Exploring ‘Insiders & Outsiders’ with your students or group.

In the classroom, it is a fine line to walk. To openly acknowledge the differences and diversity of today’s students without creating an “insider/outsider” situation can be a tricky balancing act of political correctness and acceptance. Every teacher knows this line, and treads lightly.

Virtually everyone has experienced the feeling of being left out – of being an “outsider.”

When this happens it’s easy for miscommunication, confusion, rejection, hurt feelings – and exclusion that leads to labels like “racist” or “bully.”  This is why teachers look to illuminate the insider/outsider dilemma by helping students experience those around them from new and different perspectives.  But even this can be a challenge especially in diverse school climates.

Sometimes stories of diversity which address the challenges and courage of others can create an atmosphere where students are free to learn without being subjected to judgment.  Open discussions which invite students to share their family history and heritage with each other help students feel heard and understood.

But how does a teacher start this process?  Can discussions among students with vastly different backgrounds and experiences really be possible in a school setting?


Here are a few tips for facilitating positive awareness in the classroom:

  • Celebrate differences – set aside time to allow students to share their cultural heritages. This may be a daily or weekly session, and may involve encouraging cultural creativity in assignments, and may be shown in classroom displays,
  • Include lessons that promote cultural awareness – in Language Arts, read and discuss culturally relevant works/authors; in Social Studies, tie regional customs to a geography lesson; in Music, practice and discuss pieces of various
    origins.  You can also dive deeper into the parts of history which aren’t discussed or where there may be a different first-hand experience..
  • Show interest – talk to students about their background. Talk to them about your background. Share.  Encourage them to tell stories that highlight a different perspective..
  • Walk the talk – be a role model of acceptance. Show students how to act appropriately, and then expect them to follow suit.  Invite students to embrace discussions, especially when someone has a different experience or perspective..
  • Use humor – Often issues of racial difference can get heavy. Comedy teaches us that humor can build bridges and start to develop  common understandings. Discovery of other cultures can result in laughter, on both sides..
  • Set guidelines of respect – be sure to be consistent and firm.  Ask your students to get involved – set their own rules of what’s acceptable and what’s not, etc..