Representation matters in the classroom more than most of us consciously think about. This concept shapes our learning spaces and provides an environment that allows students to see themselves being accepted and successful. This post is guest written by former teacher, of African American descent but more important, she is someone who has taught me so much when it comes to equity in the classroom. Join us as we seek to explore the profound impact of representation on students and why fostering inclusivity is the key to unlocking a richer, more meaningful educational experience for all. Let’s get into it!
Take A Walk With Me
Imagine being a six year old on your first day of first grade. You are full of excitement, mixed with a bit of nervousness, wondering what friends you’ll meet. You get in class and EVERYONE, with the exception of one kid, looks like you. Read aloud time is your favorite time of the day because the books remind you of your family and friends. It’s so much fun to learn about amazing people who have done great things. You learn the story of how our land was discovered, in a “fun light way”, all about founding fathers, and inventors of all kinds. Seeing pictures of people such as Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, you think to yourself that one day that could be you. School has inspired you to grow up to be anything you want to be.
Now imagine being that one exception kid. You are also full of the jitterbugs, wondering who will be in your class and what your teacher will be like. However, during attendance, you look around and realize no one shares your brown skin, not even your teacher. You participate in icebreaker activities and realize you are pretty much the “cultured oddball” of your class. You take deep breaths and tell yourself it’s okay. We’re all here to learn and you are sure your teacher will talk about all different types of people and countries and maybe you’ll get to teach about your culture too!
A few weeks go by and it’s been noticed that none of the book characters share your skin color or culture representations. When you’re taught about “the greats” in various subjects, they all have fair skin. You start to think, “Where are all ‘the greats’ of my people?”. February rolls around and you FINALLY get a taste of color! You learn about some pretty awesome people that look like you, their accomplishments and stories of them overcoming adversity. But all month long that seems to be the central message. Anytime someone stands up against something wrong, they are put in jail or killed. We learn about slavery and unequal rights. It’s a constant loop of no justice and no peace. It becomes disheartening and you start to think you aren’t capable of amounting to anything.
The saddest part of these two scenarios is that they are happening all over our country in our classrooms right now. The truth of the matter is that representation in our classrooms is lacking and it’s impacting our students, ESPECIALLY our black and brown children. We have the power to change it though and we owe it to our students to do so. The best part is, the first step in using our power can be as simple as sprucing up your classroom library, incorporating cultured decor on your walls, or talking to your administration about hiring a diverse staff. Let me tell you just WHY this is so important.
Johns Hopkins University did a study on the likelihood of college enrollment for our sweet black students. This study reported that “Black students are 13 percent more likely to enter college if they had at least one black teacher by the third grade. The likelihood of college enrollment more than doubles to 32 percent for black students with at least two black teachers in elementary school, according to the study.” Why did that number double? Because those children SAW those teachers everyday and starting imagining what they could do in their own future. If those teachers went to college and became a teacher, I can do that too. If students are constantly learning about amazing engineers, inventors, or activists that have made major contributions in our world, and they look like them, they begin to believe they can accomplish anything.
We Must Look At The Hard Facts
Most spaces are dominated by white culture. That’s a fact. Other races wouldn’t be called minorities if it wasn’t. “A 2018 Pew Research report notes that only 20 percent of educators across the country come from minority backgrounds. The data points to a lack of representation in schools.” If our staff isn’t diverse, your spaces aren’t diverse, but the students in your classrooms are- we have a big problem. We as adults know all too well that our environment shapes a lot of who we are. It can have a positive or negative effect on the expectations we later hold for ourselves and others around us. We should do our part to make sure the environments we set up shows people from ALL backgrounds as strong, loving, creative and connected human beings.
It’s A Start
So what can we do as educators? First, we acknowledge and understand how important representation is. Kids dress up and dream who they want to be. So show them the world and all the beautiful people in it. We can do that through literature. Reading is one of the most important building blocks of life in my opinion. Books opens up doors and possibilities for endless imagination. They challenge us to think and see things from different perspectives. Reading gives new knowledge and allows us to experience various lives, places, hardships, and lessons- all without leaving our seat.
Spruce up your library with diverse books. Be sure the diverse books are written by diverse authors. Read aloud stories with characters that are of all colors, abilities, and genders. Take note of the cultures represented in front of you and make it a point to get books that reflect them. If you can’t afford to buy all the diverse books your heart desires, utilize your libraries. They are an amazing resource because they are FREE and they are able to get books from other libraries if they don’t have what you’re looking for. You can also create projects through Donors Choose. If you don’t know where to start on where to find books, here are some great resources to check out:
Charnaie over at Here Wee Read or @hereweeread on Instagram
Vera at The Tutu Teacher or @diversereads on Instagram
The Tiny Activists or @thetinyactivists on Instagram
Creating an inclusive space is another important piece of making sure kids are represented. When you look around your room, the decor on your walls should reflect the languages and cultures of the kids in your class. Don’t know what to put up exactly? Ask your students! Get your student’s families involved. Again, utilize your resources. When it comes to curriculum, do your research before blindly teaching something that may be untrue or has crucial information that has been omitted. If you realize that your curriculum isn’t inclusive, supplement it with great resources that again are from diverse authors. Branch out and teach about people you haven’t heard of so that you too can learn more because that’s what life is all about- learning. If you need a start on where to find some great curriculum resources or diverse decor here are some starters:
Monique at It’s Monique’s World or @itsmoniquesworld on Instagram
Naomi over at Read Like A Rockstar or @readlikearockstar on Instagram
LaNesha at Education With An Apron or @aproneducation on Instagram
The last thing I can encourage is to be an advocate. Stand up for the minorities that aren’t represented in your spaces. Use your voice to be an ally. Staff in all spaces, but especially in education, should be diverse. If your school is ANY percent African American, Native American, Indian, Asian, etc, then the teachers and administrators should also be of that demographic. Help create changes by bringing up these topics in professional development meetings. Hold your principal accountable for hiring individuals that represent your learners. Decorate the school campus to be an inclusive and welcoming place for all. Host cultural nights for the community. Educate yourself and spread the knowledge. Your students’ futures depend on it.
Before I go, I want to say thank you for taking the time to read this blog. The dedication to this avenue of knowledge is crucial for the future of our country. If you are doing the work to be an anti racist, I say thank you and keep it up. It’s not an easy or short road but it HAS to be done.
I truly hope you enjoyed reading about why representation matters so much and how you can help impact your students. Be sure to check me out on Instagram @princefamilytravel. Don’t forget to subscribe to the email list! Not only will you get the most up to date tips, tricks, and classroom projects… and of course more fun FREEBIES including the I Am Enough Affirmation FREEBIE!
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