Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Three Ways to Reduce Division and Hatred in Classrooms

By Jill Jenkins
     The Daily Beast reports over 300 hate crimes since the election of Donald J. Trump and by far the most troubling are those occurring in schools.  It seems the violent rhetoric has opened a flood gate of hostilities toward Hispanics, Blacks, Muslims, LGBTQ students and women.  In schools, all students need to feel safe and cherished. How do we safeguard our students when middle school students in Michigan are chanting "Build A Wall" according to U.S.A. Today, Swastikas and hate-filled messages of bigotry have appeared on various campuses and one Muslim student was threatened with a lighter until she removed her hijab according to CNN?  The list will continue to grow until everyone in the school community take a firm step against this.

 #1 All Students Need To Feel Wanted. 

 To combat the trend all students need to feel like an essential part of the community.  In Jordan School District in Utah, one elementary school hung posters of Uncle Sam with the slogan: "We Want You!"

 and Granite School District in Utah sent this beautiful letter to all faculty and staff reminding them that the language teachers and staff members use is powerful; as a result, they should refer to students as "Our Students" and not "Those Students."  It is unlawful for educators to treat students differently because of their documentation or any other grouping.   Make classrooms feel warm and inviting to all students and do not tolerate students who mistreat others verbally or physically.  Inclusive classrooms encourage students to interact, increasing learning while decreasing fear.  By having students actively engage together they will come to know each others as people and the differences will disappear.  Ignorance separates people. Some proven methods to make your classroom include:
  1. Learn your students' names and use them.
  2. Greet your students as they enter your classroom and chat with them.
  3. Listen to your students. Having a positive relationship with your students makes it more likely they will share any incidence of harassment with you.  If you hear something, say something to an administrator so the problem can be curbed quickly.
  4. Provide feedback to students by starting with positive statements and limit suggestions to a few at a time.  Don't overwhelm them.  Be care to choose your words carefully so students understand you are not attacking them, but directing their progress.
  5. Require students to interact in small groups of two or three and carefully select the groups.  Remember the more students get to know each other the less they will fear and hate each other.
  6. Talk about the dangers of stereotyping.  

#2 Get Involved in Your Community

    When teachers become active in helping students and their families in the community, students and their families perceive school and teachers as advocates. HUD recognized this power when they offered to sell houses to teachers and police officers at reduced rates if they purchase homes in economically deprived neighborhoods.  Helping the community is another way to reduce fear and build bridges.  Research opportunities to tutor students in your neighborhood or city.  Here are a few that appear on "Let's Get to Work: Practical Ways for Writers and Teachers To Get Involved Right Now." by  Anu Jindal 
If you don't live in New York, Los Angles or Boston, check out the local opportunities to get involved.  In Northern Utah where I live, I found these: 

Groups and Family Opportunities

Opportunities Just For Groups

#3 Require Your Students to Volunteer

Nothing reduces hate like understanding and appreciating other people and their culture.  Engaging in activities where students get to communicate and interact directly with a culture or a group that is foreign to them is the fastest way to develop understanding and reduce hate.  One year a colleague and I teamed up and created an assignment that required students to perform 30 hours of community service and write a paper about their experience.  Parents were very supportive and I received a number of thank you letters from parents telling me how meaningful the experience was for their child.

Being proactive and talking with students can go along way to reducing hate.  Reacting quickly to any act of harassment teaches students that the teacher and the principal are advocate for their rights.  Get involved with the community and you will have their support.  More importantly evaluate how your own views of others might be effecting your word choice and your behavior.  Make changes in your own behavior to make your classroom more inclusive and warm.