26. Why We Should Teach An Identity Lesson At The Beginning Of The School Year
Episode 2613th September 2023 • Counselor Chat Podcast • Carol Miller, School Counselor
00:00:00 00:15:47

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When we begin a new school year, there are so many topics that we could dive into with our students. I think one of the very most important things we can teach our students as we kick off the year is identity. 

We have a unique role in fostering discussions around identity, diversity, and empathy. So in this episode, we’ll look at the importance of teaching an identity lesson at the beginning of the school year and how it sets the stage for everything that follows.

I have ideas for several interactive activities and group discussions that you can use to help students reflect on their own identities and appreciate differences in others. Additionally, we’ll address the role of empathy and how we can challenge biases and stereotypes to create a welcoming atmosphere for all students. Plus, I’ll share some of my favorite book recommendations that explore these themes!

If you have favorite books that you use to teach about identity, please send me a message on Instagram or an email to carol@counselingessentials.org. I would love to create a list of books to share with everyone!

Topics Discussed:

  • How we can facilitate discussions around identity 
  • Why teaching identity makes for a really great first or second lesson at the beginning of the school year
  • Examples of activities that foster self-awareness and lay the foundation for understanding others
  • Challenging the biases and stereotypes that often influence how we perceive others
  • Great mentor texts to use when teaching empathy
  • Hosting school events that celebrate different cultures, religions, and traditions

Links Mentioned:


Book Companion Lessons:

Identity Lessons

Grab the Show Notes: Counselingessentials.org/podcast

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Carol: You're listening to the Counselor Chat podcast, a show for school counselors looking for easy to implement strategies, how to tips, collaboration, and a little spark of joy. I'm Carol Miller, your host. I'm a full time school counselor and the face behind counseling essentials. I'm all about creating simplified systems, data driven practices, and using creative approaches to age students. If you're looking for a little inspiration to help you make a big impact on student growth and success, you're in the right place, because we're better together. Ready to chat? Let's dive in.

Carol: Hey, everyone, it's Carol here. And today I thought we would talk a little bit about how we can really embrace diversity and teach identity and respect in schools. You know, I think this is one of probably the most important things that we can really teach our student, and it's such, I think, an important topic for us as school counselors. So in today's episode, we are going to explore this crucial aspect of education, really teaching students about identity and respecting each other's differences. Now, as school counselors, we do have a unique role in shaping inclusive and empathetic school communities. So let's dive into this essential topic. Now, our identities really encompass a range of characteristics, including our race, our ethnicity, our gender, our religion, our socioeconomic background, and more. And acknowledging and celebrating these differences is essential for creating a welcoming environment where all students feel valued and understood. And as school counselors, we can facilitate discussions about identity and help students explore their own uniquenesses while appreciating the diversity around them. Now, I think it's also important to mention that as we start the year, this is probably a really great first or second lesson that we do with our students because it really can set the stage for everything else that comes past that I know in my building. I really like to go in and start with a little lesson on who I am and my role as a counselor. And then I hit the ground running with identity, and I teach identity starting with my little loves in kindergarten and go all the way through. And I think it's really easy to do. Now, I know a lot of people are questioning, like, you teach identity to kindergartners, and yeah, I do, because I think it's important for them to understand that we are all unique. We all have different backgrounds, our families are different, our lives are different, our cultures are different. But when we come to school, we really share a lot of similarities. But having these differences really makes our classroom better. And so we need to talk about that. We need to say how we're alike and how we're different so that we can understand each other. We can build that empathy. We can look at people from where they're standing in their shoes and not from ours. So one really effective way to teach identity is really through some interactive activities that can encourage kids to really self reflect group discussions, journaling. Those are other great ways to have students explore questions like who am I and what aspects of my identity are most important to me. And these activities can really foster self awareness and lay the foundation for understanding others. Now, with the Little Loves, I kind of have a PowerPoint, and I can actually link to that PowerPoint to you in the show notes. But I have this PowerPoint that I use that kind of goes through what makes up our identity from our culture and our family backgrounds, and it explains it in really kid friendly terms. And then I ask kids to share with each other about who they are, who's in their family, what's their favorite foods to eat with their family, do they have a special holiday that they might celebrate. And we talk about all of those things, and we do it as a group. And they also fill out a little page all about themselves. These are great, too, because you can hang them right in your classroom. Kind of like an All About Me page, but focuses on our identities. Then we do some things to talk about, well, how are we all alike and how are we different? So some ways that I can do this is kind of like across the line activity. And even Kindergartners can do this activity where I might say we're going to cross the line if we love pizza. And everybody who loves pizza might cross the line. And then for those that don't, they stay on the other side. And then we have them look around and share with each other on their side of the line something else that they love, something else that they love on their pizza. Or maybe if they're on the line, the side of the line where they don't like pizza. They share what their favorite food is. But we talk about it. We know who's on the same side of the line as we are. And now the pizza is just a general thing. But you can really dive deep into this topic. You can explore things like who we live with in our families, or do we go to church on Sundays, or do we really practice religion in our families? Do we have cousins close by? There are a ton of things that you can ask and have them answer. So cross the line is actually kind of fun. And the bigger kids like this, too. Now, with the bigger kids, I might do something like a Tootsie Roll activity where I give every kid a Tootsie Roll Pop. And we start by looking at this Tootsie Roll Pop and trying to decide, all right, what's the similarities for all these pops and how is it different and what does it mean? And then we talk about how are our Tootsie Roll Pops like the people? So we start by looking at the outside and then about the inside of the Tootsie Roll Pop. And it's amazing what kids can tell you. They'll say things like, well, the colors are all different, just like, we're all different. Or you know what? Sometimes people are hard on the outside, just like this Tootsie Roll Pop. But inside, we're all soft. We all have emotions, we all have feelings, we all are the same. So they will come up with these topics themselves. They will come up with these answers themselves, and they're pretty insightful, so that's always a good one, and pre fun. Plus, who doesn't like a good Tootsie Roll pop? But as we are doing this, we really want to have these activities really foster self awareness, because that lays the foundation for really understanding others. Now, empathy is a cornerstone of respectful relationships. We can guide students to shed, to step into other shoes by sharing stories, engage in role playing scenarios, and discussing real world issues. But by promoting empathy, we are really helping students develop a deeper appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of their peers. Now, unfortunately, biases and stereotypes can really influence how we perceive others. So as school counselors, it's our responsibility to really challenge these biases and encourage critical thinking. We need to encourage students in conversations about media representation or cultural misconceptions, or even the harmful effects of stereotyping. And by addressing these topics openly, we really empower our students to question and counter prejudice. Now, respecting differences goes hand in hand with creating an inclusive environment. Collaborate with your teachers to integrate multicultural literature, history, and art into the curriculum. There are so many great books that we can do and add as well. And as I'm teaching identity, I then move into our empathy unit. And as we're talking about empathy, I know one of the books that I like to use is The Last Stop on Market Street or A Bike Like Sergio's. These are really great to really explore how people's lives are different. Those Shoes is another one that I can think of that I like to use. So they talk about looking at people from a different perspective because we don't know what those backgrounds are of our kids. And I know that there's a ton of other books, too. And if you could share with me, if you're listening to this, some of those books that you love, I would love to put a list together and share it with everyone. But with the books that I've talked about, I will also put a little link into the show notes so that you can see exactly what I'm talking about. We also, I think, want to really try to remember to host events that celebrate various cultures, religions, and traditions, because these initiatives not only educate, but really enforce or reinforce the importance of embracing diversity. This is just another way that we can really go about trying to incorporate a person's identity into our curriculum, into our schoolwide community into our school culture. I know my school has an inclusion committee. Now, this committee is really great because we have done some pretty cool things over the past year. But I have to admit that our inclusion committee really focused on one area, and that was to include kids with disabilities or differing abilities. And so we did some things like we had a day where we did kind of like sensory awareness things and had kids kind of understand what it was like to maybe be a student that had some sensory things and why they might use certain materials or equipment then other kids don't. We also did some pretty unique read aloud with our kids about inclusion and diversity, and we did some announcements and different things like that. But as we were talking about our inclusion committee this year for the summer and moving into this coming school year, I was really adamant that I also wanted to include our cultures, our race, our ethnic backgrounds, families into this as well, because inclusion should be about all of those things, not just one targeted area. So I know that we are going to be planning things really specifically about different cultures and religions and traditions with some different events. I can't wait to see how the year unfolds. Now, we've kind of talked about how we really are a model for students because we can also model respectful behavior. We also have to, I think, as school counselors, continually examine our own biases that we have, acknowledge them, and engage in professional development to enhance our ability to facilitate these important conversations. I will admit I have some biases because my worldview has been limited, but I do continuously try to grow and move past them. And I have to remember to acknowledge that I do have biases sometimes and I have to go into things with an open mind and I think that shows growth and that also models really respectable behavior. So we have to also demonstrate respect for diversity. And while we do this, we're inspiring our students to do exactly the same thing. So, my friends, there you have it. A short little discussion on how we as school counselors can teach students about identity and respecting each other's differences. So remember, our efforts to foster an inclusive environment have a lasting impact on our school, community and beyond. So I really want to just thank you for joining me today and listening to me kind of ramble on about this subject. But if you found this episode valuable, please be sure to subscribe to the Counselor Chat podcast. And if you have books that you want to share, please send me a little message on Instagram or Facebook because I want to hear about it. Or email me at carol@counselingessentials.org because I really do want to create a list and share it because that's how we get better. That's how we reduce stigmas. That's how we reduce biases. That's how we become a really inclusive, not only school community, but world community. So, my friends, thank you. Thank you. Thank you for joining me today. I hope that this gave you maybe a tip or two to try to teach identity and to incorporate that into a curriculum. And like I said, check the show notes for some links because I think that you'll be pleasantly surprised with what's there. Anyway, until next time, have a great weekend.

Carol: Thanks for listening to today's episode of Counselor Chat. All of the links I talked about can be found in the show Notes and@counselingessentials.org Forward slash podcasts. Be sure to hit, follow or subscribe on your favorite podcast player. And if you would be so kind.

Carol: To leave a review, I'd really appreciate it. Want to connect?

Carol: Send me a DM on Facebook or Instagram at counseling essentials.

Carol: Until next time.

Carol: Can't wait till we chat. Bye for now. Bye.




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