How do you help students accept and work well with people of different beliefs, cultures, languages, socio-economic statuses, education backgrounds, and learning styles? 

The first things that come to my mind are the extremes of religion confrontations, racism, refugees and immigration conflicts and in such context we do not have big experience at Cesis New School. But I believe that we do have to work with small misunderstandings, accept small differences and overcome small barriers in our classrooms.

While creating my school I’ve come up with 3 fundamental elements to foster acceptance and collaboration:

1. Ensure diverse environment and lead by example

It is impossible to develop tolerance, empathy and acceptance only theoretically, only by reading or talking about it and not having a chance to truly experience differences on everyday basis. Even if we have just a few immigrant kids, just a few kids with special needs, they enrich our community.

It is essential for teachers to demonstrate tolerance. In my opinion, it is important for teachers to have their own beliefs, but still to show respect and understanding to others’ beliefs by their actions and behavior. We try to be open and show teacher-to-teacher collaboration to kids, even the process of how teachers come to an agreement if they have different opinions.

It is important for our students to experience that teachers treat them equally despite socio-economic status and other differences. We know that students learn from our actions, we’re doing our best to be role models for them!

 

2. Work with both sides of conflict

Too often teachers try to solve problems in staff rooms, outside classrooms without kids being present. Teachers plan to improve relationships, encourage empathy, but sometimes forget to include students in these discussions – what worries them, how teachers can help them. We forget to interpret these situations and forget to ask for students’ opinions.

I’ve learned from my experience that it is crucial to talk to both sides, with fair attitude to both. For example, if we talk only to local people about how they should act to welcome immigrants and we do not talk to immigrants about the norms and regulations in our country (school) and what are the behaviors we celebrate, it makes an unfair situation. And similarly it should be used in different everyday situations – if kids are showing aggression, we have to work with the aggressors and with the other side that usually triggers the anger even if it is not on purpose. Discussions help to analyze the conflict in detail and prevent future aggressions.

 

3. Invent our own celebrations and feasts

One of our large discussions with families last year was about school celebrations and feasts. If we celebrate Christmas at school then families with traditional Latvian (pagan) beliefs are not joining, and if we celebrate Pagan winter feast then Christian families are not coming.

So last year we started inventing our own feasts, celebrating the common values despite religions and beliefs. I believe it is a fine solution especially in education where the priority is to discuss, perceive and appreciate differences, cultivate respect, understanding and tolerance.

Take a look at how we celebrate winter in Cesis New School!

 
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