Our Education Blogger is a public school teacher with over a decade of experience. She’s an active NEA member and enjoys writing about her experiences in the classroom.
Helen Keller once said “The highest result of education is tolerance.” Tolerance is the ability to accept and respect other religions, ideas, and races without judgement. Teaching tolerance begins with learning about the many differences in one another and celebrating those differences. We are all different in a variety of ways. Differences can include religion, food, socioeconomic status, clothing, customs, language, and disabilities.
Teaching students to be tolerant of differences in others is a critical piece of an effective anti-bullying program. Often, bullying occurs because of intolerance. We can teach students about tolerance in the classroom by teaching empathy and helping students discover their differences.
Start by teaching students about empathy. Empathy is “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.” Here’s a quick way to get students thinking empathetically: journal or discuss using “How would you feel if . . .” prompts. Some examples include: How would you feel if you didn’t have a bed to sleep in at night? How would you feel if your parent(s) spoke no English? How would you feel if your family didn’t have a car?
Help students discover their many differences. This can be in the form a class discussion, a survey, graphs, partner interviews, etc. Ask students about the foods they eat at home, what languages they speak, which hand they write with, or if they prefer to wear socks to bed. There are many topics from which to choose that are “safe” for the classroom.
When we teach students to be empathetic, to be aware of their many differences, and to be tolerant of differences in others, we lay a foundation for tolerance. Most importantly, we must practice what we preach.
Be the example you want to see in your students. Talk about tolerance daily in your classroom. Accept and celebrate differences in your school.
Books that Teach Tolerance (from Scholastic.com)
Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
When a mouse with an unusual name begins kindergarten, the class learns that “different” can be beautiful.
People by Peter Spier
Spectacular drawings and simple text celebrate the richness and excitement of a diverse planet.
Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children by Sandra L. Pinkney
Photographs and whimsical metaphors showcase the beauty of different skin tones.
The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss
Seuss spotlights the silliness of prejudice and fear of the unfamiliar.
Stellaluna by Janell Cannon
A baby bat with a bird “mother” tries to fit in while preserving her true nature.
Two Eyes, a Nose, and a Mouth by Roberta Grobel Intrater
Rhyming text and photos emphasize the similarities and differences of people’s facial features.
Yo? Yes! by Chris Raschka
Two boys — one black and one white — explore the joys and insecurities of conversation as they learn to connect and communicate.
All the Colors of the Earth by Sheila Hamanaka
Children of many ethnicities come together to play, laugh, and enjoy life.
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
An African-American gradeschooler longs to play Peter Pan in the school play, but has to prove a black girl is right for the role.
How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman
An American sailor and his Japanese girlfriend try to learn each other’s eating style in secret.
Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni
Friends of different colors bring their families together in an abstract look at the way hues blend.
Molly’s Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen
A Russian immigrant teaches her classmates the true meaning of “pilgrim.”
Sitti’s Secrets by Naomi Shihab Nye
Despite national and language barriers, a girl shares a strong bond with her Palestinian grandmother.
Wings by Christopher Myers
A boy who’s “different” finds the courage to be true to himself and others.
The Big Book for Peace by Various Award-Winning Authors
A collection of writing and art that explores peace, war, and conflict resolution across the globe.
Children, Just Like Me by Susan Elizabeth Copsey, et al
Photographs and stories depict the daily lives of children around the world.
Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
Displaced from a life of privilege to one of poverty, an adolescent discovers respect for herself and others.
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Lord
A 1940’s Chinese immigrant connects with her new country and classroom through baseball and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
A boy with an extraordinary talent transcends racism in his segregated community.
Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges
Photos, quotes, and her own words describe Ruby Bridges’ integration experience.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
A 1687 Puritan girl risks becoming an outcast in order to help her Quaker friend.
Everywhere by Bruce Brooks
Two boys of different races join together to try to help one’s grandfather recover.
The Journey: Japanese Americans, Racism, and Renewal by Sheila Hamanaka
A retrospective exploring the intolerance in America during WWII.
My Heart is on the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl… by Ann Rinaldi
Forced to assimilate into the “white” world, a Native American girl tries to preserve her past.
Samir and Yonatan by Daniella Carmi
A Jewish teen forges an unlikely friendship with a Palestinian and fellow patient in an Israeli hospital ward.
The Space Between Our Footsteps: Poems and Paintings from the Middle East by Naomi Shihab Nye, ed.
Over 100 Middle-Eastern artists explore life, love, war, and peace across their homelands.
Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman
When a young girl plants lima beans in a deserted lot, she grows a sense of community in her multi-ethnic neighborhood.
Witness by Karen Hesse
Sixteen different characters offer their points of view to racial crisis in a 1924 Vermont town.