Pd Café

Digging Deep Into the Social Justice Standards: Diversity

It's time to reclaim "diversity" as a vital practice, not a buzzword. We're here to help you do it.

Colorful illustration of a diverse cast of characters in various states of activity.
Illustration by Yulong Lli

The Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards are the anchor standards and learning outcomes created to guide teachers in curriculum development and to make schools more just, equitable and safe. Our standards are designed to be used alongside state and Common Core State Standards in all content areas to reduce prejudice and bias and advocate for collective action.

These standards are divided into four domains: Identity, Diversity, Justice and Action. In a series that began in the Spring 2019 issue of Teaching Tolerance, PD Café will walk through each domain to help you understand and apply each to your practice so that students have the skills they need to make their schools and communities safe places for all.


Understanding Diversity

What is Diversity?

  • The condition of having or being composed of different elements; variety, especially the inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization.

Webster’s Dictionary


Practicing Diversity

Diversity is a beautiful thing. It should be explored and celebrated in classrooms. After we have come to better understand our individual identities, we can begin to examine the ways in which they do and do not overlap with others’ identities and lived experiences. There are many ways, large and small, to introduce concepts around diversity into your classroom and make it a welcoming place for all students. One strategy, focused on honoring student experience, is featured in our publication Critical Practices for Anti-bias Education. It’s important to create a classroom culture that values students’ lives and identities by creating a space that’s open, avoids stereotypes and lets students define their own identities. Critical Practices features strategies for making this happen, such as using texts that reflect the demographics of your classroom and sharing personal stories.

Another way to look at diversity with your students is to facilitate discussions about it. The way language is used in your classroom is an important component in how students will discuss not just curriculum and content but their experiences and relationships. Looking more closely at our critical practices around classroom culture, you’ll find five common characteristics of a classroom based on shared inquiry and dialogue: listening, respect, humility, voice and trust. Humility is critical when learning about diversity because it pushes us to recognize that our own ideas and opinions are only part of the story and that other people may have access to pieces of the puzzle that we don’t know about.

For more activities related to language and sharing lived experiences, you can also check out our online professional development module “Unpacking Diversity.”


Exploring Diversity

Classroom Activity

When discussing diversity with students, a good starting place can be having them share their own identities so they can affirm who they are while also hearing about the differences in the identities of their peers. A great way to do this is through having students create identity boxes.

Colorful illustration of two people holding some kind of wand aloft, as a bright motley of colors spring forth and wind through the air.

Have each student bring a shoebox (or box of similar size) to school, and have extra boxes available for students who may need them. Students should decorate the outside of their box with images, words or phrases that represent their culture and community. Examples can include things like “French ancestry,” “family of musicians” or “first-generation American citizen.” Inside the box should be four or five objects that they feel have shaped them and represent their unique background and experiences. If an object is too large to fit in the box, they can put a picture or description of the object and its significance inside the box.

Students should share either as a class or in small groups about the outside and inside of their boxes. After sharing, have students answer the following questions:

  • What did you learn about your classmates that you did not know before they shared?
  • What do you have in common with your classmates?
  • How are you different from your classmates? How are they different from each other?
  • Did you learn anything about them that might affect how you interact with or treat them? Why?

The great thing about this activity is that even if you teach in a fairly homogenous environment, students will still find diversity in the lived experiences of their peers. Consider making a box for yourself and sharing with students to model before having students make their own boxes.


Diversity Standards

Anchor Standards 6–10 of the Social Justice Standards

6. Students will express comfort with people who are both similar to and different from them and engage respectfully with all people.

7. Students will develop language and knowledge to accurately and respectfully describe how people (including themselves) are both similar to and different from each other and others in their identity groups.

8. Students will respectfully express curiosity about the history and lived experiences of others and will exchange ideas and beliefs in an open-minded way.

9. Students will respond to diversity by building empathy, respect, understanding and connection.

10. Students will examine diversity in social, cultural, political and historical contexts rather than in ways that are superficial or oversimplified.


Scenario #1

As children are funneling into her classroom on a Monday morning, Ms. Franklin overhears a conversation between two students:

“What did you do last weekend?” Kevin asks Lisa.
“My moms took me to the zoo!” Lisa replies.
“You have two moms? Do you call both of them Mom?”
“I call them Mama Kendra and Mama Sam,” Lisa says.

  • Think about Kevin and Lisa’s story. Which of the five Diversity anchor standards are demonstrated?
  • What do we know about Kevin’s understanding of the diversity around him, based on this exchange with Lisa?


Scenario #2

Ms. Ramirez has divided her class into small groups for a mapping activity. As the students are gathering to begin work, she overhears one student, Joao, tell the others that he doesn’t want Jonah, a classmate who uses a wheelchair, in his group. Just as Ms. Ramirez is about to intervene and facilitate a discussion with Joao and the rest of the group, she hears another student say, “Joao, Jonah has a lot to share with our group. It’s important for us to all work together. You shouldn’t think that his physical disability makes him a less important member of our group.”

Think about Joao’s story. Which of the five Diversity anchor standards are demonstrated?


Essential Questions

One final way to incorporate the Diversity standards into your classroom practice is through writing essential questions for your units of study. Below are two examples from different content areas.

Sixth-Grade U.S. History

D.10: How was the experience of westward expansion different for white people, people of color and Indigenous peoples?

Sample Answer: Students can explore how things like power, privilege, socioeconomic status and colonialism had different effects on particular people or groups during the period of westward expansion in the United States.


10th-Grade ELA

D.8: How did the lived experience of Starr Carter in The Hate U Give shape her perspective on race in America? Why did her white friends have a different perspective? Were her friends justified in seeing things differently?

Sample Answer: Students can discuss how Starr and her friends had different experiences because of race and socioeconomic status and how these experiences shaped their world-views. They can also debate the justification for those different perspectives based on the environments that different characters experienced and moved through on a daily basis.

Now you try! Write an essential question based on one of the five Diversity standards for your grade level and content area.