• Melissa

Teaching Tolerance

Jamilah Pitts, an educational consultant and equity and justice strategist recently wrote an article published on a website called Teaching Tolerance.

“Teaching is great power. That is why in these times and always—because there is always the existence of pain, oppression, indifference, hunger, lack, inequality somewhere—I find the most encouragement and the most hope in teaching and in teachers. We have a reach and an ability unlike any other because we deal with the minds and hearts of young people. We get to shape change-agents.”

I’ve spent the last few days engaging in conversations and answering questions from my teenage children about the recent horrific injustice that resulted in George Floyd’s death. In our discussions, Jamilah Pitt’s words remind me about teachers’ ability to reach, teach, inspire, and empower students to make changes for a better future. Teachers can design and create lessons that expose injustices and oppression. Teachers can commit to teaching lessons grounded in activism, kindness, and rebuilding. Teachers can look at curriculum with a critical eye for gaps in underrepresented voices and then work to fill those holes to help all students become critical thinkers. Every day, teachers work to develop thoughtful and caring students who will become informed and empathetic adults. Through education, teachers can foster an appreciation and respect for different perspectives and cultures. Through education, teachers help students take action against injustice.

As an educator, I strive to learn more in order to validate the diversity, identities, and experiences of all students. What can we do to help students and young people make meaningful connections between what they learn in school and their cultures and life experiences? First, we can commit to deepening our knowledge to improve our practice. Below is a list of resources to bookmark. You’ll find lessons, activities, teaching strategies, information, and self paced professional development courses.

We can also commit to educating our students about racism, bigotry, and bias. We can be dedicated to culturally responsive teaching by using materials that give students inclusive learning experiences with different and varied perspectives, especially of those whose lives and culture is not often reflected in curriculum. Below is a social justice book list.

Check out this social justice book list from the National Network of State Teachers of the Year.

These past few days have stirred many emotions in myself and countless others. I’m comforted in knowing that teachers can play a powerful role in helping children of all ages develop positive attitudes about race, cultures different than their own, and varying perspectives.


Grades K - 2

A lesson about diversity that is geared for K - 2 students comes from 2018 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, Randi House. Mrs. House exposes her kindergarten students to diversity with the book “The Colors of Us” by Karen Katz.

In her lesson teachers and caregivers read the story and then discuss with students how there are different names for skin colors beyond just black and white. The book explains that any shade or color can be created by mixing amounts of red, yellow, black, and white. Children are then given opportunities to mix paints to create a shade of skin tone, trying to match their skin tone.

Mrs. House then brings in paint chips of various shades and tones for the class to observe. Children find a paint chip that they believe matches their own skin tone. Mrs House notes that instead of a student being labeled "white", they can call themselves "French lace." Or instead of saying they are "black" they can say their skin is "iced mocha."

You can read a complete summary of Mrs. House's lesson here.

Grades 3 - 5

All students need to develop their sense of identity, but they can also develop their ideas of family and how their family contributes to a diverse community or society. A lesson appropriate for third through fifth grade, comes from Teaching Tolerance.

In this scavenger hunt based lesson, students learn about different families and broaden their definition of what a family is. Children compare their family situation with others and gain an appreciation and understanding that every family is unique. Students start by looking at magazine or newspaper pictures of families. They note how many people are in the family and have a discussion with classmates about the various photos.

After looking at the pictures, the teacher can then help guide students to broaden their understanding and definition about families by asking students to identify families with the teacher listing several different family structures. For example, the teacher could list: A man and a woman with no children, parents with two children and a cousin, a mom with a daughter and grandparents, an African-American couple and their adopted Chinese son, etc.

Students end the lesson by going on a family scavenger hunt to learn about each other’s families. Students can find classmates who match descriptions such as: lives with one parent, lives with grandparents, does not have siblings, has a stepmother or stepfather, etc.

For the complete lesson plan, click here.

How are you teaching the children in your life about diversity, equality and inclusion? Comment other tools, ideas, questions or concerns below.

Happy teaching,


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