3 Ways to Make a Diverse Class Act Like a Team

Diversity in schools and in the U.S. is not increasing, it’s exploding, thus necessitating that we teach our students to work productively with classmates who have different colored skin, are a different gender, hail from different social and cultural strata, and who generally think differently.

There are three general things teachers can do to help heterogenous classrooms prize their diversity and work as a team. . .

1- Find out who your students are outside of school.

Beyond learning which kids perform well in our classes or do not, we need to explore who they are as complex individuals. That means surveying students with interest inventories. That means seeking out students’ opinions, then listening nonjudgmentally to their answers.

Investing in relationship-building always pays off. Besides strengthening the school-home connection, teachers who make home visits can assess contributors to the learners’ academic performance. For example, crowded houses significantly harm academic achievement.

We can’t really know someone unless we’ve taken time to understand their beliefs and world views, and get a sense of how they spend their time outside of our orbit. When that investment is perceived by kids, they are more likely to mirror those behaviors with their peers.

2- Guide students in pro-social interactions.

To create a team culture, students must learn how to interact positively with each other. On the first day of class, I ask students to stand up and step over an imaginary line if they agree to respect perspectives that do not match their own. During the year, I occasionally remind classes about their pledge.

I teach my students to greet each other by looking at each other long enough to determine their peers’ eye colors. Eye contact creates feelings of intimacy. In fact, prolonged eye contact releases oxytocin—the so called “love hormone.” In other words, to really see people, you have to actually look at them.

I talk about and model social sensitivity. For instance, if I see students looking confused, or dejected, or animated, I signal that their emotional states have been observed (and that I care enough to notice). “Marcus,” I might say, “you just changed expression. I’m curious about how this topic is striking you.”

New students should always be assigned to two peer “buddies” who can speed up newbies’ access to other social groups. This conveys an important message: we look out for each other.

3- Build team culture through rituals.

This school year, I start each class by having students stand in a circle for “GNG” and briefly report on good news or something for which they are grateful. Afterwards, the entire class fist bumps (instead of shaking hands which transfers 5x the E-coli bacteria). This ritual mentally, emotionally, and physically primes them to think positively and listen supportively—like a winning team.

On day one, diverse learners rarely arrive at school feeling a great sense of comradery, but the skills for developing esprit de corp can be—and should be—learned

Todd Finley

Edutopia Blogger and Asst. Editor || ECU Ed Professor || Founder of Todd's Brain at www.todd-finley.com || Books: Dinkytown Braves and Rethinking Classroom Design.

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