Before we consider the differences, take a moment to listen to some stories gathered from a PBS project called, Story Corps. Have your tissues handy, because what I found there was a mountain of ways that we are very much alike in things that have the deepest impact.... Story Corps
Consider some of the aspects that combine to make up who we are as individuals: our age, gender, ethnicity, race, intellectual ability, socio-economic level, language, culture, education, religion, birthplace, where we grew up, learning styles, multiple intelligence preferences, personality types, hobbies and interests, career paths, values, etc. etc. etc. Take all this, mix it up in the classroom, and you can't help but have a very different experience each time you start with a new class.
With all these differences, what can faculty members do to build a positive, respectful, and supportive environment that fosters learning for all students?
1. Realize that you, as the faculty member, are also part of the chemistry that occurs in class. You bring your unique personhood to the mix. So it isn't just about how our students may differ, but about what happens in our classes when we are all interacting in and through our uniqueness.
2. Be aware of the power structure inherent in your role as a faculty member as well as that of the dominant culture. Listen and watch for assumptions about right/wrong ways to do things just because the dominant culture does them that way. Consider other ways to tackle problems, interpret issues, and demonstrate learning that may be different from what you or others have experienced.
3. Try to become aware of the possible biases or assumptions that you may bring to the classroom. Get your students to also think about the assumptions they may be making about how and why we do things. Foster a broader view. Model the behavior you want to foster in your students.
4. Aim for an inclusive curriculum.
5. Speak up at once if students make distasteful remarks. Take a look at the Power of Words Curriculum available at Tolerance.org for ideas about how to address the use of words in the classroom.
6. Avoid making individuals "spokespersons" for their assumed cultural or ethnic group.
7. Support English language learners in your classes (see the section below).
8. Use group work to broaden student perspectives. As soon as people come together to work in groups, different approaches and ideas come to the surface immediately. Work with students to provide strategies that allow them to work through the differences in constructive ways. Foster and reward openness to new and creative approaches to problem-solving. Build into group processes ways to consider, use, and value the "lone voice crying out in the wilderness". Visit this site to find out strategies for group process
In a recent interview by Matthew Szulik, CEO of Red Hat Inc., a leading provider of LINUX and open source software, on the skills that employers need from new hires, Szulik states that American workers are really struggling to compete in a new globally competent workforce. The workers hired recently from US higher education environments struggle in similar and key ways: to collaborate effectively in a global business reality, to adapt quickly to change, to be flexible in working with people from diverse cultures towards a common goal, to realize the global implications of their actions, inability to work at a fast pace, lack of innovation, and willingness to embrace lifelong learning as a necessity in his fast-paced business. When Szulik needs skilled professional employees, he often recruits outside the US, where he can find educated workers who are also globally sophisticated and flexible in working with people from diverse cultures and backgrounds. His US employees have a more difficult time moving out of the "We do it this way" mindset which limits the vision and creativity of his company.
Creating a classroom environment that fosters respect and welcomes diverse viewpoints and approaches to learning supports the growth and development of all learners in the classroom.