Making a conscious decision to invite multicultural visitors into your class is one way to increase tolerance and respect. In a recent huffingtonpost.com article, Matthew Lynch, EdD (Assistant Professor of Education at Widener University) discussed ways culturally responsive educators are “Promoting Respect for Cultural Diversity in the Classroom.” Mr. Lynch explains that teachers need to counteract the natural hesitation towards all that is different, and encourage students to cherish differences in viewpoint and culture rather than fearing or judging others.
I recommend that teachers read the entire article to learn about many useful activities and approaches that increase cultural awareness. One practical and effective activity is to invite multicultural speakers (of a variety of cultural backgrounds) to speak to your classes about their area of expertise:
Welcoming guest speakers into the class that hail from differing backgrounds and have all made a positive contribution to important fields can also help dispel any preconceived notions that students might possess about the relative competence and value of people from different cultures. Teaching students about multicultural role models also serves as an effective method for demonstrating that people of all genders, ethnicities, and appearances can have a positive influence on the world and deserve to be respected and emulated.
While it is an incredible learning experience to hear speakers talk about their culture, home country, celebrations, food, etc, it is equally important for students to see professional speakers from a variety of cultures that are successful in their field of expertise. In fact, these speakers do not necessarily need to speak about their culture; they can be coming to speak about their work as a scientist, pilot, journalist, doctor, artist, etc. Just as children will pick up on the subtle message that professionals are all white if your speakers are all white, they will also discover (or confirm) that people from any background are capable and successful in whatever area it is they chose to study or work.
Diversify the Speakers for Your Classes
Speakers Bureaus: Universities and hospitals frequently have volunteers from within their staff and faculty that can come to your school to talk about a variety of topics. For example, I had a nurse (who happened to be an immigrant from the Philippines) come to talk to my ESL class about overcoming stress, the effects of stress on their bodies, and relaxation techniques. Google your location + “speakers bureau” to find speakers near you, on relevant topics.
Ethnic, Local Periodicals: Local newspapers or magazines are great for providing speakers. Check your nearest Spanish-speaking newspaper, or Chinatown publication for leads on journalists or editors who might come to your English classes to talk about careers, writing, or other relevant topics. We invited a Latino, bilingual writer to come to speak to our Spanish classes about the important of speaking another language and its advantages when looking for a job.
University Student Organizations: Colleges have hundreds of student groups, many of whom encourage their members to volunteer in the community. For example, there are multiple science clubs that have outreach programs and can come out to schools to do demonstrations related to science. Check out the web sites of nearby universities and contact student organizations to see what they have to offer.
Exchange Students: There are many international organizations that organize exchanges of teachers and students. Many times the exchanges will last a semester or a year, and often times the students will be encouraged to get involved in the community via volunteering. Students can come to talk about life in their home country, differences and similarities between their country and their host country, their families, what they do with their friends for fun, sports, birthday parties, favorite vacations- you name the topic, or have your students come up with a list of questions for the exchange student. Another option is to have a panel of students come in from different geographic regions so that your students can get a variety of perspectives. If you’d like a university student, try the “Office of International Students and Scholars” to ask for references.
Local Talent: Martial arts schools, dance troupes performing national and ethnic dances, and global musicians are all excellent choices for kids to expand their knowledge while having fantastic experience. We have invited many groups to schools where I’ve worked, and it is especially fun when our own students are members off the performing team. Before watching the show, it is helpful to give students the history and background of the fine art. After the performance, let the students ask questions and interact with the visitors so it is both fun and educational. Maybe it will pique their interest and they’ll start a new hobby?