“In our work and in our living, we must recognize that difference is a reason for celebration and growth, rather than a reason for destruction.” -Audre Lorde
As we commemorated "First-Generation College Student Week," I found myself reflecting deeply on my own journey as a first-generation college student. I'm Michelle Singh, an immigrant from Jamaica, a proud first-generation college graduate, and a staunch advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion in education. My journey from a young, often unheard immigrant student to an educational leader and advocate is a testament to the transformative power of education when it is anchored in equity, empathy, and excellence.
Equity in education must be more than theory; it should be a lived experience, a tangible reality in our classrooms.
My own experiences as a student who often felt unheard have taught me the value of recognizing and celebrating the unique voices of all students. True educational equity was exemplified by the teachers who actively integrated diverse cultures into our learning experiences, valuing every student's perspective. A standout memory is of Ms. Fernandez, whose lessons went beyond language to embrace cultural diversity, sparking my lifelong appreciation for café con leche in the fourth grade. Similarly, the teachers who welcomed the culinary expressions of my Jamaican heritage, like curry goat and jerk chicken at school events, played a crucial role in making my family's culture a celebrated part of the classroom community.
Empathy in education extends beyond understanding to actively celebrating each student's differences.
Feeling marginalized and invisible during my schooling, I know firsthand the importance of each student feeling seen, heard, and valued. This empathetic approach was personified by Ms. Demerritte, who affirmed my mathematical abilities, bolstering my confidence. Then there was Ms. Seamans, my ELA teacher, who nurtured my writing skills by encouraging me to explore and express my thoughts through journaling. Another significant example was Ms. Blanchard, who appreciated and rewarded my distinct, color-coded note-taking system, acknowledging that my approach, though different, was valuable.
Excellence in education is about challenging and engaging each student in ways that align with their strengths and interests.
Traditional curricula often failed to resonate with me, underscoring the need for varied and innovative teaching approaches. I experienced educational excellence through teachers who encouraged my creativity and allowed me to demonstrate my understanding in ways that were meaningful to me. For example, Mr. Kopek's project, where my friend Ka'Seania and I created a jingle for "MiRoKa Grow," was not just a learning exercise; it was an affirmation of our creative talents. Dr. Connor-Miller played a pivotal role in nurturing my love for poetry, guiding me to create my own poetry book, a cherished keepsake that symbolizes the power of personalized learning. These experiences emphasize the importance of adapting educational methods to each student's unique abilities, ensuring a learning experience that is both engaging and personally relevant.
Our responsibility and privilege
As educators and school leaders, we have the profound responsibility and privilege of shaping the educational experiences of our students. It is essential that we commit ourselves to creating learning environments that are equitable, empathetic, and excellent, and crucially, that these environments reflect the diverse journeys and narratives of all our students. Such a commitment is key to empowering students to reach their fullest potential and inspiring them to become agents of positive change in their communities.
In reflecting on my own educational journey, I recognize the significant impact of seeing oneself represented in the curriculum. The absence of African-American and Caribbean literature in my early education meant that it wasn't until college that I finally saw my own experiences and heritage reflected in the stories and characters I studied. This lack of representation taught me the importance of a multicultural and diverse curriculum, leading me to intentionally incorporate a wide range of voices and perspectives into my teaching. By integrating diverse cultural narratives, we enrich the educational experience for all students and foster an environment of cultural validation and understanding.
Therefore, let's collectively strive to ensure that our classrooms are not merely academic spaces but are also inclusive platforms where every student's background is acknowledged and valued. Our goal should be to create educational settings that are reflective of our world's rich tapestry of cultures and experiences, ensuring every student not only thrives but also feels a deep sense of belonging and recognition. Doing so lays the groundwork for an inclusive and high-quality education for all, where diversity is celebrated as a vital and enriching part of our collective learning journey.
Call to action for school leaders
Are you ready to take the next step in creating equitable, empathetic, and excellent learning environments where every student can thrive? At LCT-E Learning Solutions™, we're committed to guiding you on this transformative journey. To assist school leaders in evaluating and enhancing your school's approach to inclusivity, we're offering a complimentary resource – the Inclusivity Checklist. This valuable tool is designed to help you assess and cultivate an environment that celebrates and encourages equity, empathy, and excellence in education.