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Representing and Valuing Students’ Identities in the Classroom

11 Feb 2022 9:16 PM | Anonymous

Authored by Brooke Boutwell, VATESOL K-12 SIG Chair 

Every student walks into our classroom with valuable experiences and cultures that are assets to any learning environment. How teachers recognize and support our students’ identities is crucial to their developing attitudes towards education. 

These ideas are not the end-all be-all. There are so many ways to value your students. But if you’re looking for a place to start, here are a few ideas. 

Diversify your Classroom Library

Our students’ identities and experiences are diverse, therefore the literature available to students to read should be equally as diverse. Classroom libraries should consist of a variety of literature that appeals to all students. Expanding the medium available to students to include novels, magazines, picture books, graphic novels, magazines, newspapers, e-books, etc.,  not only increases the variety of information available to students, but it also increases the accessibility of literacy to students from all backgrounds. 

But don’t stop there. Does your classroom library include diverse authors? Diverse characters? Do you have linguistically diverse books available? Students need windows and mirrors in the texts they read. They need to see authors and characters that look and sound like them, and they need the opportunity to see differing perspectives than their own. When they have these options available to them in a classroom library, they have the opportunity to learn more about their own experiences, as well as empathize and understand people who have had different experiences.  

Classroom Environment & Decor

Teachers’ classrooms typically represent the culture and experience of the teacher. For example, many teachers have flags of the colleges they attended, posters of their favorite sports teams, pictures of their families, etc. While this is the teacher’s space and these items are welcomed to build relationships with students and spark potential connections, it is vital to remember that the classroom is not just a space for teachers. Our classrooms are also our students’ safe space. Their identities need to be reflected on the walls as well. 

Take a minute to look around your classroom. Ask yourself, does my space make ALL students feel like they belong? Some potential ways to make improvements in this area are to include anchor charts and posters that are both culturally and linguistically diverse. Do you have the traditional Rosie the Riveter poster on your wall in your social studies classroom? Did you know there is a “Si Se Puede” version available too? Maybe you have a quote on the wall of your English classroom. Ask one of your multilingual learners to translate the quote into their home language and make a poster if they feel comfortable. This is a great way to include students in the process of creating an equitable environment where students see people who look and sound like them. The more welcome and celebrated students feel in the classroom, the more likely they are to feel comfortable taking risks in the classroom. 

Connect with Parents & Community

Most schools harp on parent and community engagement, yet it tends to constantly be an area of weakness. Many educators and administrators find themselves asking how they can get parents more involved. While I do not have the perfect answer, and every school is going to be different, here are some areas to consider when discussing parent and community involvement in your own setting. 

Do you have multilingual learners in your classroom? Do you have former multilingual learners in your classroom? Do you have students who were never identified as multilingual learners, but their parents speak another language at home? Identifying and honoring the language parents prefer to be contacted in is not only required by law, but it is also a huge step in forming relationships with parents. This information is usually found on the Home Language Survey, but if you are not sure, ask your students. This information is crucial for all teachers to know, so making a list at the beginning of the year and distributing it to staff would be beneficial. There are many translation and interpretation services available, from Voiance to Talking Points. Whichever service you or your school uses, make sure all staff and parents are familiar with using the technology. 

Connect with parents and the community by making them a part of your lessons. Do you include families and the community in your teaching? In a COVID-19 world, this can be challenging, but there are options to include guest speakers through video chat platforms. Invite family members to participate as guest speakers to support the content or language you are teaching. Are you discussing a societal or global topic? Invite someone with firsthand experience to come talk about it. 

Students don’t walk into a school and leave their identities at home. We must advocate and continuously look for ways to connect with our students and celebrate their diversity. 

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