June 16, 2020
Independence Day is the perfect opportunity to celebrate how countless cultures come together to share the unique identity of America. Are we a melting pot? A tossed salad? Whatever your choice of metaphor might be, how is this practice reflected in your program’s culture and climate? Check out Y4Y’s Creating a Positive Learning Environment course to do that self-check.
Mission, Vision and Values
When was the last time your program team sat down to reflect on what your program is all about? If your celebration of diversity isn’t woven into the fiber of your stated values, consider shaping new culture statements to guide your program’s mission and vision of what you plan to achieve. It might be something as simple as “We will honor the diversity of our staff, students and families.” Check out Y4Y’s Positive Learning Environment Implementation Checklist to walk you through the essential steps. When you incorporate the idea of celebrating diversity into the very foundation of your program, you have a much better chance of meeting that goal.
Celebrating Diversity in Practice
Once you’ve established the celebration of diversity as a goal on paper, how can you demonstrate to students and families that you’ll “put your money where your mouth is,” as the saying goes? Here are a few simple ways to foster a positive learning environment by celebrating the many cultures that make your program and our country a rich tapestry:
- Take a virtual tour together of a museum that celebrates an artist or culture outside the U.S., such as Museo Frida Kahlo in Ciudad de Mexico, Mexico, the Pinacoteca de São Paulo in Brazil or the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi, Kenya. Thousands of other virtual museums are available online.
- Listen to music from different countries and have students identify something they like about it.
- Invite students to take turns sharing a game or sport that’s a tradition in their family, whether their family recently immigrated or has been in the U.S. for generations.
- Choose a simple word or object as a class, such as “dog,” that you’ll look up in 20 or 30 different languages. Have students compare the sounds or spellings or symbols.
- Explore picture books that tell traditional stories from other countries.
- Design a web of inclusion. On a whiteboard or online, you can ask a student, “What’s something that’s interesting or unique about yourself that you’re willing to share?” Listen to the response, then ask the next student to connect this to his or her own life. For example, if the first student says, “I’m right in the middle of five children,” the next student might say, “I’m the oldest, but when I was little, I had an imaginary older brother and that would make me a middle child.” The third student could then connect with birth order or imaginary friends. Encourage questions and pose some of your own that demonstrate your interest in different backgrounds and experiences.
- Offer an art project around flags of the world. Students might wish to create a flag from a country of their family’s origin or a place they hope to visit one day.
Don’t Forget the Warm and Fuzzies
Your positive learning environment will be complete when you follow these simple strategies as you connect individually with your students. An educator can never be sure what messages a student experiences in life outside your program, but it’s fair to guess they may not always be affirming ones, especially if they have cultural barriers to overcome. You wouldn’t be a 21st CCLC professional if you weren’t already a warm and caring adult to children, but some days you may just be looking for a little extra help in forging those more difficult relationships. Try Y4Y’s questionnaire for building student/educator relationships.
The poet Maya Angelou once said, “In diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” What an uplifting way to view our unique country and the safe space you’ve created for students.