I recently read about the importance of representation from a networking group I belong to.
An anesthesiologist (I’ll call her Mary) had a six-year-old patient (let’s call her Jessica) – a little girl who was about to go into surgery. Mary was assessing her to make sure everything she needed to know was accurate to treat her during the surgery.
As Mary sat next to Jessica, a nurse came by and greeted Mary. As they made small talk about Mary’s daughter, Jessica interrupted to say, “you can’t be a mom and be an anesthesia lady”.
Mary and the nurse were taken by surprise. To think that a child had already created this limitation in her head without anyone having told her to do so was astonishing!
Mary calmly told her that indeed, she was a Mommy and an anesthesiologist. She pulled up pictures of her daughter on her smartphone and explained to her little patient that women could be anything and still be Moms.
I know what you must be thinking. “What the heck?! How could that child think a woman couldn’t possibly be a mother and a professional. Hasn’t she at least seen female teachers before?”
Well, of course, the likelihood that Jessica had seen female teachers before was high. But Jessica had probably not realized that many teachers are mommies too.
Some teachers like keeping their personal and professional lives separate, so kids don’t get to know them beyond their teaching persona.
Therefore, it’s very, very important that children see what people can do and learn more about them.
It’s very important that children are aware that people who look like them or who have similar backgrounds as they do are represented in high-profile positions or in positions of authority and leadership.
This is how they can learn not to believe or go along with stereotypes as well as to not subconsciously limit themselves.
The first school my kids attended had all-female staff. It wasn’t until we moved to California where they realized that men too could be teachers.
They were beyond the moon because the staff included a male teacher. While they were not going to be in his classroom, they thought it was amazing that a man was a teacher and that he was nice, fun and could teach.
Sounds crazy, right!? But that’s what happens when we put our children in a specific type of environment without diversity.
And when I speak about diversity, I am referring to gender, people with physical or learning differences, people of different races, cultures, ethnicities, regions, religions and other differences. The more diverse the staff, the more children learn from them not only in the classrooms but as people.
Aside from a gender difference in teachers in schools nationwide, about 80% of teachers in the United States today are white. In 2014, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan reported that the majority of the student population in the U.S. had become the majority while the goal to increase diverse teaching staffs nationwide had not been met.
Of course, this might be an exception in certain regions. But the message here is clear. It is widely recognized that diversity matters.
Now, I’m not urging hiring of teachers based solely on their diverse status. That would be ridiculous and wrong. But, now more than ever, we need examples of inclusion and understanding at the earliest age possible.
Kids spend most of their days at school, so what they learn, see and experience at school is vital. It’s very important for children to see role models from different backgrounds so that they do not grow up to believe that all people from one race, one culture or one religion are monolithic.
The more we show our children that it’s not normal for only one type of person to be capable of doing something, the more it will become less surprising and less likely that a child will limit himself or herself the way Jessica did.
A lot of research regarding the importance of diverse teaching staff has been studied in the past and research continues to indicate that diversity matters in academic results and into adulthood.
According to Anna J. Egalite and Brian Kisida from The Brookings Institution which conducts in-depth research for solving societal problems state that:
Racially diverse teachers might be more culturally sensitive and less likely to subscribe to biased stereotypes about their students. Diverse teachers might also influence instructional context, such as through the development of culturally relevant curricula and pedagogy and by introducing a topic from a perspective that students can relate to.
So, while we know we cannot have a diverse teacher body by wishing on a star, we can definitely ask our schools to have mandatory diversity training for all staff and teachers. It’s already a requirement in many places of employment, so, why would we not include it at schools?
Diversity is a win-win for students, teachers, and staff.
When diversity exists among teachers, they all get to learn about how each of them overcame the realities of their own situations that got in the way of their learning.
Therefore, having this knowledge can help teachers and students who might be experiencing similar situations.
Lastly, children get to experience and learn that people who are different than themselves do care and do try to understand them and vice versa.
While it’s not a teacher’s responsibility to educate their students about social behavior, the reality is that they do. They end up role modeling social behaviors simply through interaction.
Great teachers make personal connections with their students all the time and successful students are the result of a teacher who has impacted them in a way that pushes them to go beyond their limits.
You might ask, “what do I do if I live in a city that has a predominant race?” Volunteer. Be the example. Read about people who debunk or make a stereotype untrue.
Want to know how I tackle this issue? I currently offer schools a program called Embracing Differences: Combating Bullying By Debunking Stereotypes and in the fall, I’ll be opening an opportunity for parents to buy my 6-week program called Sticks & Stones: Protecting Your Kids From Bullying (which will also include cyberbullying).
If you’d like to be sent updates on the launch date, subscribe to our list below to get notified as soon as it’s available!
Do you make sure that your kids don’t subconsciously limit themselves? Share your thoughts and please keep it cordial. I understand this might be a controversial topic, but that’s what helps us understand different points of view, right?