Teaching Tolerance in the Classroom

Today we celebrate the life of one of the most influential and important figures in American History.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spent his life teaching and speaking about the importance of diversity and tolerance. We talk about tolerance in the classroom and tolerance in our world.  What exactly is tolerance?  What does it mean?

SEL - Martin Luther King

Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. (Source: https://www.tolerance.org/about)

It seems like a simple concept.  Just appreciate everyone for who they are.  Well, for young children it is.  Tolerance is a concept that becomes more complicated as we get older, as politics and external daily biases begin to play roles in our lives.  It is critical to emphasize the importance of respect and appreciation for all cultures and backgrounds at a young age so that children can carry this respect for others with them throughout their lives.

What You Can Do

Celebrate diversity every day.  Make your classroom a safe place to talk about differences in culture and family.  Let the children feel proud about who they are and who the others are in the classroom.  Even though they may all be different, they are all important to each other and to your classroom as a whole.

Young children are still learning to recognize and manage their own feelings.  It can be difficult for them to be tolerant and empathetic toward others when they are still confused about how they are feeling.  A developmentally appropriate and engaging SEL program can help children learn to navigate their feelings.  Children will begin to recognize other’s emotions and empathize with peers; they will also understand how to handle angry feelings in more positive ways.

As a teacher, you have a great influence on a child’s life.  You already know that teaching is more than reading and writing.  It is about shaping the future of your students’ lives and helping them progress through life as successful and happy people. As Dr. King so eloquently summed it up, “Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”


Additional Resources:

For more information about creating an SEL program in your classroom, visit our previous article: Social-Emotional Learning and Its Connection to Life-long Success

You can find free resources and lesson plans for teaching tolerance in the classroom here: https://www.tolerance.org

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