As we continue to explore the importance of diverse and inclusive literature in the classroom, I figured it was time to hear from the experts - the folks on the front line (both personally and professionally) digging into the tough questions and figuring out ways to make it work.
The result? Ta-da! An interview series from a variety of teachers across various grade levels and disciplines making a commitment to authentic, relevant representation.
Today we get to hear from Natalie Fleming, a second-grade teacher at an elementary school in an urban setting in Central Pennsylvania. The mother of one of my daughter’s classmates, Natalie brings a unique perspective, as both mother and educator, around the importance of diverse and inclusive literature in the classroom. Because of our crazy summer schedules, I reached out to Natalie via Messenger with some questions. I’m not gonna lie y’all, Natalie’s thoughtful, intimate responses brought tears to my eyes. Let’s all learn from what she has to share.
Q: Why is diverse and inclusive literature important to you, personally? To your students?
Natalie: Diverse and inclusive literature is important to me because we live among so many beautiful people of different races, cultures, and religions, and we owe it to everyone to combat the stereotypes that lead to hate. Exposing children to the idea that different isn't bad is one of the most noble things we can do as teachers. I am the mother to two amazing biracial children, and I want them to know the beauty of all that they come from, and in all they can do. Similarly, I work in a district with a large number of refugees, and all the children in my classroom deserve to feel represented and proud of who they are. I strive every day to enhance my classroom as a culturally responsive safe haven.
Q: What is one (or two or three) powerful benefit(s)/impact(s) diverse and inclusive literature has had on your students?
Natalie: I have found that when including diverse and inclusive literature in the classroom, it opens a dialogue for understanding and respect. It gives the children [a chance] to examine and appreciate the holidays celebrated by other religions, for example. It also gives students the validation that different is not bad. We may point out the differences, but always circle back to those things that connect us all. I have had parents contact me to tell me how their child came home to tell them all about Ruby Bridges and ask to go to the library to get more books about her. It inspires the drive for knowledge!
Q: How do you try to incorporate more diverse and inclusive literature into your curriculum? What obstacles do you face in doing so?
Natalie: Incorporating more diverse and inclusive literature into our curriculum can be quite a challenge, as anything that is provided as resources doesn't quite fit the criteria. My second grade team often has to supplement with literature that we provide on our own. Thankfully, I work with an amazing team, and we're always up for the challenge. We have built up quite the libraries (using our own money) to supplement the curriculum that is provided for us.
Q: Why is using diverse and inclusive lit so important, particularly now?
Natalie: Using diverse and inclusive lit is SO important, particularly now, because we are living in a time when narratives of hate for those that are different (race, sexuality, culture, religion) is being pushed on a national platform. Different isn't bad, it is beautiful. Just like racism and hate is taught, so is love and acceptance. In my classroom, we are one big family, and all of my students will know that they are represented and celebrated for who they are. Using inclusive and diverse literature helps to ingrain this through learning.
Looking for ways to include more diverse and inclusive literature in your classroom? Check out this blog post about resources for finding good books. Or visit some of these websites for innovative ideas around diverse and inclusive lit.
Learning at the Primary Pond: How to Incorporate Diverse Children's Literature Into Your Classroom
Classroom Collaborative: How to Actually Implement More Diverse Libraries at Your School