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Written by Idrine Matenda-Zambi

Over the past several years, the sociodemographic profile of our school communities has been constantly changing. Many areas that previously had little or no diversity have been enriched through a multitude of cultures. This diversity now extends into our schools and classrooms throughout Ontario.

According to the latest Statistics Canada census, 37.5% of children under 15 years of age residing in Canada had at least one parent born abroad, which represents nearly 2.2 million children. Studies project that, within the next 15 years, children with an immigrant background could account for 39 to 49% of the overall population of children in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2017).


From a historical standpoint, the consideration of diversity is not a new phenomenon.  It has evolved over time. The period preceding the 1960s was predominantly characterized by inequalities of all kinds. White men dominated society, which was mainly organized around their needs and interests. The period between the 1960s and the 1990s saw significant progress in terms of diversity.  The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provided greater recognition for diversity in society. This reinforced the concept that rights and responsibilities should be applied equally to everyone. The enactment of the Charter had the effect of establishing and strengthening multiculturalism, which led to greater equity in our country.

In 2009, the Ontario Ministry of Education launched the Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy in Ontario schools to help identify and eliminate systemic bias and discrimination that were targeting minority and marginalized groups in the province.

2009 Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy.

Click here to view Ontario’s 2009 Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy.

This strategy was aimed at fostering the well-being of all students. It also had the goal of ensuring that all students, parents and other members of the school community were accepted, respected and supported. Bill 13 came into effect in 2012, thus amending the Education Act with respect to bullying and discrimination in our schools.

To learn more about Bill 13, click here to visit the Legislative Assembly of Ontario’s website.

An additional document was published in 2014 in order to elaborate on the policies established in the 2009 document and to provide specific methods for implementing these policies to counter bullying and discrimination.


Click here to view the 2014 document Guidelines for equity and inclusive education policy development and implementation.

Nowadays, in schools and classrooms, we aspire instead to instill approaches and practices focused on inclusion. Often, the terms inclusion, equality, and equity are used as if they are similar and interchangeable, but they are not. Equality means that students are treated the same way and that differences are ignored. Equity, on the other hand, aims to ensure that all students have the same chances of succeeding in spite of their differences. Inclusion goes even further. It seeks to ensure that everyone has a place where they belong. This concept requires creating an atmosphere where every student feels welcome, respected, and rightfully appreciated such that they can fully participate in their learning to the best of their skills and abilities. This also requires acknowledging the needs of every student and establishing the right conditions so that every student will be able to affirm their personality and use their ideas, experiences, and talents for the benefit of their peers and their community.

Culturally Sensitive Teaching

For educators, using a culturally sensitive approach is a non-negotiable moral imperative. This goes beyond merely knowing the students and celebrating their culture. It is an idea that can sometimes remain symbolic in certain instances. “Celebrating diversity” is simply not good enough. We must go beyond symbols. Our students deserve so much better.

Culturally sensitive teaching means understanding the student’s humanity, their whole being, their experiences and, above all, the way in which all of these important elements can inform our teaching and can have an effect on the student’s learning. As we can see, just knowing our students is not sufficient. It is what we do with this knowledge to influence their educational pathways and to activate authentic learning that counts the most. Thus, we must create rigorous learning activities for every student entering our classrooms.

In addition, we must continually keep the students at the heart of our teaching and assess the effectiveness of our efforts as educators. Do you know what impact our cultural responsiveness has on the social and academic achievements of students? How do we measure these?

It is crucial for us to know our place in the world and how we present ourselves to our students because we unconsciously project our own personalities and experiences. We do so through our lesson plans, through the pictures that we display on our walls, through the music that we play while our students are working, and in each of our interactions with them. Culturally sensitive teaching is relevant teaching. The idea is to leave behind what we have “always done” so that the learning reflects what students are doing today. This type of teaching has a different effect on students and is more stimulating for them. When connections are made with learningreal connectionsstudents learn more easily. Not only is their learning deep, but it is also long-lasting.

Winning Strategies for Teaching a Diverse and Inclusive Class

An inclusive teaching practice requires teachers first to understand the individual needs of every student so that they can advocate for them and support them. What we need to understand is that people who come from diverse backgrounds or from marginalized groups may not react or participate in the ways we may expect. For example, parents who were raised in other cultural contexts may not connect with other people or engage in conversations with school staff in the same way that other parents do. To create an inclusive classroom, we must absolutely take into account the multitude of experiences that these people have when we select texts or images, or when we prepare lesson plans, lessons and learning situations.

Unfortunately, for many racialized students, school is not always a welcoming place. This is where they are sometimes confronted with biases and stereotypes that they need to deal with, such as arbitrary punishments, and intense scrutiny for any perceived act of disobedience, etc. Hence the importance of creating an inclusive environment in the classroom where students will feel welcomed, valued, and respected.  

There is significant evidence showing that racialized students, particularly Black students, encounter a number of barriers at school because they face systemic discrimination and do not feel connected to their teachers or school communities (Chadha, et al., 2020). These barriers manifest themselves in various ways, including a feeling of being excluded, abusive suspensions, inappropriate guidance about career choices, racial stereotypes, and occasionally being treated with contempt and deliberately ignored for some students.

Here are a few strategies that we can use to make our teaching practices more inclusive:

  • Invite parents to participate in school and classroom activities.
  • Invite parents to plan and participate in school initiatives.
  • Extend sincere invitations to community organizations (Black, Arab, and LGBTQ organizations, etc.) so that they can be involved in school planning committees or events.
  • Avoid making assumptions based on race, occupation, family status, availability of the parents and their level of education and involvement.
  • Always ask parents for their opinion and create several entry points to enable them to access information as well as to share information with the school.
  • Intentionally share information about learning and networking opportunities, about parent councils and other parent leadership roles available in our schools or school boards.
  • Evaluate our own biases and prejudices, and question what we have been taught.
  • Learn how to pronounce unknown names and do not try to shorten a name without the permission of the student or parents.
  • Avoid giving the students European first and last names.
  • Find out about the students’ culture and customs.
  • Check the curriculum (don’t wait for the curriculum to change and, above all, pay attention to the hidden curriculum).
  • Celebrate all experiences and work with other educators who share your ideas to create new content and to come up with new suggestions for lessons.
  • Examine everything from an anti-oppression point of view and determine whether there are rules that promote or favour certain identities over others.
  • Choose a pedagogical approach that values all the cultural and linguistic knowledge of the students by allowing them, in particular Indigenous students, immigrant students and students from immigrant backgrounds, to use their past experience as migrants as a springboard for learning and developing their identity.

Research clearly shows that adopting such teaching practices is a winning strategy for all students, particularly for immigrant and marginalized students, because it can make the difference between school success or failure (Cummins, 2012).

Though not exhaustive, with the list of strategies mentioned above can help us get to know our students, listen to their voices, and create opportunities and authentic connections. We can then be intentional in the classroom in order to promote authentic learning. ALL of our students deserve this, especially those who come from marginalized communities.

Learn More:

Ontario’s Anti-Racism Strategic Plan

Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy

Ontario’s Anti-Black Racism Strategy


The definitions used in the French version of this article can be found on the websites of the following organizations:


Chadha, E., Herbert, S., & Richard, S. (2020). Reports from the review of the Peel District School Board. ontario.ca. Retrieved August 23, 2022, from https://www.ontario.ca/page/reports-review-peel-district-school-board

Cummins, J., Mirza, R., & Stille, S. (2012). English Language Learners in Canadian Schools: Emerging Directions for School-Based Policies. TESL Canada Journal, 29, 25.

JAMES, C. E. et TURNER, T. (2017). Towards Race Equity in Education: The Schooling of Black Students in the Greater Toronto Area. Toronto, ON: Université York.

Statistics Canada (2017). Census in Brief: Children with an immigrant background: Bridging cultures. Retrieved August 23, 2022, from https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/as-sa/98-200-x/2016015/98-200-x2016015-eng.cfm

About the Author

Idrine Matenda-Zambi is a part-time professor at the Windsor campus of the University of Ottawa. He is also an educational advisor responsible for equity and inclusive education at Providence school board. In this capacity, his role is to model equitable and inclusive teaching and support other educational advisors from various sectors to initiate practices that promote equity and an inclusive approach and create relevant resources for teachers to support them in their work in schools. A several-time member of EQAO's Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Content Review Committee, he has been interested in issues related to inclusive education and diversity for several years.