Creating a multicultural school and classroom.

We are seeing waves of immigrants and refugees arriving on our Canadian soil, and as families arrive, we are registering a more and more diverse generation of children into our schools. How do we address everyone’s cultural differences, while helping our new students appreciate our North American culture?

I’m currently taking an Additional Qualifications course on teaching English Language Learners (ELL). This week, we focused on welcoming our newcomers into our schools and classrooms and how we can help them with their orientation into their new home. In Canada, we pride ourselves in being a cultural mosaic; however, what exactly does this mean for our hallways, our classrooms, our way of life as Canadians?

Here are some of the strategies I thought of while working on one of our weekly assignments. There are certainly more, but I stuck with pointing out key points that I feel we as a community need to work on.

  • Display art, posters, signs, etc. from a variety of cultures to create an environment where diversity is celebrated. Doing so will explicitly express the principle that the school appreciates and admires our differences. I find however that there is never enough emphasis placed on this aspect of creating an inclusive environment. Oftentimes, schools would opt to displaying posters that quote the necessity of diversity; yet the visuals stop there. Clearly, there needs to be more substantial examples of diversity.
  • Our readings suggested appointing only one student ambassador for the class; I would suggest training your whole class to be ambassadors of new students. This shares the responsibility of welcoming newcomers with the class as a whole and creates a community of helpers. Perhaps we could try this at the beginning of our school year; and once this is established, we can choose different students to be ambassadors for the same student at different times, and every student will have the opportunity to feel responsible for taking care of their peers.
  • Incorporate diversity in the various subjects taught: artists, scientists, mathematicians, linguists, politicians, etc. This should be done to show our students the global picture of contribution to the world’s progress. Too often, we make use of the same icons over and over again to discuss our subject matters, but our students deserve a broader perspective. Examples: Einstein, the German Jew, was not the only genius in science and math. The French and the English were not the only explorers, though they were the ones to colonize Canada. There was more to Japan in World War II than the atomic bombs that were dropped. Martin Luther King Jr. was not the only ethnic person in North America to battle racism. The list goes on.
  • Most personally fundamental for educators is that we must make it a habit to learn about the different cultures of our students, and to integrate our curiosity into a part of our way of life. We can make use of the strategies above in an attempt to teach our students about diversity, but if we do not take the time to personally embody the values of acceptance and appreciation, our students will never learn those values from us, because then we are not genuinely living them day-to-day. I have witnessed teachers teach lessons with Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, which is beautiful; however, that’s where the diversity and lessons of peace end. And so I don’t feel that this is enough. There needs to be more substance within the classroom culture, and within the teacher’s view of diversity.

Questions? Thoughts?