Appreciating differences in the classroom

Our Statement of Belonging represents our unwavering commitment to creating a culture of belonging for all.

Read the article by Danielle Applebaum, Dean of Student Services at The Leo Baeck Day School, speaking to the actions we take to create an inclusive and equitable environment which allows students to excel academically, socially and emotionally.


A teacher’s ability to understand the diverse needs of their students is paramount in ensuring every child’s success. Having a thorough understanding of where each child is coming from and what each child needs is the focal point of the Leo Baeck experience, which ultimately creates a culture of belonging in which diverse needs are celebrated and appreciated. 

Today’s classroom is a microcosm of the world’s diversity, made up of students from various cultural, linguistic, socioeconomic, and ability backgrounds. For teachers, recognizing, valuing and celebrating this diversity is necessary for students to excel, as their success is directly linked to their sense of belonging. When they feel seen and valued they are more likely to engage in school experiences. 

While the first step for teachers is to acknowledge differences, it’s the appreciation and understanding of those differences that fosters empathy, respect, and open-mindedness among students. All of these are foundational social-emotional skills that are critical for success beyond the classroom. 

For example, math teachers understand that some children are more confident than others in their abilities. Knowing this, they can offer open-ended tasks with a variety of possible responses to either boost a child’s confidence or leverage it to deepen their knowledge. 

Consider a Grade 4 teacher who provides the answer “52” and then asks students to create questions to achieve that answer. The diversity of responses is interesting and informative. Alternatively a Grade 7 math teacher could ask students to make the following statement true in as many ways as possible: “78 is _____% of ______.” Or an SK teacher who asks their students to brainstorm all the different ways they could measure a pumpkin. Each response allows students to feel that their contribution has value, which enhances everyone’s experience.  

It can also be as straightforward as the Middle School Physical Education teacher recognizing that some students play competitive basketball outside of school, while others are relatively new to picking up a ball. Those fresh to the court can be directed to dribble a basketball in a straight line, while those with advanced skills are set up to dribble around pylons or with a defensive partner. This scenario sees everyone as equal participants with all skills being attuned to and celebrated. 

Differentiated instruction is the pedagogical approach that acknowledges that no two students are alike and holds educators accountable to creating learning experiences that meet that reality. It emphasizes tailoring teaching methods, materials and assessments to match the varied needs, interests and abilities of learners. For students with time management issues, ADHD, executive functioning disorder or emotional regulation issues, it helps to scaffold assignments by breaking up a project into smaller pieces. The teacher provides time frames for each chunk and checks in to ensure that the student meets timelines while providing additional cheerleading. Every student would benefit from this one-to-one support, but only some students require it.

The ultimate goal of education is to foster student growth and success. Students who feel seen and heard and whose unique needs are addressed are more likely to be engaged and motivated learners. This leads to better academic outcomes and the development of essential life skills, such as responsible decision-making, self-awareness, relationship skills, critical thinking, problem-solving and adaptability.

By: Danielle Applebaum, Dean of Student Services

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