If you’re reading this, I’ll assume you already care about diversity in your classroom. And that you put in a conscious effort to make sure you avoid enforcing stereotypes and cultivating an atmosphere of tolerance and respect in your classroom. “Peace” and “inclusion” are probably mainstays of your curriculum already.
With that in mind, I’m going to share a simple exercise that I think can identify structural ways that your classroom might be enforcing stereotypes despite the content that you teach. This isn’t about competition or shaming anyone, this is just a tool for identifying additional ways to make sure all of your students see themselves represented in the classroom on every level and add more diversity in your classroom.
Add Diversity To Your Bookshelf
1. Get a pen and paper and go to your classroom’s bookshelf.
2. Go through the shelf and make a tally mark for every book featuring a protagonist who is not a white male (if you have a few books about non-human protagonists—as I do—skip those).
3. When you’re done, add them up.
Now look at your list. Is the number you came up with roughly half of the total number of books you have? If so, great!
But I’ve been in very few classrooms where this was the case, and I know from experience that it takes a lot of effort to get to par, and stay there. But I think it’s worth it.
Our students live in a world where white and male is seen as the default—even though numerically it isn’t. A 1:1 ratio is easy to shoot for, and although it won’t make your shelf demographically accurate, it will minimize your contribution to teaching your students that stereotype. And if you have limited time and funds? Try skewing in the other direction.
I know, these books can be harder to find. But in 2017, it is getting easier. Easy enough, I would say, that there is no reason for preschool bookshelves to centre white experiences for the sake of convenience. I’m in the process of putting together a list of my favourite books featuring children of colour, and if you have any great ones you can post them in the comments here for teachers who want to get started evening out their collections. Or, join my Facebook group, The Diverse Classroom for a more robust discussion about resources.
Add Diversity to Your Card Materials
Another important thing to look at is the representations of people of colour that you have in other materials in your classroom. The typical three-part cards and booklets about people from different countries follow a formula: We see some white people in business or business-casual attire, and people from every other part of the world in ceremonial or religious garments. So the tools we’ve built to teach diversity can end up promoting tokenism. My recommendation for getting around this is to include multiple representations—you could show a tribal leader in a suit along with a pueblo dancer. A Japanese construction worker along with the obligatory woman-in-kimono. You get the idea.
You can find this downloadable set of Peacemakers and World Changers on Etsy (affiliate link)
These measures alone are not going to make your classroom a perfect haven of diversity. But I think they’re so basic, and so easy to achieve, that they should be seen as a baseline. I’ve even heard from some parents who are factoring this in more heavily when choosing a school, and I hope the trend will continue.
I’m also really interested to hear what your shelves and materials are like right now. How have you brought more diversity in your classroom materials? If you already have a 50% ratio of children of colour in your books and great authentic diversity in your geography materials, please join us in The Diverse Classroom group and tell us about how you got there and maybe some pictures if you’re willing to share.
Hi! I’m Ashley Speed, or “Ms. Ashley” to my students. I’m an AMI-trained guide from Vancouver, BC and mother of one. I’m passionate about quality, inclusive education, raising my little Montessori munchkin, and children’s books.
Follow me on Instagram – @diamondmontessori – I’m very active and it’s my favourite social platform. Keep up to date with parenting, Montessori and diversity posts on my blog, Diamond Montessori. Finally, if you’re interested in learning, discussing and working towards diversity, inclusiveness and anti-bias in classrooms and at home, please join our Facebook group- The Diverse Classroom