How to Build Acceptance in Today's Classroom

Teaching acceptance in today's classroom is now more important than ever. As tensions run high across the world with various ethnic, religious and political groups, teachers are faced with dealing with a mainstream media and social media presence like never before. It is easy for students to get a hold of videos, text, or images that display hatred towards others. Parents play a crucial role in helping their children understand acceptance, but it still falls in teachers' laps on a daily basis. How do teachers go about teaching acceptance in a world of hate and fear? We will attempt to offer some tips and guidance as you try to instill kindness, empathy, and compassion into your students.

Accepting of Differences
Prejudice and discrimination are learned behaviors. People are not born with these behaviors. That is why it is our job as educators to teach acceptance of everyone. The home plays a significant role in a child's beliefs about others that are different than themselves. We have had students in the past whose parents do not share a view of acceptance of others that are different from them. So how do you, as a classroom teacher, handle a student that believes others are inferior to their race or culture? First, you have to develop a classroom community from day one and make it apparent that all students are equal and will be treated that way. A great way to do this is to have daily morning meetings with the class where students get to greet each other. They also get a chance to share about their lives and this is a great time for students to find connections with each other. Another aspect is to do cooperative games where your students have to work together.

Second, we do an activity called "My World" where students draw a circle with their name in big bold letters inside. Then, inside the circle they write/draw everything that is important to them. Many include family, pets, activities, and things that make them happy. On the outside of the circle they write down things that they don't want in their lives. Here is where topics such as bullying, discrimination, and prejudice come up. We discuss these negative things and how they have an impact on students' lives. Then we display these in the classroom on a bulletin board and leave them up for the year.

Third, we encourage students to work together in all subject areas. We use think-pair-share as a teaching strategy in which students discuss their thoughts/answers with one another before sharing whole group. We also use Math Talk as a means to communicate in math class. Students get a chance to listen to each other's ideas on how to solve problems and critically think and problem-solve together. In social studies, we do many cooperative group projects that lend to working together.

Fourth, we communicate frequently with parents regarding what is happening in the classroom. We want to keep the lines of communication open with families and use a weekly newsletter, notes in assignment notebooks and phone calls home to do this. We also try to send a positive letter home through the mail to each student at least once a year as well. The parents have to know that we are their for their children and that we will stand up for each and every one of them!

Fifth, we do a fun activity with students where they partner up and trace each other's hands on blank white paper. Then they ask five questions about each other (favorite food, color...) and write each response on one of the fingers. Then they color and decorate their partner's hand. We then display them in the classroom. It is fun to watch this process because students have great conversations with each other and also bond with their partner.

Acceptance is something that needs to be taught and we are hopeful that you can use some of the activities outlined above in your classroom.