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Teaching Strategies to Create Respect of Differences

Janelle Cox

We live in a diverse world, and teaching strategies that instruct our students how to respect differences is essential. Now more than ever, our society is aware of the various dimensions of diversity. Our students see this firsthand in school where their classmates can be much different than they are. Some children may be raised by two parents of the same sex, or others may be raised from a single parent, or a parent who is a non-English speaker. Some children may have disabilities, while others may be of different race, size, or ability.

It’s important for children to learn to value people who are different then they are. The challenge for teachers is to ensure that their students learn to accept and respect these differences. These teaching strategies will ensure that all students will be productive adults and be able to live peacefully in this diverse world.

Teaching Strategies: What You Can do in the Classroom

Much of what children learn about respecting differences comes from what they see and hear at home and school, when they are on the bus, or around their friends. As a teacher, you have the ability to steer students in a positive way towards what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Here are a few teaching strategies for what you can do in your classroom to teach children how to respect differences.

Choose Your Language Wisely

Choose language that does not discriminate. If you are speaking about someone who has a disability, then use language that focuses on the person, not their disability. For example, let’s say you are telling the children a story about Helen Keller. Instead of speaking about Helen Keller as a “blind child,” you should speak about her as a “child who is blind.” This way you are using words to describe the person Helen Keller is. This will help students understand that being blind is only one part of who she is. Teach children the respectful way to talk, instead of saying “Thomas is handicapped” or “a cripple,” try saying “Thomas uses a wheelchair.” This simple way of changing your language is a great way to show your students how to respect others.

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Generate a Discussion about Media

There is no denying that children learn a lot from what they see and what they hear in the media. Start a discussion about what they are watching at home. Talk about the characters, actors, or situations that occur in these shows which demonstrate respect or non-respect. Discuss what they do and do not do to treat people kindly. Then, depending on the age of your students, show them a few shows about people with different disabilities. You can show elementary students the cartoon “Arthur”, who has a classmate who is blind, or the show “Sesame Street,” which always has a variety of characters who have disabilities or are of different race, gender, or ethnic background. For older students, you can reference the television show “Glee,” which features actors who are in a wheelchair, or the show “Parenthood,” where the son has Asperger’s Syndrome. This will get children thinking and offer them a positive message about respecting people of all differences.

Learn Through Literature

Present students with books that show people in a positive way. Books that show people who are kind, generous, helpful, and respectful. Look for books that show people what it’s like to be different: Books about people living in a wheelchair, who have a learning disability, or are of different cultural decent. Look for books that show people in an unusual situation: Books that may show an old lady skydiving, or a baby reading the newspaper. This will help children understand that people can overcome anything, and solve problems in a positive way.

Practice What You Preach

Teaching students to accept differences requires that you have real world discussions, and learn through literature or the internet. It’s not enough to have students just eat ethnic foods, or just learn about differences through a voyeuristic stand point. You have to get them out there and live a life of respecting differences. Seek out cultural activities that students can go to. Explore diversity by implementing after-school programs and events. You need to practice what you preach by living a life that respects differences.

It’s important to be mindful of everything that you say and do. Your students learn though everyday moments, and are always watching you. You have the power to teach your students that all people are more alike than they are different, regardless of their gender, size, ability, age, race, etc. Model respect, love, and acceptance for all, and point all students to a life where all individuals are valued and treated equally.

How do you teach students to respect differences in your classroom? Do you have any tips or tricks that you find effective? Please share your ideas in the comment section below, we would love to hear your ideas

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.