Whatever subject they teach, all educators share a common goal of helping their students develop agency and purpose. To achieve this goal, they must provide students with the opportunity to develop their identities holistically. Young people with a strong sense of identity are better able to focus on what matters to them and are better prepared for personal and academic growth. Teachers that help students develop a positive identity are using a powerful tool to actively address some of the historical inequities in education while assisting each of their students to discover their unique sense of belonging.
Identity formation and exploration are important components in and out of the classroom because they are fundamental to understanding one's place in the world. Here are some practical ways teachers can cultivate positive student identities and community in class to enable them to excel in their personal and educational lives!
- Ensuring Students Are Fully Seen!
Establish classroom practices and culture that respects every individual. Create activities that facilitate a student’s self-exploration and gives them an opportunity to share who they truly are with their classmates. Be a “Guide” for each student’s exploration of self and the authentic expression of that self in the classroom and in life. Ask questions like, “How do you see this situation unfolding in your community? Would you choose differently in this character's situation? What’s most important for you when you are met with these circumstances?”
- Finding Out What a Student Stands For.
What a student believes and how they react to certain topics immediately reflects their personality.
- Organize your students in a circle and ask them to find a small object that they believe best represents them.
- Place a bottle or other tall object in the center of the circle.
- Bring out various statements on common and light topics.
- Students must now place their objects in the area in front of them based on how strongly they feel about that common topic; the closer to the bottle in the center, the more strongly they feel about the topic.
- They can put it in front of their feet or next to the bottle in the center.
- They can also put it somewhere in the middle.
As a teacher, you will notice that your students' objects are in different positions. Students’ feelings about the topic can be easily distinguished from one another visually using this technique. You can also bring up topics such as bullying, discrimination, climate change, politics, and so on to elicit feedback from your students. It is critical to emphasize that everyone has the right to their own opinion. Request that your students elaborate on their move in response to a specific statement.
- Push Students to Dig Deeper and Ask About Their Interests and Expertise.
You can give them two cards: one for their interests (for example, something they adore and want to learn everything about) and one for their expertise. Allow your students to write both on the cards. Begin a conversation and ask your students to explain what they've written. The cards should then be hung on a classroom wall. Allow students to look for other cards that might spark a conversation. Allow them to open up to other students by discussing their common interests. If your students require assistance, they can consult the expertise cards and request that a specific student assist them.
- Develop Interactive Social Media Assignments.
Make a social media assignment in which students must introduce themselves in 250 characters or less. They don't have to do it online; they can write it on an index card instead. Writing about themselves with limited characters allows them to express how unique they are and whether anyone wants to be their friend. Assist your students in presenting themselves in the best possible light. Modification: Have students get in groups of four and copy their short introduction on a card without their name on it. Shuffle the cards and then have each group go through and guess who each card describes. Increase group size to increase guessing difficulty.
- Cultivating Diversity as a Resource.
This domain entails using diversity as a learning resource while demonstrating high expectations through academic rigor and a challenging curriculum. Diversity is not an afterthought, but rather an essential component of having students co-create an exciting curriculum by drawing on their diverse backgrounds. You must do it every day (not just during a specific month or holiday) by incorporating diverse music, art, games, stories, and activities that reflect each student's background. Furthermore, you must create a platform that communicates high expectations through positive presuppositions, which are phrases that assume a student's best intention and effort. Maintain an attitude of curiosity for each student's uniqueness and actively bring out the expression of that uniqueness all year long.
We hope that the tips and advice we shared will be useful in your own classroom as you work to cultivate positive student identities and build community. Remember, it is important to start small and take things one step at a time; if you try out one of our ideas this week and see positive results, great! If not, don't worry – simply adjust and try something else. The most important thing is that you are constantly reflecting on your practice and striving to create an inclusive environment where all students feel academically and emotionally supported.
Have fun exploring the uniqueness of the human condition!