Schools that reflect the diverse population of the communities around them provide a great benefit to students both now and in the future. Diversity in the classroom leads to stronger empathy, self-confidence, and feelings of self-worth, and greater collaboration skills.

For teachers, the goal is to maximize the possibilities of a diverse classroom. By creating a culture of inclusion and acceptance of others, teachers support students in learning to build a more tolerant and just society.

Merrimack College makes diversity and inclusion part of its Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction program, preparing teachers to meet the challenges of the modern classroom.

Types of Diversity in the Classroom

Although the idea of diversity is not new, it’s received renewed attention in recent years as more emphasis has been placed on social justice and inclusion. Teachers today may lead classrooms that are diverse in many different ways, such as

  • Race. Most experts see race as a learned concept, but students can see for themselves the differences in people’s skin tones.
  • Ethnicity. A person’s ethnicity includes the culture and heritage that form their community and family. They can differ by country, region, city, or even neighborhood.
  • Language. For some students, English will be their second language.
  • Religion. This includes the many world religions and the different beliefs and practices of sects within those religions.
  • Economics. Public school students come from various levels of household wealth and income, from the affluent to those living at or below the poverty line.
  • Sexual orientation and gender identity. Students often begin to develop a better understanding of their sexual and gender identities during their school years.

The Importance of Diversity in the Classroom

More diversity in the classroom is a given. Developing a culture of inclusiveness and acceptance is where teachers make the difference. Without inclusion, students in the minority can feel left out. In the worst-case scenarios, they may become the victims of bullying. This has an impact not only on academic performance but the student’s feelings of self-worth.

Inclusive pedagogy involves creating a classroom environment that is inclusive and effective for all students, according to an interview in Forbes with Colleen Lewis, who teaches about gender and diversity issues in computer science at Harvey Mudd College. “While diversity is about what students are in the room, inclusivity is about who feels like they belong, and everyone deserves that opportunity,” she said.

Celebrating Diversity in the Classroom

Teachers can support creating an inclusive culture in a diverse classroom by encouraging all students to offer their perspectives on daily classroom topics. This includes teaching students to listen to others with respect and empathy and creating situations where students of diverse backgrounds collaborate.

Teachers also can:

  • Make a point of celebrating diversity in the classroom
  • Encourage participation by students with different perspectives
  • Use learning material from diverse sources
  • Use language that is inclusive

The rewards for taking these steps last far beyond the classroom and current academic year. Those among the minority groups in the classroom feel more confident and have more self-esteem. All students learn to collaborate and respect others. Everyone develops a better sense of empathy, which provides a foundation for making them more well-rounded adults.

The Merrimack MEd Degree Program

The online Master of Education program at Merrimack College incorporates diversity and inclusion into student coursework. This includes a diversity and social justice course that is part of the core curriculum.

Students in the course explore issues of power and privilege in diverse populations, including historical and contemporary oppression based on race, gender, ability, and other differences. Students also have the opportunity for self-reflection to examine their own biases and prejudices.

Merrimack also offers Sheltered English Instruction (SEI) coursework and endorsement in the college’s full bachelor’s and master’s teacher education programs in the School of Education and Social Policy. Students also can take the SEI class as a standalone course where they will receive an endorsement only. The SEI for endorsement only program is a zero credit, pass-fail course.