Teaching Tolerance: How Educators Help Build Inclusive Classrooms in 2023

Published On: April 3rd, 2023·By ·

Students learn more than just letters and numbers in schools. Many diverse interactions are made in the school environment, significantly impacting the lives of these students and society. 

The children's interactions at school set a foundation for their social and emotional development — influencing their future interactions.

Children are great observers. They effectively pick up the societal differences and how adults attach value to them. 

School can lay the foundation for tolerance, diversity, and counteracting learned social biases. Inclusive classrooms should be the focus of every school across the United States.

In this article, we take a close look at teaching tolerance, why it matters and the strategies teachers and schools can use to create an inclusive classroom.

What is Teaching Tolerance?

Teaching Tolerance is a program founded in 1991 by the Southern Poverty Law. The program helps educators and schools educate children and youth to become active participants in advancing democracy. 

The core goals of the Teaching Tolerance program include the following; 

  • Fostering inclusiveness
  • Reducing bias
  • Promoting educational equity for K-12 students in the United States.

The program helps educators build equitable societies by providing educational resources and advancing instructional content that promotes diversity and inclusiveness. 

Through its school and community conferences, the Teaching Tolerance program creates opportunities that bring children together to learn and appreciate their differences.

The Teaching Tolerance project educates teachers by publishing books and magazines and producing films and teaching materials such as guides and lesson plans that promote democracy through social justice education. 

For instance, in July 2020, Teaching Tolerance released a classroom film, Bibi, accompanied by grade 6-12 lessons. This production helps students explore the challenges of navigating through languages, societal expectations, and locations.

The Teaching Tolerance magazine, published two times a year, is distributed at no cost to 450,000 educators. The publication addresses social injustice issues and highlights the strides made in the fight against bias and exclusion. 

Benefits of the Teaching Tolerance Program

Learning involves teaching students how to get along with others. For example, teaching Tolerance promotes better relationships among children by teaching them how to appreciate diversity early. 

Teaching Tolerance helps learners acquire positive citizenship. And they can foster better relationships with different members of society. 

The Teaching Tolerance program also acts as a cushion for educators experiencing bias. And also to those working against the grain to reduce bias in their institutions.  

The pedagogy in the Teaching Tolerance program materials and resources encourages using compassionate characters through storytelling and modeling. This builds learners' desire to learn and increases their levels of concentration.

Today, teaching Tolerance has grown its reach by responding to current events impacting diversity and inclusion in societies. 

For instance, its publication on the best practices for serving LGBTQ students provided materials on making such students feel safe and seen in the school setting.

Ultimately, the Teaching Tolerance program allows students and teachers to fight against prejudice and promote diversity and equity in schools.

Why Tolerance Matters in the Classroom?

Tolerance promotes social equality in schools. 

A tolerant learning environment helps students learn how to interact with people who are different. And, it also prevents the spread of distasteful attitudes and behaviors, such as bias and exclusion. 

While teaching tolerance is crucial, educators still need support in incorporating Tolerance in their instruction and incorporating the topic. 

Let’s look at how you can incorporate Tolerance in your classroom instruction;

Choose inclusive learning materials

Being mindful of the teaching resources you purchase and how they represent people can make a tremendous difference.

 Anti-bias children's books address diversity, power relationships among different social groups, and differences in social identities. 

The teaching resource book, Rich in Color, helps guide open-mindedness and a broader perspective in students. 

Using primary teaching sources

Primary sources are significant in teaching students about history while embracing cultural sensitivity. In addition, electronic versions of primary sources can help connect students to renowned social justice activists such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

The Americans Who Tell The Truth website by social justice advocate Robert Shetterly can be helpful to educators. These sources help grow a new generation of outspoken and informed citizens who firmly address social, environmental, and economic justice issues.

Creating safe spaces

Understanding what a safe space looks like for each student is essential. You can encourage your class to work together to create a plan that supports each student to realize their safe space. 

Creating safe spaces is a significant way of realizing social awareness and empathy, which attribute to Tolerance. 

Use history lessons to teach historical injustices

Educators can use history lessons to educate students about instances of racism in America's past. For instance, you can use lesson plan resources to guide students to address issues of racism and stereotyping.  

By encouraging a brave space for conversations in classrooms, teachers can use history lessons to help students to understand societal injustices.

How to Teach Tolerance In the Classroom 

There are plenty of ways you can teach Tolerance to your children. Let's look at some actionable ideas and methods you can use;

Lead by example

How do you speak and treat others? Your attitude and interactions with others should demonstrate respect and Tolerance. Children closely mirror the values and attitudes of the grownups in their lives.

As a teacher, you can mirror openness and respect by embracing empathy and compassion through your actions and words. Also, you can encourage your learner's self-confidence by celebrating their differences and teaching them about different cultures.

Put effort into practicing Tolerance, which will make your class safe.

What is on your classroom walls?

Although this may seem like a low-return activity for the amount of time invested, putting up messages on the walls can encourage diversity, Tolerance, and acceptance.

Such messages will make your classroom an accepting and comfortable physical space that can help your students struggling in their personal lives or experiencing bullying.

Please encourage them to honor and teach their traditions

Encourage your learners to accept and appreciate their traditions. Also, appreciate your traditions as you learn about other people’s traditions.

Celebrating your traditions will teach your students to appreciate other people's cultures and the value of embracing diversity.

Learning about other cultures will help them overcome their bias about particular cultures embracing diversity.

Enhance their interactions with diverse populations

When your students are out for science contests, summer camp, and workshops, they interact with diverse populations. 

Interactions with diverse groups of children are an excellent opportunity for students to learn acceptance by interacting with other children from varied backgrounds.  

These interactions broaden their view of the world and their understanding of other communities. 

Strategies for an Inclusive Classroom

Building an inclusive learning environment means students feel a sense of belonging. An inclusive classroom is a safe learning space accommodating diversity in learning styles, gender, race, religion, and ethnic backgrounds.

Here are some inclusive classroom strategies to build a positive classroom culture;

Understand the diversity in your class.

To understand your class, you can carry out a diversity audit. A diversity audit is a significant exercise that helps you understand the diversity in your class. You can begin by simply walking around the class and noting the identities and cultures present in your class audience, pictures, classroom décor, books, and classroom materials. 

Additionally, you can seek varied opinions by inviting a diversity-tolerant colleague or friend to share their observations about the class. The class should accommodate as many aspects of diversity as possible. 

Have a diverse life as an educator.

You’ll need to get out of your comfort zone and evaluate your teaching materials. Get to know a bit about your students and connect with their culture for diversity.

You can also get involved in families and community events that support diversity to get a first-hand feel. Interactions with different groups help you understand Tolerance and attitudes towards diversity.

Improve your curriculum

You can design assignments and lessons to help students celebrate their identities and learn about other cultures. The Teaching Tolerance website provides guidelines for lesson plans for each subject area and age group while embracing diversity.

Embracing children's storybooks by diverse authors can grow Tolerance and appreciation of different cultures from an early age. And teachers can also expose them to diverse texts such as enabling, bilingual, and minority protagonist texts. 

The free learning resources also help teachers build capacity for topics that may challenge them.                          

Use inclusive media when teaching

Using an inclusive and responsive approach to diversity helps students see their identities represented. They feel included, are more likely to participate, and do not feel inferior to their peers.

Inclusive media can be as basic as the drawings on the classroom walls, videos, and diverse storybooks. It helps students feel safer and less lonely.

Celebrate special days

Highlighting specific cultural holidays can help shed light on Tolerance. A special day can be a cultural fair, a religious holiday, or a traditional day.

You can acknowledge the special talents and accomplishments of the people being celebrated and incorporate their information in your lesson plans. You can also make it about the culture’s food, dances, music, or certain individual icons.

Let students teach about their culture

Teachers can encourage their students to show their diversity by teaching their culture. You can express interest in the students’ ethnic backgrounds.

Encourage the learners to research their culture and share information relating to their ethnic background. Foster a classroom culture that celebrates traditional differences, beliefs, and social behaviors. This helps develop a trusting relationship among classmates.

Work on your cultural competency

Becoming culturally competent is a continuous process. You’ll need to evaluate your cultural outlooks and preconceptions and use culturally responsive pedagogy. Consider interacting with people from diverse communities.

You can also improve your intercultural communication skills by learning about different cultures.

Commit to your continuous education

Ensuring a safe, inclusive classroom requires continuous professional development. Teachers must learn the accommodations necessary for each learner depending on their diversity.

A teacher who is informed of the varied needs of their students will better accommodate diversity among learners. And this will create an inclusive learning environment that promotes student teamwork and collaboration. 

Lesson Plan Examples

Plenty of lessons can be used for teaching Tolerance in the classrooms. For example, you can create more inclusive classrooms by incorporating lessons on cultures and holidays in their lessons. 

You can also design lesson plans on friendship, local history, racism, and diversity to include discussions on Tolerance. 

 Here are some topics that lead to discussions on Tolerance;

  • The Importance of Elections- Teaching how taking part in elections contributes to the decisions made by the government. Highlight how elections create intense emotions and how learners can have a respectful and inclusive dialogue even during elections.
  • The diversity of personal and social identities- Teaching Tolerance spring-2019 issue presents Social Justice Standards that teachers can use to help their students understand the concepts of identity, diversity, justice, and action.
  • Understanding social justice- Lesson plans from the Learning for Justice website help you create lessons that promote social justice, challenge bias and engage students in discussions about diversity.  The “We are Teachers” website lists social justice lesson plans and classroom resources that educators can use to enhance understanding of the topic in their learners.                  
  • Issues of poverty-  Lesson plans on poverty by Learning for Justice focus on helping students understand that poverty is systemic and ingrained in economics, discrimination, and politics. They also inform the students that poverty in America is not random but affects those who traditionally experienced oppression, such as immigrants, children, African Americans, and Latinos.
  • Female identity and gender expectations- They identify hindrances to girls' and women's success in the corporate world. In addition, these lesson plans guide students in identifying ways to break these barriers. They also compare men's pay to women's in various industries as they identify ways in which pay disparity can be minimized.
  •  Contemporary movements- Helps students appreciate their role as players in the fight for equal rights. Students understand the common thread of all contemporary movements as a fight for equality for a group of people who are being treated unjustly. The lesson provides learners with materials from various movements, such as the African-American Movement, the Chicano Movement, the Labor movement, the LGBTQ civil rights movement, and the immigrant workers' rights.

Build a Classroom for Tomorrow

Our tomorrow must be focused on ensuring more Tolerance for other cultures and diversities. An inclusive environment is where everyone feels valued and appreciated.

The structures of our lessons, classrooms, and schools are significant in setting the stage for inclusiveness and Tolerance. 

Teachers play an essential role in promoting social equality in schools. They model acceptable interactions between diverse individuals and teach learners how to appreciate and respect people who are different. 

Continuous professional development is essential to enable teachers to be informed of emerging diversity issues and how to handle children from diverse backgrounds with Tolerance. 

If you would like to learn more about teaching Tolerance and creating an inclusive classroom, have a look at these professional development courses. 


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