Schools are places where children spend a majority of their day, interacting with their peers and teachers. This is an important learning ground for them to develop not only academic skills but also interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence. For this to happen an environment of care and concern, where students can feel safe and are willing to share their thoughts without the fear of being bullied for having different experiences and perspectives, is required.
As teachers, we are the main facilitators in creating these environments that are conducive to our student’s ultimate success, it is a powerful position with long lasting effects. Research has shown that students who feel safe and secure in their school environment will share more and achieve better overall.
Our classrooms can be seen as an extension of ourselves, not only the way it looks but also the behavior and language we allow to take place in this area. Having an anti-bais classroom culture requires us to not only focus on the small things like learning to pronounce every student name correctly but also the bigger things like meaningful cultural discussions and understandings.
This, for example, would not really foster a positive classroom environment for students of any age:
So how can we do this?
Honoring student experiences
As teachers, we need to understand our students and the communities they are from. We can do this by doing virtual or real tours in the community led by students, giving them the opportunity to introduce themselves to the rest of the class. Student parent meetings can be a great source of information about your students so make the most of it. As a teacher, you should be sharing with your students as well, so they can learn from you and form strong relationships based on trust.
2. A classroom set up and structure that is thoughtful
This not only looks at the physical classroom itself but also the roles students play in the class and the norms. Look at how your classroom is arranged, the decorations and think what impression students will receive when they first walk in. In my own classroom, I have a flexible setup that allows me to rearrange the class easily according to the type of lesson/activity. Student’s work decorates the walls and there is not a big emphasis on specific genders, making it easy for all students to feel at ease.
3. Social and emotional safety of students
When students come are from diverse backgrounds and cultures conflict is bound to happen if they are not taught empathy and understanding from day 1. In m4u1a2 we looked at some strategies for bullying and what the teacher’s role should be, it is essential that all teacher become experts in this area. Overall conflict resolution should be meaningful and challenge biases and stereotypes. Ways we can do this include student contracts, including anti-bullying lessons in the curriculum and ensuring that we draw material for lesson plans from a vast pool of cultures to enrich students understandings of each other.
4. Values-based behavior management
When we address our student’s behavior just being firm is not always enough, we need to use these situations to grow and build students into a better community. Understanding the cultural differences of your students will go a long way in helping you with values-based behavior management. I like the idea of “Zero Indifference” but not Zero Tolerance from the Teaching tolerance project. It addresses both the bystanders as well as the perpetrators making everyone accountable for their actions.
As teachers, there is a multitude of approaches to ensuring this and endless resources available on the internet for us to use. We should be challenging ourselves daily and understand that our classrooms are ever changing. Reach out to others and build networks, take part in professional development clinics, so that you can be better for your students.
Most if not all people have been on the receiving end of a stereotype, prejudice or bias at one time or another. Very often these experience are extremely unpleasant, whether they were intentional or not. So as teachers we should intervene whenever possible, have teachable moments ready for both children and adults. Use visual symbols of inclusion and safety to remind students and adults eg. “Bully free zone”.
Anti-bullying and anti-bias teaching can and should extend beyond the classroom. Having a school or community-wide environment that is free of those things, will only be possible if teachers take the lead with initiatives like sharing strategies or having discussions about social justice education.
I am a white, female from South Africa and lucky that I was raised in a multi-cultural environment. However, I still have biases and being aware of that in the classroom setting is very important. Knowing that what applies to one setting does not necessarily transfer to the next has been crucial to my classroom experiences here in Sout Korea. This video really helped me to understand that bias is a spectrum and not something you have or don’t have and that we can shift our spot on that spectrum.
(Warning: Some explicit language).
Keep learning, keep changing, Keep challenging yourself and others in a positive way.
- C. (2012, October 17). Key & Peele – Substitute Teacher. Retrieved February 23, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dd7FixvoKBw&t=3s
- M. (2017, February 01). We All Have Racial Bias. Retrieved February 23, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJfbKj1vYsQ
- Tolerance, T. (n.d.). Critical Practices for Anti-Bias Education. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from http://www.tolerance.org/sites/default/files/general/PDA%20Critical%20Practices_0.pdf