Promoting Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the ClassroomJanuary 12, 2022
Empowering Student Voice
For English teacher Gina Benz in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, writing is an ultimate form of self-expression. So it’s no surprise that she centers her DEI approach around instilling strong reading and writing skills in her students. “I see my work as helping students hear each other’s stories and tell their own,” Gina says. “When we listen closely to each other’s stories, everything changes.” Identifying herself as a “middle-class white woman from middle America,” Gina is keenly aware of her responsibility to learn about her students’ cultures and experiences and ensure that they are represented in her lessons. Gina’s situation is not unique: She is among the 98% of white teachers in her district, while about 60% of the students are white. National trends show similar disparities, which is one of the reasons why Gina became actively involved in her district’s Teacher Pathway program. The program, which provides mentors to high schoolers who want to pursue a career in education, is helping to diversify the local teacher force by recruiting students from underrepresented races and cultures.
Gina’s Advice for Taking Action
Include diverse cultures and perspectives in your lessons. Representation matters. Be intentional and careful in selecting literature. Does it have diverse characters? A diversity of opinions? Put yourself in your students’ shoes: Would they feel included? Would they be able to resonate with the experiences or lessons shared in the texts?
Create a welcoming environment for self-expression and understanding. Words are powerful. The more students read and write, the more confident and assertive they will be in school and life. Help students find their voice through literature, texts and personal stories. Encourage them to communicate their thoughts and feelings and learn from one another. Having a safe space for students to express themselves helps you become a more reflective teacher. “I try to live out the late [educator and author] Stephen Covey’s advice to seek to understand before seeking to be understood,” Gina says. “I listen and acknowledge that my students are my best teachers.”
Enrich your DEI education outside of school. There is a treasure trove of resources to deepen your education of diversity, equity and inclusion. Read books, watch movies, listen to podcasts and participate in webinars, lectures and other local events or activities. (See Gina’s recommendations at the end of this article.)
Don’t miss any new articles and updates from Milken Educator Awards: