Equity in Action: How to Address Diversity and Inclusion in the Classroom

  • Dr. India White

Tips for educators, administrators, and district leaders to raise awareness of diversity and inclusion and promote greater equality within a classroom or school district.

What is Diversity

Diversity is defined as the condition of having or being composed of differing elements, especially the inclusion of people of different races, cultures, etc. in a group or organization.

One of the challenges in the world of education is the difference between the diversity of leadership and the diversity of the students. According to a DOE report, “less than one in five U.S. public school teachers - 18 percent - are individuals of color, while approximately half – 49 percent – of public elementary and secondary school students are individuals of color.”

Research shows that when there is diverse representation of teacher leadership in schools, there can be a positive and significant impact on the academic achievement for students of color. This is substantiated by the fact that a John Hopkins University economist found that “low-income black students who have at least one black teacher in elementary school are significantly more likely to graduate from high school and consider attending college.” Students need concrete role models that they can identify with and aspire to be like.

What is Inclusion

Inclusion is defined as the act of including or the state of being included. In the classroom, inclusion takes on a similar meaning. Classroom inclusion is when all ethnicities are blended within a classroom and students of diverse backgrounds work in positive collaboration with one another.

Using inclusion in the classroom benefits all learners and supports the goal of providing a safe and equitable environment for all. According to  XQ Super School, “when students from all walks of life feel included and that they are important members of the school community, they are more invested in their own education.”

Implicit vs. Explicit Biases

Let’s examine biases that may exist in the classroom by focusing on two different types: implicit and explicit biases.

According to Kendra Cherry, an implicit bias is an unconscious associate, belief, or attitude toward any social group. On the other hand, an explicit bias is a known bias.

Implicit and explicit biases can negatively impact the relationships between teachers and their students, leading to poor academic performances and less opportunities for higher learning.

When educators make decisions from biases, they can keep students of color out of classes that could promote academic achievement, (i.e. advanced placement courses, gifted courses, challenging STEM courses and more).

In order to embrace diversity and inclusion, educators should choose to remove unconscious biases that exclude students from having higher opportunities to learn. High expectations should be set for all learners and if teachers have biases, they should work to conquer those biases through unlearning and becoming uncomfortable so that they can embrace ALL students' diverse backgrounds.

5 Tips for Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in the Math Classroom

It’s important for educators to implement strategies for diversity and intentional inclusion to strengthen academic achievement and close the achievement gap. Here are some tips for promoting diversity and inclusion in the math classroom for noticeable results of academic success:

Promote students of color to leadership roles for in-class activities

Having diverse learners lead in-class activities helps students see that all students can learn. When teachers include students from all backgrounds in leadership roles, they assure that there is equal opportunity for taking risks and sharing out ideas among learners. Moreover, giving students of color a leadership role can convince them that it is okay to take a risk in math class and to be vulnerable as they climb the ladder of higher-order thinking and develop into independent thinkers.

Create assessments that highlight diversity

A. Wade Boykin from Howard University noted results favoring the performance of White students that have been consistently revealed over the last four decades from the administrations of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). In order to have a more equitable outcome for learners, create assessments that speak to diverse groups of people via word problems or projects that can help learners continue to value and appreciate people of varied ethnicities.

Work with school leaders of color to have proper ethnic representation

According to The Education Trust, students of color need leaders and educators in schools and districts to support and affirm their identities as part of a safe, thoughtful, and inclusive return to school. Students of color can feel ‘disconnected’ from the math they are learning if they do not have a role model in the field or have not been pushed by anyone to pursue math or higher education. The Center for American Progress notes that teachers of color tend to provide more culturally relevant instruction and have a better understanding of the situations that students of color may face. Hence, having a teacher of the same ethnic descent as their students can help push students toward academic success.

Encourage students to celebrate the diversity of their classmates

At times, students can be negatively influenced by societal influences to perceive diverse persons in a light that is minimizing, degrading, and or oppressive. By making positive cultural connections in the classroom, teachers can encourage students to celebrate diversity, recognizing the impact on academic achievement that will result. Remember, all races can be celebrated for the wonderful and unique attributes they offer to society. When teachers intentionally promote diversity, they advocate for students of color and support them in higher education endeavors. By creating a safe space where diversity is not tolerated, but celebrated, all learners will engage and excel academically.

Implement teamwork, whole-class activities, and group projects among diverse learners

When using groupwork and class activities, inclusion helps eliminate favoritism and biases, allowing all students the opportunity to succeed. By incorporating students' social and cultural experiences into classroom activities, students are more responsive to active learning. When teachers pair up students with similar ability and a range of ethnic backgrounds via various groups strategies and assessments (i.e. Kagan, Marzano), their efforts can produce inclusion and enhance collaboration among learners.

Embrace Diversity and Inclusion

Through the embracement of diversity and inclusion in the classroom environment, equity will be accomplished, and all students will continue to accelerate toward academic achievement. Furthermore, “students not traditionally excluded in education also benefit from inclusion. They learn valuable lessons about tolerance, patience, and the benefits of diversity.

In the report How Racially Diverse Schools and Classrooms Can Benefit All Students, Amy Stuart Wells, Lauren Fox, and Diana Cordova-Coba of Teachers College of Columbia write, “researchers have documented that students’ exposure to other students who are different from themselves and the novel ideas and challenges that such exposure brings leads to improved cognitive skills, including critical thinking and problem solving.”

Choose to incorporate diversity and inclusion on your campus and throughout your district so that all students can have a safe place for learning and can demonstrate legitimate success as a scholar. Ultimately, a diverse and inclusive culture helps form positive, open-minded, and respectful individuals both inside and outside the classroom.

About Big Ideas Learning

At Big Ideas Learning, we believe in the highest-impact teaching strategies to empower teachers inside the classroom, so we can inspire students beyond the classroom. With a singular focus in mathematics, we are uniquely qualified and committed to supporting you at every step along your mathematics journey.

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