Whether we are talking about racial or socioeconomic diversity, we cannot deny the impact diversity plays in choosing schools for our children. In some cases, this is deliberate: we want our kids to be exposed to and relate to people from all walks of life, and so we gravitate towards schools that embody this value. In other cases, we focus on a school’s academic performance in a vacuum, and those instances, we rely on rankings, turning a blind eye to diversity altogether.
The reality is, diversity influences quite a bit more than our kids’ experiences with each other–it influences one of the most important factors in choosing a school: how teachers teach.
Take a look at these two photos: one represents a classroom at one of the highly ranked public schools in Houston (not one in particular, just in general terms) and the other picture represents a school a little farther down the list, but still in the A/B range.
When you look at the picture on the left, one naturally sees kids who all look the same, but when you look at the photo on the right, you see variety in color. Obvious, right? But here’s the point: when you look at the photo on the left, it’s actually harder to see the diversity that exists there because on the surface everyone looks the same. It’s harder to “see" the boy who needs to touch things in order to understand or to identify the girl who needs to hear from a friend in order to truly grasp the concept. If the diversity is harder to see, it’s harder to respond to. Because you can easily see the diversity in the second photo, you naturally expect to have to approach that group different purely based on the various shades in the image. This is true for teachers as well. When they look out onto a class of kids who on the surface are by and large the same, the teaching methods they use are by and large the same. However, when teachers look out onto a class of kids that looks diverse, they are visibly reminded that their kids come with varying academic levels, learning styles and preferences. And the reality is, we address and respond to what we can see easily–that applies to teachers as well.
If you have a child who is a natural learner, who can sit, listen to a lesson, follow the instructions given and do the work, you’re good. This may mean very little to you. However, if you have a child who needs to hear things a few times before she understands it, or if you have a child who needs to move around and engage physically before he’s able to process and “get” it, you may want to consider a school where the diversity not only makes it more likely that your child will be “seen” but that (s)he will also see himself in others.
Truly gifted teachers know kids have various learning styles, and that the only way to be effective is to teach in the way students learn. And while it takes years of experience and training to recognize the different learning styles and effectively employ teaching methods that engage all students, you might find that teachers who do this best are tucked away in schools that wouldn’t initially be on your radar. They may even be hiding in the neighborhood school you’re avoiding.
So as you prepare to visit schools as a part of HISD’s Magnet Thursdays, which start this week and run through December, I encourage you to broaden your search. Be deliberate in thinking about the role diversity plays in how your child experiences school, both in and outside of the classroom.
For a parent’s perspective on choosing a diverse school, check out Our School is Title I and We Like It. If you want to talk diversity in schools or about how to honor your children by choosing schools that fit them, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.