Teaching Tolerance isn’t just a great habit for your classroom, it’s also one of our favorite teaching blogs. As a project created by the Southern Poverty Law Center, it’s a great way of learning how you can incorporate more empathy and diversity in the classroom. Inspired by their work, we’d like to share these five tips for teaching tolerance in your classroom.
A lot of teachers groan when it comes time to decorate the classroom because it seems like such a low return on the time and effort invested. But putting up positive messages in your classroom can do a lot more than improve the color scheme. You can include messages encouraging diversity, tolerance, acceptance and making your classroom a safe space. Making your classroom comfortable and accepting as a physical space can help students who are struggling in their personal lives, especially students who have become victims of bullying.
When major events fill people with emotions, like the way that the result of a presidential election can, it can make the classroom a very emotionally-charged place. One of the best things you can do after a major event is to create a space where everyone can acknowledge those emotions and ask questions freely while moderating the discussion. You can also connect the events to literature and other texts to help students build emotional intelligence.
It’s easy for parents and students to get up in arms over politically-charged events and debates, and while you may not be able to talk frankly about your own political leanings, you can at least clarify the meanings of certain words or concepts that are prevalent in the national discussion. For example, some students today may have trouble understanding what it means when a city is a “Sanctuary City”, and helping explain what those are can help the student make an independent decision and keep discussions civil.
Some students will probably speak out of turn or act rudely even when you’re trying to create a safe space in class, but by engaging with the student directly in a mindful, non-judgmental way, you can bring more empathy into your classroom. Many teachers consider Empathy as the antidote to bullying, and there’s data to back that up. You can bring more empathy into your teaching by encouraging critical thinking and self-reflection.
Most students, and in fact most people, see themselves as the underdog in their lives and helping the class understand the nature of that vulnerability can make a safer space for your students.
This is much easier said than done, and more of a reminder than a tip. But students are always watching your example, and for every one student that asks a question that might frustrate you, there are four who wished they had spoken up to ask that question too. Remembering to practice empathy and patience isn’t easy, but putting in the effort will pay off by helping your students understand tolerance and making your classroom a safe space. We may not like it, but teachers are leaders to millions of students every day, and we can create a higher standard of behavior by showing students how to treat others with respect and sympathy.
Do you have any favorite stories about teaching tolerance in the classroom? Any posts or articles that you’d like to share on the subject? Feel free to share in the comments!