Celebrating Differences

Take a peek – at the “A.B.C.” Bulletin Board near the main office at our school, and you will see that these letters refer to more than the first three letters of the alphabet.  At Lesley Ellis, the letters “A.B.C.” are also acronyms for our award winning Anti-Bias Curriculum, which is woven throughout all grade levels.

The curriculum, developed by Lesley Ellis teachers, focuses primarily on school community values and the following eight “isms” - Racism, Religious Intolerance, Sexism/Gender Bias, Classism, Sizeism/Lookism, Ageism, Heterosexism, Ableism.  These topics are starting points for discussion and activities that each classroom works with, continuously throughout the year, at their developmentally appropriate level.  

Each month, a different topic is shared with the whole school community on our “A.B.C.” Bulletin Board. Wonderful discussions and insights emerge from students of all ages in classrooms throughout the school. Examples of the learning and sharing that happens in our early childhood, lower elementary, upper elementary and middle school classrooms look like this:

How do we discuss “Differences” in our classroom?

Celebrating Differences - Early Childhood

Preschool started the year off by reading “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn.  In this story, Chester the raccoon goes to his first day of school. The children noticed that the teacher was an owl, and there were many other different kinds of animals at Chester’s school as well. They talked about how the raccoons, owls, rabbits, foxes and possums would all play at school together, even though they were different.  Preschoolers then took a look around the circle and noticed that they all look different, too!  Even though our hair, eyes, and skin might be different, we all like to play together and have fun at school.

 

How Are We Different? – Lower Elementary

In first and second grade, we began our discussion about differences by splitting students into pairs and listing all the ways in which we are different from one another. The following list illustrates some common observations. 

  • Skin, hair, and eye color
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Beliefs and celebrations
  • Where we're from
  • Likes and dislikes
  • Strength
  • What we know
  • What we wear

Groups were then sent back to rethink their lists by crossing out the differences that can be permanently altered or improved through things like study, working out, or changes in thought. Out of what was left, students discussed how there are some things we can’t change. Some things will change naturally over time, whether we want them to or not. The issue of height then became our focus as we read the article “Feeling Too Tall or Too Short” from the Kids Health website. Students gained information on how and when we grow, along with insight into some of the issues that short or tall kids might have to deal with.

 

Looking at Learning Differences – Upper Elementary

Students in third and fourth grade thought about learning differences by listening to a reading of “Thank You Mr. Falker” by Patricia Polacco.  This is a true story about the author as an elementary student struggling with undiagnosed dyslexia. Students then reflected on their own experiences as learners, recalling times when learning came easily, and other times learning came with more difficulty. In an effort to foster compassion, students brainstormed ways to encourage others who may be having a more challenging time learning in or out of school. Students also considered the variety of ways people can be “smart.”

Third and fourth graders considered what attributes they share with classmates and which are unique to them.  Working in groups of three and four, the children used the letters in their first and last names as the letter starters for words that expressed their qualities, creating acrostics.  Groups were then made to include letters that were found in each child’s name.  For at least one of these shared letters, the students in the group had to agree on an attribute that was relevant for all the members of the group. The goal of this first lesson on attributes was to expose the students to their shared and unique qualities.

 

Looking at Members of a Team – Middle School

In the fifth and sixth grade classroom, we started investigating our differences through a discussion about teamwork.  What skills, strengths and attitudes do we bring and how best do we communicate those needs in a group?  We looked at personality categories such as the “coach,” the “star player,” the “manager” and the “spectator” to help us define roles we assume and the talents and attitudes that come along with them.  We attempted to build four identical bridges in isolation with five-minute conferences for the group to share ideas and questions.  We learned that listening to each other with all our ideas and differences was challenging, but that the listening MUST happen!  Open minds and open ears!