Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word ‘diversity’?
Most people will come up with a variety of answers, which may include race, gender, economic background or even neurodiversity. As educators, we must first be able to recognize diversity when we see it (which isn’t always obvious), and then work to both embrace it and manage the challenges posed by it. Classrooms are becoming more and more diverse as international travel and the ability to work overseas become easier, migration increases, and neurodiversity becomes easier to diagnose. The cost of living crisis has also hit schools hard, and we are seeing more children coming to class without the tech tools that some of their more affluent peers may have, or even basic essentials such as stationary.
Today, I’ve invited Kiara Miller from The Speakingnerd to share her ideas on how teachers can respond to the unique challanges present within diverse classrooms.
This blog post has been beautifully illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati
Accompanying podcast episode:
Diversity is a growing reality of the modern world. Whether it’s in the education sector, communities, the workplace, or political realm, the age of diversity is here to stay. Diversity generally refers to the state of varying dimensions.
Diversity commonly captures the differences among people (i.e. culturally, politically, socially, and religion-wise among other aspects). Diversity also takes into consideration age, social background, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, race, and belief differences among people. Like in any other area of life, diversity in education presents administrators with both opportunities and challenges.
Diversity in the classroom is an excellent avenue for teaching the immensity of the world we live in. When students are introduced to the vastness of the world we live in, they learn to embrace differences at the personal, regional, national, and global levels. They also attain better insights and skills.
Diversity in the classroom can exist due to varying intellectual abilities or learning disabilities, interpersonal or social skills, beliefs, and language differences. Diversity in educational institutions, including universities, isn’t a myth due to a range of factors like globalization, technological advancements, and scalability goals.
However, despite the fact that the world is now a global village, diversity presents a range of issues. Within classrooms, diversity cultivates several challenges for teachers, and these include the following:
#1: Complex disciplinary issues
Diversity in the classroom can cultivate a new set of disciplinary issues. Their complexity can also exacerbate due to equality and inclusion problems in the educational institution, or even the fixed-mindset nature of school leadership. Some teachers may find it difficult to manage learners of diverse backgrounds, gender, religion, and different languages.
It can significantly worsen behavioral issues and also lead to teacher burnout. In situations like this, teachers who lack emotional intelligence and professional agility may find it hard to prevent and control disciplinary issues.
Leaders, on the other hand, must check their leadership styles in order to exercise authority as per the extent of diversity. There are different leadership theories and understanding plus assessing their efficacy can help teachers manage diversity effectively. The most common disciplinary issues in a diverse classroom may be aggression, bullying, disrespect, and defiance.
In these situations, teachers need to exercise excellent overall behaviour management skills and communicate regularly with heads of phase, line managers, senior leadership, school counsellors and even parents to gather information and respond appropriately to what may turn out to be a range of evolving scenarios.
#2: Communication and language issues
With the fact that students may come from different backgrounds and nationalities, there may be a language barrier. It may be difficult for teachers to communicate with students from other regions or nations. With such communication inefficiencies, it becomes difficult for students to understand the concepts in the classroom.
It will also require a teacher to leverage creative teaching strategies that can help learners comprehend material better. On the other hand, foreign students may find it hard to communicate their needs or attain the help they need. This can trigger feelings of loneliness and depression in students.
#3: Observance of holidays
Diversity in a classroom requires a proper approach to inclusion. Failure can trigger feelings of injustice and poor conduct among students. This means that the institution must ensure they celebrate cultural and belief differences. For example, it must recognize official public holidays like Christmas, Independence Day and others. This helps to prevent student outrage.
#4: Teamwork and collaboration difficulties
Diversity in the classroom also impacts teamwork and collaboration. Differences among students can either help them learn how to collaborate or they can prevent them from working together. This can present complications in teaching such students as they may not be willing to interact with others in order to attain new insights. In this case, students become highly teacher dependent. In the long run, it increases pressure on the teacher’s side.
#5: Individual differences
Diversity in the classroom can increase the likelihood of individual differences. Students may fail to recognize and respect each other due to their race, culture, or ethnic orientation. Such differences can affect communication and collaboration in a classroom. It may also prevent students from conducting group assignments or collaborating during extra co-curricular activities. This can hinder progress and academic achievement.
Managing Diversity in the Classroom
Diverse classrooms require a unique art of classroom management whether at K-12, college, or vocational level. Diversity challenges are surely predicted to increase and their management may prove difficult in case educators aren’t professionally trained in this area. A lack of professional experience in managing diverse classroom environments can increase behavioral issues and also affect students’ academic performance.
Diversity management in classrooms requires a range of guidelines to be set and followed. First and foremost, the educational institution must be open to equality and inclusion. Equality and inclusion in educational institutes are fundamental for creating a positive learning environment.
Generally, an environment that can help students learn, share ideas, collaborate and cultivate quality networks is the goal. Additionally, there should be programs to help students learn the common language to improve communication. That should be emphasized before joining an educational institution or within the first few months of commencement.
Besides that, there should be no partiality or favoritism. School rules and policies must apply to all students to ensure respect for all cultures and individuals. With this, chances of disciplinary issues will be reduced and teachers will be able to manage classrooms better.