Although zero-tolerance policies are popular, mounting evidence suggests that this approach does not make classrooms any safer. An alternative (recommended by the American Civil Liberties Union; the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network; the Anti-Defamation League; the Respect for All Project; and Teaching Tolerance) is taking a “zero-indifference” approach to bullying, harassment and other disciplinary issues. Zero indifference means never letting disrespectful conduct go unaddressed; school staff always name and respond to behaviors, but they do not implement automatic suspension, expulsion or other punishments.”

© 2016 Teaching Tolerance, some rights reserved.

In language lessons students are often invited to explore issues of personal and social identity, since most of the topics explored in course books gravitate around such themes. Whenever students are invited to explore and discuss them, they should be seen, heard, valued and respected, not only by the teachers, but also by their peers.

We teachers may fall in the trap of stereotyping students, sometimes by looking at them as the objects rather than the subjects of the learning process, which may be mistakenly taken as the reason why they are in a school.

Ours is a multifaceted job; directing their learning is not enough; we’re the ones who should continuously listen to their stories, acknowledge their voices, get to really know who they are, and thus help them exercise their role as agents – agents not only in their learning process, but also in the choices they make in and out of the classroom.   The classroom is their space, their territory, the place where they should be able to fall and get back on their feet, where they know there’s a safety net, regardless of the levels of diversity – of competence, ideas, beliefs, gender, among others.

‘Research shows that students need to feel both physically and emotionally safe to learn. This includes safety from stereotype threat, harassment and exclusion’.

Classroom Culture, Teaching Tolerance, 2016
How are we, educators, to manage and implement tolerance in the classroom, when we know that’s one of the nubs of the issue in education, especially nowadays?

A few ideas that I’ve been looking into and adopting in my daily practice are: first and foremost, never turn students into invisible beings! We may have students struggling who will never show themselves or their plight overtly. They have their issues, their sins, their baggage. Be alert all the time! Listen genuinely, look at them, expect and let them define/express their own selves, be humble and learn from them too.

Share. We also have stories, sins, baggage, and dividing some of them (within reason, of course) sometimes, may get learners to share more about themselves, look at us as partners, and feel part of the whole, instead of isolated from it.

Simply avoiding any controversial topic, any heated discussion that may arise during a lesson, or even a direct attack, for whatever reason, is taking the easy path; we have to be open to multiple viewpoints, perspectives, and address the issues that may cause conflict in a helpful, caring and respectful way; conflict may lead to reflection. Incidents can be treated as opportunities for growth.

By acting in a fair way, ensuring there is respectful interaction in classrooms, being aware of the diversity within the groups and genuinely listening and acknowledging their individualities, we stand a greater chance of developing a cohesive, united group of work, where there will be intergroup awareness and understanding, making sure a smooth process takes place.


  1. You’ve got such a deep understanding of what happens in a classroom and the struggle it is for some students Puri! We certainly have to put ourselves in their shoes so as to be able to help them overcome their difficulties. Well done for your enlightening thoughts. Warm regards, Pam.

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