with and within society.

3. Guest Speakers

Bringing visitors into the class to speak about their personal experiences will help children to consider different perspectives and beliefs that are different from their own.

4. Modelling Inclusive Behaviours and Attitudes

The most important thing we can do as teachers is be positive role models for our students. We can do this by speaking and acting in ways that promote inclusiveness and acceptance.

Outside of the classroom

While the internet can often be seen as a place of hate, cyber-bullying, and unacceptance, it can also be a great tool for spreading messages of acceptance and inclusion. Diversity education and media literacy are strongly interrelated and will complement each other when learning about multiculturalism and different beliefs around the world . Diversity education is also a component of Global Education and encourages world citizenship.

Another way to explore diversity education is to look for diversity, difference, and adaptations within the natural world. Look at different types of trees, compare animal species around the world, or even dig into the rock cycle. This is a great opportunity to show your kids how Earth’s processes are all about diversity and harmony.

Personal Experiences

When I was in school “that’s so gay” was the thing to say. I remember dancing at high school parties to the song “Let’s Get Retarded” and thinking nothing about it. I also remember reading books like The Lesser Blessed, but never going deeply into why it was important to read. It’s only now that I realize that there were students in my class who saw mirrors in these books. They were reading about their own lives, families, and experiences.

Growing up I fit into the ‘typical’ box. I was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, able-bodied girl who never stood out in the crowd (no matter how hard I tried). However, when I became a mother I had my first real experiences with how people who don’t fit that ‘typical’ box are treated.

My son Kendrick has a Hemangioma, also known as a strawberry birthmark, that covers half of his right ear. While his birthmark doesn’t affect his health in any way, people would constantly (and still do) ask me “what’s wrong with his ear?” This was my first taste of what people who look different go through. I try not to let it bother me, but it breaks my heart knowing what my son might face for the rest of his life. Or until he chooses to have his ‘harmless’ birthmark removed. His story is the reason that I started this blog. It’s why I’ve made it my mission to spread kindness, positivity, and acceptance wherever I go! (You can read that blog post here!)

Role in teaching

As I mentioned before, diversity is not something that should be taught as a separate topic It should be a part of every lesson. Encouraging kids to consider different perspectives is valuable in every single lesson that we teach. In a primary classroom, this could be having books that present students with a variety of different cultures, families, orientations, and abilities. I personally love A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by James Oliver (in addition, all of the proceeds of this book go to charity). In an intermediate classroom, it could be in the form of cultural inquiries or role-playing activities. Older kids also enjoy trying out different sports and games from around the world, or differentiated sports like sledge hockey and wheelchair basketball.


Bully Free Zone Poster "This classroom has a zero-tolerance policy against bullying and discrimination"

Another tool for teaching diversity education is creating and enforcing a zero-tolerance policy. This should be done in collaboration with your kids whenever possible. This will help them understand and identify words, ideas, and behaviours that are inappropriate. Allowing them to openly discuss what it means to discriminate and the consequences of unacceptance and hate will help students to gain a deeper understanding of why diversity is such an important topic. When implementing a zero-tolerance policy it is extremely important as a teacher to call out and name any and all acts of bullying and discrimination as soon as they occur. Addressing and naming discrimination immediately will show students the severity of their actions and reinforce the safe atmosphere you are trying to create for everyone in your class.

In addition, a zero-tolerance policy should be accompanied by an open-door/open-mind policy. These two contracts between you and your kids are invaluable tools for creating an atmosphere of acceptance and fostering self-confidence, self-respect, and dignity in your classroom and beyond.

Bachelor of Education students at Thompson Rivers University take a stand against bullying by participating in Pink Shirt Day 2019.
TRU B.Ed. students celebrate Pink Shirt Day 2019 and take a stand against BULLYING
Mrs Mum Signature


Kymlicka, W. (2010). The rise and fall of multiculturalism? New debates on inclusion and accommodation in diverse societies. International social science journal61(199), 97-112.

van Geel, M., & Vedder, P. (2011). Multicultural attitudes among adolescents: The role of ethnic diversity in the classroom. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations14(4), 549-558.

BC’s New Curriculum, https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca

Diversity Education: Creating a Discrimination-Free Classroom

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