Teaching Tolerance

Stopping the Effects of Bullying Before they Start


Teaching tolerance has become a critical need in my class…I’m starting to see how the effects of bullying could be a problem in the future. I teach in a primarily upper middle class white elementary school. Next year, my students will be going to a diverse middle school. While I wouldn’t say my students are racist, many have misconceptions about what it means to be of a different race. How can I help educate them and facilitate this transition?

Your Classroom Climate and Diversity

teaching-tolerance-playground-partnersI received this great question through the contact form on my Question and Answer page. Having taught in diverse schools, I can very much relate to the need for teaching tolerance. Here is my full response to this question.

Teaching tolerance is a cornerstone of effective anti-bullying programs. If your classroom climate is to be completely free of the effects of bullying – and if you want to set your students up to be successful in future grades – start with the basics.

We are all different in some way

Whether or not we have a diverse classroom, we can start by taking advantage of teachable moments that occur in most classrooms regularly. Consider…

  • Have you ever had a boy not want to be partners with a girl? (Or vice-versa)
  • Have you ever had a student exclude another student from an activity because they were different somehow?
  • Have you ever seen any of your kids alienated because a student had a speech impediment or an IEP?

These are all opportunities to teach acceptance of others. A child is born a boy or born a girl, or born with a speech or other issue, and it’s what they are and they can’t change that. No, it’s not the same as race, but it is a starting point for appreciating differences.

The key is that every single classroom will have some kind of issue that allows for teaching tolerance, for forming the basis of class discussions or lessons regarding diversity in the classroom.

Small lessons

Start by finding books, articles, etc. that highlight differences. A great civil rights title with a very applicable lesson is “White Socks Only” by Evelyn Coleman. There are many titles that teach acceptance and can be found on my classroom community books page, or by using a search engine or Amazon.com.

Read the story, then open up a discussion about applying the lessons to their personal lives. Expand the discussion to talk about race and ethnicity. Don’t be surprised to find that your students have more experience in this area than you think, even if you teach in a non-diverse neighborhood.

Another idea is to invite guests of different professions and different cultures to come to your classroom. They can talk about their jobs, read a book to the class, etc. It is exposure to differences – any differences – from which your kids can benefit.

I teach these mini-lessons all year long when the need arises. Repetition helps a lot.

Big lessons

Partners in reading

Partners in reading

Acceptance is a very clearly set expectation for my classroom, and I encourage you to use a similar approach to teaching tolerance.

My classroom mantra, often repeated by my kids at my request:

“We are willing to work with anyone!”

When you combine this with random selection of student partners, it becomes a potent reminder that courteous cooperation is not an option…it is an expectation and great preparation for appreciating and working with any kind of diversity.

There are no stronger anti-bullying programs than expecting each student to work with every other student, then reinforcing this with a classroom climate that allows no tolerance for prejudice of any kind.

Do you have a question?

Ask anything by using the contact form on the Question and Answer page.