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6 Ways Your Child Can Benefit From Classroom Diversity

When we hear the word diversity, most of us tend to think only about race or ethnicity. But diversity comes in many shapes and forms: gender, socio-economic status, religion, even learning styles [6].  Each of those things makes us different and gives us the opportunity to teach others something new. In this article, we’ll look at the enormous benefits your child can gain as part of a diverse classroom.

School is for Learning

The main purpose of sending children to school is to allow them to learn. But we tend to think inside the box when it comes to learning. We immediately think about science, English, or psychology – that’s what my kid will be studying at school, right? Of course, but that’s not where the list ends. They’ll also gain important knowledge about the way the world works: by mingling among other children, your child can become better at communicating, understanding different people and different points of view; they can learn to be more relaxed and confident in different situations. And what better place to do that than in a diverse classroom?

How Does Diversity Make it Different?

You might be asking yourself – but wouldn’t they be learning all those things just as well in a homogenous classroom? Won’t they still get to hear a lot of different opinions and learn some important social skills?

Not quite.

While it’s true that any sort of interaction with others will aid your child in developing their social skills, the extent to which they’ll do that depends largely on their environment. Imagine this: it’s the first day of school. Your son comes back home, delighted to tell you all about his new friends. It turns out they’re all boys of the same race, same ethnicity, same religion, whose parents make roughly the same amount of money you do, living in the same neighborhood, listening to the same music, reading the same books. It’s perfect friendship!

But fast forward a couple of years.  You might start noticing that your child is having a hard time dealing with conflict, differences of opinion, and adapting to new situations. This could well be because they have never experienced anything different from what they’ve known their whole life. And as they grow up, there will be more and more of these situations, and the more your child is familiar with them, the easier it will be for them to navigate their way through this ever-changing world.

Not only that, but they’ll also be able to get a more complete perspective on any challenging situation if they are aware of all the different opinions a person can have in a given situation. This will help them when it comes to solving real-life problems by finding more (and better) solutions.

What Else Can be a Benefit?

Besides developing social skills important for the future, this is what your child can also learn in a diverse classroom:

  1. Empathy and Tolerance
  2. Feeling Safe
  3. Cultural Understanding
  4. Political Involvement
  5. Gender Equality

Empathy and Tolerance

Since the beginnings of civilization, there have been stereotypes. But the main thing that allowed those stereotypes to spread was the fact that different nations were separated by very strong borders, and there wasn’t nearly as much mingling as there is today.

In psychology, there is something called contact theory [2]. This theory has been proven time and time again, and the idea is this: (negative) stereotypes can be broken if different groups come into direct contact with one another, but only if:

  1. That contact occurs on the basis of equality
  2. in a setting that offers common experiences and objectives, and
  3. it happens frequently and intensively [2].

You may have already noticed that the classroom setting can provide all three of the necessary conditions [2]. This means that it’s a perfect place for different groups of children to come into contact and begin to understand one another. Once that happens, they’ll be able to develop tolerance for those different from them, and also empathy.

Empathy means being able to feel exactly the way someone else feels. You would probably agree that the more we understand someone, the easier it becomes for us to “walk in their shoes”. The basis of almost any large-scale conflict today is the fact that we don’t understand one another. We cannot connect to those of different origin, skin color, or religion because we don’t know what they are like outside of our TV screens and what  politicians tell us. So why not prevent all that misunderstanding simply by allowing our children to develop friendships in a context of diversity?

Feeling Safe

Did you know that students report feeling much safer in school and life in general, if they have been educated in diverse classrooms [6]?

This shouldn’t come as a surprise – we don’t fear what we’re familiar with. We would feel more scared going into anyone else’s house and finding it completely in the dark, rather than going into our own unlit house. We would have no trouble feeling for the light switch and walking in complete darkness from room to room.

It’s the same with people different from us, and I don’t just mean of different ethnicity. Up until the end of the 18th century, it was believed that atypically developing people were a danger to society and should be confined. But today, in the 21st century, we’ve adopted the principle of Integrated Classrooms, and thanks to that, many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder can go to regular classes with their typically developing classmates. And it’s not only beneficial for children who deal with ADHD and ASD to interact with their typically developing peers [1], but it can also be beneficial for their peers as well.

However, that didn’t just happen overnight. It took a lot of explaining and contact with those developing atypically to understand that the more they interact with other people, the better off they will be and the more they can be helped. From fear, we went to understanding and love. We started feeling safe among those different from us, because we had the opportunity to see them and talk with them.

Cultural Understanding

The only way to truly understand a different culture is to talk with someone who comes from that culture. Just look at all the craze for Japanese anime that’s taken hold in recent years. There are some who conflate anime with traditional Japanese culture and style themselves accordingly – in dress, mannerisms, etc. But if you were to describe these people’s actions to the people of Japan, they’d very clearly assure you they are not remotely like that. Reading books and watching movies about different cultures is a great alternative, but nothing beats genuine human contact.

If your child decides at some point in their life to go overseas for studies, work, or for any other reason, they’ll fit in much more easily if they’ve been in contact with different cultures prior to their departure. But if all they have ever known is people similar to them, they are bound to experience “culture shock” – and adapting to their new apartment or workplace will be that much more difficult.

Political Involvement

Studies as well as personal experiences of teachers, show that if the teacher is willing to let the class discuss different political issues, the number of people engaged in the conversation and the variety of different opinions will be much greater if the classroom is diverse [5]. If everyone comes from the same background, there isn’t much to discuss – everyone more or less agrees on the same points and they don’t go too much further than that.. But this approach is what tends to lead to people not being interested and not understanding the current political climate, and, as a result, often not voting. It is much better for a country’s political health if everyone is involved, not just a handful of people with the same opinions. If we can discuss different issues with one another, we’ll be able to learn more, understand more, challenge ourselves and the others’ opinions, and arrive at much better ideas and conclusions.

And who knows, maybe that’s what will prompt your kid to one day run for president!

Gender Equality

Speaking of running for president, isn’t it about time more women ran? Skeptics might say, “but that’s just because women aren’t interested in politics and don’t have that much experience!” Such false assumptions clearly indicate the necessity for more discussion and encouragement about individual life choices while we’re growing up, and our schools need to support questioning of outdated gender stereotypes and challenge us to try doing things differently [8].

Attitudes can change if we talk to each other more. Research tells us that friendships tend to develop between same sexes, same socio-economic backgrounds, same ethnicity, same race [4]. How does that allow us to grow, then? If boys spend time with boys and girls with girls with no contact up until the age they’re looking for romantic relationships, how will we understand and support each other?

We could start with extracurricular activities – book clubs, political clubs, sports clubs, IT clubs. They are a great way to promote more contact between genders, ethnicities – all kinds of differences, really. It makes it easier to realize the discrepancies we’re a part of and start working on making them better [4]. How can we teach our girls to shoot for the stars and our boys to be respectful, if all they’ve ever known is the company of one gender? That’s how we separate children into groups, and that’s how they learn to identify themselves with their gender, instead of their humanity.

Final Advice

A report from 2012 noted that  “80% of Latino students and 74% of black students attend majority non-white schools” [5]. It would be a mistake to assume that everyone would feel better surrounded by like-minded people. Only if we talk with people from different backgrounds and opinions, can we learn to be more accepting, more understanding, more creative, and even create better opportunities for ourselves. And while this shouldn’t just be the case in classrooms, classrooms are an ideal place to start.

So my advice for you as a parent is: don’t shy away from diversity. Don’t force it, but inspire your child to support those different from them. Inspire them to learn from others. After all, “the friend of my friend is a friend” is especially true when it comes to schools: if one child is making friends among other ethnicities and learning styles, their friends will start doing that, too. And one by one, we may even reach the day when this article becomes completely unnecessary, because everyone is friends with everyone [4].

One child said it best: “There are a lot of ways things and people could be misunderstood. In order to eliminate them, we must be listeners and learners” [3].

 

References:

  1. Chan, J.M. & O’Reilly, M.F. (2008). A Social Stories Intervention Package for Students with Autism in Inclusive Classrooms. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, Vol.41, 3, pp. 405-409.
  2. Janmaat, J.G. (2012).  The effect of classroom diversity on tolerance and participation in England, Sweden and Germany. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Vol.38, 1, pp. 21-39
  3. Lee, J.J. & Hoadley, C.M. (2006). Ugly in a World Where You Can Choose to be Beautiful”:Teaching and Learning About Diversity via Virtual Worlds. Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Learning Sciences, pp. 383-389.
  4. Moody,  J. (2001). Race, School Integration, and Friendship Segregation in America. American Journal of Sociology, Vol.107, 3, pp. 679-716.
  5. https://blog.ed.gov/2016/04/the-value-of-classroom-diversity/
  6. https://online.queens.edu/online-programs/medl/resources/benefits-of-diversity-in-school
  7. https://www.millennialdialogue.com/blog/the-gender-gap-in-political-interest
  8. https://www.vox.com/mischiefs-of-faction/2017/4/10/15239998/womens-representation-congress-america

 

4 SOCIAL/EMOTIONAL SKILLS YOU CAN EASILY PRACTICE WITH TEENS

Whether you are a parent or work directly with teens, here you can read about some concrete social/emotional skills and useful activities that can help teens practice them. We will cover basic information about Listening skills, Assertiveness, Emotional awareness, and Nonverbal communication.

Why practice social/emotional skills?

Whether we call them soft skills, social/emotional skills, social/emotional intelligence or growth mindset, there is a consensus among researchers and practitioners that we need certain abilities to achieve our fullest potential at school, in our professional careers, and in our private lives. These abilities help us recognize and manage our emotions, cope with obstacles and life challenges, and enhance communication skills and good interpersonal relations (including empathy).

According to an analysis of longitudinal studies in nine OECD countries published in Skills for Social Progress: The Power of Social and Emotional Skills by OECD in 2015:

“Children’s capacity to achieve goals, work effectively with others and manage emotions will be essential to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

Besides acknowledging the importance of social/emotional skills such as perseverance, sociability, and self-esteem, the report discusses how policy-makers, schools, and families facilitate the development of social/emotional skills through intervention programs, teaching, and parenting practices.

All these abilities are interrelated and their development starts at home and continues throughout the school years. If parents and important adults show a high level of social/emotional maturity, it will be easier for kids to acquire these abilities simply by modeling their behavior.

However, it is always useful when children and teens have a chance to practice social/emotional skills under the guidance of experienced adults. The best case scenario is when programs for enhancing social/emotional skills are an integral part of an educational system and a local community’s initiatives.

Below, we will look at some important social/emotional skills and suggest simple activities for practicing them, adjusted to teens.

1. Social communication skill – Listening

Being able to hear what people are really saying is a valuable communication skill that has a major impact on the quality of our relations with others. You’ve probably already heard about Active Listening, a skill that allows us to hear not only the words people are saying but also the emotions they are reflecting through their nonverbal behavior. Both are important in understanding the whole message being communicated.

This is a complex skill that can be practiced. In the following activity, the focus is on practicing concentration; listening to the verbal message with undivided attention. You can practice this activity with a group of teens in your home, in the classroom or in a workshop.

Instruction

Firstly, ask all the participants to sit in a circle. The first person starts to tell a story (whatever he/she wants). After 3-5 sentences, say “stop” and randomly choose another participant to continue. This person now has to repeat the last sentence said and then continue making up the story. If he cannot correctly repeat the last sentence after five seconds, he is disqualified. The game continues with the same rules and the winner is the last person remaining after everybody else is disqualified.

This is the competitive version of the game. However, you can make up your own version, without disqualifications or adding new elements that you find useful.

Have a discussion

Ask participants to reflect on the game. When and how was their attention distracted? What helped them concentrate and remember the previous sentence? Check out our forthcoming online training Let’s Make a Deal – active listening is one of the objectives!

2. Social communication skill – Assertiveness

Assertiveness, as a style of communication, is characterized by the ability to directly and confidently express our genuine opinion, feelings, or attitudes, such that the rights of others and social circumstances are respected.

It is proven that assertiveness affects our self-esteem and self-confidence, so there’s no doubt that practicing assertiveness is useful for teens. It is a complex skill that can be acquired through a training program led by a trained coach/therapist. However, some aspects of assertiveness can be practiced through simple exercises at home and in a school setting.

Maybe the most important point is to assure teens that it’s okay to claim their rights and to ask, to initiate, to express their opinions and feelings. That it’s okay to say NO to other people in a respectful way.

In this exercise, the focus will be on encouraging teens to initiate a conversation in which they will ask something of others and express their opinion or feelings. It can be practiced as social challenges given to teens either by their parents or teachers.

Instruction

Firstly, a list of social challenges is created, taking into consideration a teen’s age or social needs. Challenges can be written down/printed on separate cards. If given consent to take part in the challenge, a teen takes a random card and his task is to do what is required on the card in the next 24 hours or over several days, as you jointly arrange.

Challenges can be practiced once a week or according to whatever schedule you agree upon.

Examples of social challenges:

  • Give an honest compliment to someone.
  • Learn two new things about somebody from your class.
  • Share with a friend what’s been on your mind lately.
  • Call customer service at your favorite store and ask for information about some product you like.
  • Tell your best friend what you like about him/her.
  • Ask a teacher (or a coach) for clarification of a task you didn’t understand completely.

Have a discussion

After the task is accomplished, it’s important to discuss with the teen how the particular challenge made him feel. Did he find it easy, hard, awkward, or something else? What could be alternative ways to ask, to express? How did others react?
The inspiration for this activity is taken and adjusted from the Speech Bubble SLP.

3. Emotional skill – Emotional self-awareness

We have already written about self-awareness as the basic ability to understand our own inner processes and to relate adequately with others. Emotional awareness, in this context the ability to recognize our own feelings, is the foundation of emotional intelligence.

Besides helping us be aware of our emotions, these skills are important for developing emotional intelligence, according to Daniel Goleman and his bestselling book Emotional Intelligence. Understanding why we feel a certain way and knowing how to handle these feelings, including self-motivation; the ability to recognize the feelings of others (empathy) and to motivate them – these skills are crucial to success and happiness in every aspect of our lives and in our relationships with others.

In the following activity, the focus is on getting in touch with eight emotions a teen chooses, raising awareness of how a particular emotion manifests itself, and how it affects the teen’s life. It is based on art therapy principles and is performed individually. However, it can be practiced in groups, too. You need a white paper and colored markers.

Instruction

Firstly, ask a teen to draw a circle and divide it into eight pies. Then, ask him/her to dedicate each pie to one emotion and fill in each pie with a corresponding color or images that match his/her idea of what the emotion means to him/her. It may be that a teen has a problem coming up with eight emotions. You can assist him but never choose instead of him. Don’t push if he can’t come up with eight. Work with whatever he manages to present.

Have a discussion

After the teen is done with the drawing, initiate a dialogue. You may find these questions useful: What does each image mean to you? What made you choose those particular colors? When in your life do you experience this emotion? What emotion is dominant for you nowadays? What emotion is the hardest to handle? And so on.

If a teen has a problem in coming up with emotions, you can use Plutchik’s wheel of emotion to help him recognize emotions he would like to work on.

emotions in teens

 

This exercise is taken and adjusted from the Art therapy directives BlogSpot.

4. Social/emotional skills – Understanding nonverbal communication

Good understanding of nonverbal communication is a sign of social and emotional intelligence.

The ability to observe and understand nonverbal signs during communication, or any other interaction between people, gives us tremendous information about the real message being communicated. It is especially important when we notice that the verbal message and nonverbal behavior are not harmonized. It also gives us a clue about the motives of the person we are communicating with or their emotional state.

Besides what is said, it is always important to follow HOW it is said. Basic nonverbal aspects of human behavior to be aware of include eye contact, the tone of voice, facial expression, gestures, personal distance, body language, and posture.

The following activity, based on acting and improvisation methodology, focuses on recognizing the emotional state of participants exposed to simulated social situations, through observing only their nonverbal behavior. A group is needed for this activity.

Instruction

Ask a volunteer from the group to leave the room. Separate instructions are given to him/her and to the group, who stays in the room in order to prepare for the final scene. While the volunteer is outside, each individual in the group has to choose one emotion and must express this emotion only through nonverbal behavior (acting). Remind them of the different aspects of nonverbal communication.

Meanwhile, the volunteer outside is given the task of coming up with several social situations familiar to teens such as: in class; during family dinner; on a date; at a birthday party; working on homework, etc.

Finally, when the volunteer is back to the room, he sets the scene: You’re in class (for example). All members of the group act as if they are in the classroom, including expressing their chosen emotional state nonverbally. They can use their voice but only in the form of inarticulate sounds. The volunteer observes their behavior and tries to guess how they feel. If he is confused, he can put them in another social situation (or only for fun:). The game can be repeated several times with different volunteers, emotions to guess, and social situations.

Have a discussion

After it is revealed which emotion has been presented by each member of the group, a discussion follows. You may find these questions useful: What are the main nonverbal indicators of this emotion? How did you feel while acting? Did anybody have difficulties acting in the scenes (why)? What do you usually do when you feel (this particular emotion)? What do you usually do when you recognize somebody acting like this? Was there something confusing and what? – A question to the volunteer.

Depending on available time and the goal of your group work you can go even deeper into a conversation about particular emotions. If you are interested in activities useful for teen’s emotional development, you may like this article.

If you need any kind of advice related to the social/emotional development of your teen children, you’ve come to the right place!

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