Tasha Fletcher portrait

Written by Tasha Fletcher

Lead Primary Teacher in KS1

Resilience “an innate capacity to rebound from adversity and change through a process of positive adaptation. For young children and adolescence, resilience is a fluid, dynamic process that is influenced over time by life events, temperament, insight, skill sets, and the primary ability of caregivers and the social environment to nurture and provide them a sense of safety, competency, and secure attachments.” National Resilience Resource Center

International and local schools around the world are culturally, ethnically, and racially diverse. Now more than ever there needs to be a conscious shift in the role that wellbeing, mental health and resilience play in  diverse classrooms. 

But how can we as educators begin making this a priority in our classrooms?

What are some of the signs we should look out for?

What role can we play in ensuring our students feel valued and safe regardless of their ethnic backgrounds?

What is culture?

Culture shapes society’s attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. Every individual is a part of multiple cultural groups, based on several factors such as; race, ethnicity, faith, country, type of work, level of education, physical ability or disability status, sexual identity and so on.

If you work with young children or teenagers that have different cultural backgrounds from your own, there can be additional communication challenges, as teachers we face these challenges every day.  Many communities have agencies that provide services for specific cultural and ethnic populations.

How is wellbeing and resilience linked to diversity?

Wellbeing and resilience play a huge role in diversity, especially in today’s classroom where the cultural differences that exist between teachers and their students/students and their peers are numerous.

Diversity may exist with regard to race, culture, religion, language, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status. Parents/guardians, teachers, caregivers, extended family members and other adults in children’s lives have an important role to play both in their responsibilities and opportunities to model ways for children and teenagers to feel safe, connected, valued, capable, respected and grow in resilience.

Unfortunately, within many school systems, a lot of students are faced with discrimination from other students as well as staff every day, due to a lack of understanding or empathy with regard to the variations in beliefs, practices, and values of different cultural groups. Since ethnic minority children have higher rates of suspension/expulsion, special education placement and school dropout, it is evident that numerous disparities exist within our education systems.

There are instances where students, for a variety of reasons, may face more challenges due to adversity, trauma or unsafe living conditions at home. On the other hand, children can grow up in completely nurturing environments and still, because of genetics, brain chemistry or a special educational need, have an emotional, mental health or behavioural disorder. 

The role of culture

Culture has a significant impact on the beliefs and attitudes surrounding child development, identification of problems and judgment about the best way to intervene when problems do occur. Furthermore, each of us operates within an individual culture, which espouses specific beliefs that determine how we interact with others and interpret their actions. 

Cultural variations in expressions of behaviour may contribute to misunderstandings and conflict, which can be decreased through enhancing multicultural awareness. And while risk is a contributing factor for poor outcomes, it is not a given because educators, parents/guardians and other adults entrusted with the care of young children and teenagers can help all children gain and maintain a sense of their own strengths and abilities (if they know how to and should receive support from the relevant authorities; DSO, counsellors, psychologists, child and wellbeing services etc).

So what can we do as educators and parents to promote diversity and inclusion in schools and communities?

Recognise the cultural diversity and uniqueness of students and learn as much as you can about your students’ cultural background by spending time with your students and getting to know them. (This is especially good to do at the start of the year) and a simple “All about Me” activity is a great way to start. Some teachers may argue that this activity is geared towards younger children, but as a teacher creativity is at the heart of what we do. You can turn this into a carousel activity of guess who clues for Middle School or KS2 children and staff around the school, in the gymnasium or sports field.  

You can start a class mystery blog for Secondary students in which each student writes a blog about him/herself (I would suggest giving a minimum word limit but not a maximum). 

The goal will be to feature a new student each week and the class has fun guessing who it may be while learning about each other. 

Whatever activity you choose to do, don’t just collect the information, use that information to help your students and create successful relationships in which your students feel valued as a member of your class.

Recognise that socioeconomic and political factors have a significant impact on the psychosocial functioning of culturally and ethnically diverse groups

Develop an awareness of your own cultural and ethnic background and acknowledge differences in the culture between you and your students. 

You can do this by incorporating instructional strategies into your school’s curriculum that are sensitive to cultural differences such as: text books, planned activities and field trips, print rich environments which can include key/everyday words which represents the various ethnicities of students in your classroom or invite students to contribute something from their different cultural backgrounds towards the classroom displays to help build a sense of belonging, feeling valued and a voice.

Promote tolerance and understanding of cultural differences – as a teacher or parent you can promote this in many ways:

Incorporating fun learning projects that teach about diversity, wellbeing, mental health and resilience through.

PSHCE discussions or peer and group collaborations using task cards. I have created some wonderful resources which can be used to help children recognise the value they bring to the group and to understand the role they play in keeping well and mentally healthy for both primary/early years and middle school/upper primary.

International day celebrations – children, staff, parents and members of the community can contribute to events like this to promote diversity, equality and respect.

Teachers and children could plan activities together with their parents to showcase a country for a day/week. Together you may all choose to dress up in the traditional clothes of that specific country/culture for a day, learn a new song, poem or read aloud in the language and present it. Inviting guest speakers, or watching a film together are also other hands-on ways you can promote and celebrate diversity in your classroom or school.

But why stop there?

As a teacher you can work together with schools in other countries and collaborate on a mutual interest with your students. The aim here is to expose the children to cultures and ways of doing things that are different from their own by instilling tolerance, respect, reflection and developing the understanding that although some people may look, dress, and speak differently than they do they each have a uniqueness that should be valued and celebrated.

What can we do as educators, parents/guardians and caregivers to support resilience?

Instil in children a sense of values while respecting other viewpoints.

Encourage good nutrition, exercise, diet and physical fitness for example you can include yoga or breathing exercises as part of your brain breaks with students during class times.

Teach gratitude and a recognition of blessings in life, as teachers we probably do this every day. We often ask our students to reflect on their lesson by checking their targets or filling in smiley faces.

Why not include wellbeing and resilience as part of that gratitude too?

You could create a reflective/wall of gratitude which could be placed on a wall or door to the exit. Students can then write something they were thankful for at the end of the year and add it to the wall as  they leave for the day. 

Another way to incorporate this could be creating a wall of gratitude in a padlet and students can fill in one thing on the wall as a home activity. It can also be a useful sharing tool for weekend activities.

Provide opportunities for friendships and a social support system to develop. As adults we know how important it is to have good, strong and dependable social groups from adults we trust and can count on.

The same goes for children and teenagers, as adults we should ensure that the children entrusted in our care know where to go to for help if they need it and are not afraid to ask for it too. Encouraging opportunities for social support systems with friends and trusted adults is a good way in which to do this. School counsellors, homeroom teachers, social support groups within the school or community are all ways in which we can promote this.

Try to encourage children’s ability to figure out life through trials, error and success. A lot of children because of cultural norms, low self esteem or socio economic status are under pressure “ to not accept failure” or grow up hearing that failure is unacceptable from the adults who are sworn to protect them. 

Failure is a big part of success and growth, therefore young children and teenagers NEED to know that it is okay to fail. After all it is how we learn, and acceptance of that failure is paramount to the next step which should inevitably be success.

As adults it is equally important to take care of ourselves too.

Find ways to take care of yourself based on what you enjoy doing, for me going on long walks in nature or reading usually does the trick.

Be mindful of how your thinking is helping or hurting your situation. Always be careful of your thoughts, for what you believe have the tendency to become.

Find comfort in the small things and gratitude in your own accomplishments and contributions. This can be as simple as acknowledging out loud something you are successful at or grateful for each day. 

Be a lifelong learner, find enjoyment through learning new ideas.

Promote ways to feel competent, connected, and to have life satisfaction.

And finally Instil a sense of pride in your family as well as your cultural traditions and rituals.

About the author: 

Tasha is a lead primary teacher in KS1| mum of two boys | Designated Safeguarding Officer | ELT Materials writer. With a specialisation in Early Childhood and Psychology, she has more than 16 years of experience in young learner education, starting in pre-primary and primary in Trinidad & Tobago (Caribbean) before specialising in TEFL to young learners. She has lived and worked in 9 countries across the world, working in teaching, teacher training, assessment and educational development. When she is not teaching, she enjoys spending time with her family playing football, basketball and nature walks.