In societies such as Canada and the United States, cultural diversity in the classroom can be a challenge to educators and to school systems. Multiple cultures and languages operating within one classroom can be a rich experience, but can also contribute to conflict when assumptions and stereotypes come into play. How can teachers and schools respond in healthy ways to changing demographics?
Lyle Hamm, Assistant Professor of Educational Administration and Leadership in the Faculty of Education at the University of New Brunswick, has an excellent article on the Education Canada website called The Culturally Responsive Classroom which highlights some of the issues Canadian educators face in the public school system as well as some ideas for how to respond.
Hamm emphasizes that “When rapid demographic changes affect a school and community, it is important for educators to closely examine their own attitudes and cultural assumptions toward different cultural groups and their teaching practices.” This reflective practice is important at any time, but particularly when seeking to welcome newcomers into the classroom.
Another important point is that students who speak diverse languages and are learning English should not be separated from the mainstream classes. Instead, he says “it is critical for all teachers in Canada to be prepared to teach new immigrant and EAL students.” Using strategies such as multilingual posters and exercises in the class can help recognize and value the language of each student in the class and provide a valuable opportunity for learning.
From a peace education perspective, Hamm’s suggestions will make for a more peaceable classroom and possibly provide opportunities to work at change on a system level to recognize the need for welcoming cultural diversity in schools.