Martin Luther King said, “The good neighbor looks beyond those external accidents, and discerns those inner qualities that make all men human and therefore brothers” (Dr. Martin Luther King, Strength to Love). As educators, it is important to be inclusive of everyone, but how does that happen? How can we ensure that our students bring King’s words to fruition?
- Get to know students on a personal level: We should go out of our way to get to know all of our students on a personal level. In my own experiences, there were times when I felt that my teachers did not understand anything about what I and my friends were experiencing on a daily basis. It is so important for us to get to know our students and learn about their neighborhoods because kids will not care about what we know until they know that we care. We should teach students love, kindness, and gentleness through service projects and just by simply modeling behavior that we want to see them display. This is why culturally mediated instruction, “instruction that encourages multicultural viewpoints and allows for inclusion of knowledge that is relevant to the students” (Hollins, 1996) is important, especially in the times we are living in now.
- Expose your student to what is happening in the world: Every Friday, I used to show my students the ‘Week-in’rap’ (more information can be found at flocabulary.com ), which literally raps the week’s top headlines in the news. The students responded to being able to watch the news in a way that relates to them on their level. We also humanized those stories by digging deeper into them and doing further research. Other ways to ensure that this happens are by giving students assignments that are engaging and create real-world experiences and also by ensuring that the curriculum being taught incorporates multiple perspectives of various people. We should also allow students to work collaboratively as much as possible, as it encourages civic engagement, and allows students to find their voice.
- Allow students the space to have courageous conversation: During one of our Friday news discussions, I can recall two particularly tough topics that spoke directly to cultural awareness: Black Lives Matter, and police officers who lost their lives. As students finished watching the news stories, I provided my students with the time to write about the news story that interested them. Once they finished, we broke out into groups based on their selections. In one class, we facilitated the discussion on the shooting of the officers, which was definitely a sensitive subject. We began by discussing why they found the story interesting: I was appalled, explained one student. Another student said, I can’t understand why this is happening. I allowed them to talk and discuss their feelings in a safe environment (Handbook for Facilitating Difficult Conversations) . I moved from group to group as they engaged in mature meaningful dialogue about topics that many adults cannot even discuss without getting upset. I found that the students were handling it with poise. I overheard students talking about the Black Lives Matter movement with civility and curiosity.
Allowing students to have the time, space, and safety to have these discussions allows them to learn more about one another and move beyond our own external physical attributes and find those inner qualities that make us all human.
Through getting to know our students, listening to each other, growing together, and breaking down stereotypes together, we can realize King’s vision that we are much more than the external – we are truly all human, and therefore, brothers.
About the Author: Kelisa Wing is a 2016 ASCD Emerging Leader and the 2017 Department of Defense Education Activity Teacher of the Year. She is an Army veteran and a proud graduate of the University of Maryland University College and the University of Phoenix where she earned her Educational Specialist degree.