Building Unity and Inclusion from Day 1 of a Semester

This is a picture of my favorite bulletin board. It changes every time I get new students in my classes as I soon will when we start a new semester. On the day that I greet new students, I tell them this story.

In our family, we all have different favorite flavors of ice cream. My husband’s favorite is Rocky Road, but he’s so kind, if I ask him to buy ice cream, he’ll buy everyone else’s favorite flavor. My kids like Cookies ‘n’ Cream, Cookie Dough, or Mint Chocolate Chip. I used to practically live on chocolate—at least until I was diagnosed with an ulcer a few years back. My doctor told me that for some people, chocolate is a reflux trigger. I was in a lot of pain, and I decided to give up all the trigger foods in my diet. I didn’t think I could give up chocolate, but I did it! And even better, the pain is gone! As much as I love chocolate (and can still enjoy the smell) I haven’t eaten chocolate in a few years and don’t want to go back. When I want a frozen treat for myself, I buy fat-free vanilla frozen yogurt, and I’ve learned to love it.

If we have 10 people in a room, we might find 10 different favorite flavors of ice cream. Whether you like all those flavors or not, you can’t say that there’s a bad flavor of ice cream. There is a flavor I don’t like. I think it’s called Bordeaux Cherry—the one with little frozen cherry chunks in it. I think that flavor is gross, but some people must like it, or it wouldn’t be available at the store. There just isn’t a bad flavor of ice cream.

People are kind of like ice cream. I let my students know that you’ll find different backgrounds, skin colors, ethnicities, religious preferences, gender identity, lifestyles, mannerisms, social skills, abilities, humor, language, etc. And you might not like every flavor, but there just isn’t a bad flavor of person. In my classroom, I expect every student to treat every other student as worthy of respect. I expect all my students to honor each other’s differences and make my classroom a safe and welcome place to be.

The first day of a semester always requires time explaining policy and procedure. Rather than expecting my students to sit still and listen through all that (they won’t), I give them something productive to do with their hands while I talk. I tell them they can make one of these people for my “Every Flavor” bulletin board. I provide the figures as well as colored pencils and scissors. They get to work and I can teach what I need to teach.

If you want to replicate my bulletin board, you can find outlines for people online. Look for free croquis (figures for fashion drawing). I tell my students that I want them to draw a figure that shows their personality. I point out that I’ve got a lot of variety on my board—sports figures, TV and movie characters, students from a variety of cultures, etc. Students may draw what they want on their figure, as long as it is school appropriate. I tell them that if it’s not school appropriate, it won’t end up on my board, but it will end up being a conversation with the office and their parents. They don’t push me on that, so I really haven’t had problems. I add in that I won’t put up figures dripping blood or with anything coming out of their nose or mouth. These are some of the things you have to explain to 7th and 8th graders, so you get what you want. I also tell them I don’t care which gender figure they choose, keeping in mind that their finished drawing must be school appropriate. Once or twice, I’ve had boys draw female figures that looked demeaning toward women. When I asked the boys to tell me about their drawings, they quickly threw those figures away. In contrast I’ve had a few students make high-quality, respectful drawings of non-binary figures.

Once the figures go on the board, I often see kids standing in front of the board just looking and pointing to their own person or pointing out what they notice. Students seem proud of the cohesiveness that comes from this diverse collection. I’m proud of the diversity they are willing to share because I see it as evidence that they feel that my classroom is a safe place to be.

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