In my last blog I focused on the word “differences” as a way to start understanding diversity. Another word I used a lot was “recognition”. We need to continually be aware that people and groups are unique and that an individual’s or group’s uniqueness extends way beyond what our eyes can see.
But the concept of diversity is more than just recognizing or being aware of differences. We also need to embrace or accept those differences. Thus, diversity involves both recognition and acceptance. I actually like the word “embrace” because for me it implies getting on board with things that are different from my own ways and actually celebrating the differences between others and myself.
Recognizing individual or group differences is a great start but we can’t stop there. I think for many people moving from just recognizing to actually embracing differences is where the hard work around diversity occurs. Embracing differences is a gateway for effectively supporting students. Embracing a student’s uniqueness of race, ethnic origin, culture, sexuality, learning preferences (and many other unique characteristics) is the basis of developing respect for that student and the way they learn, do and say things. Embracing differences is also a gateway for true relationship building and respectful collaboration between educators and students. In addition, embracing differences and respecting students creates a safe learning environment where students are able to express themselves and their needs without fear of reprimand or criticism. It’s hard to imagine an educator who has not embraced a student’s unique characteristics being able to effectively support them.
Remember the concept of “different from me”? Embracing the differences between you and others is your personal challenge. Diversity is not just an intellectual exercise. It takes ongoing work (particularly self-reflection) to truly accept differences. One thing you can do for starters is to honestly evaluate what differences between you and your students are easier for you to embrace and which ones are harder to embrace. Ask yourself, why are some things about my students easy for me to accept and others are more difficult? Set some goals for yourself on increasing your comfort with embracing a few of the harder ones. What do you think stands in the way of you embracing those things?