How can Diversity and Inclusion inform teaching and learning?

“विविधता और समावेश किस तरीके से पढ़ने-पढ़ाने की प्रक्रिया को प्रभावित कर सकते हैं?” – इस आर्टिकल को हिंदी में पढ़ने के लिए यहाँ क्लिक करें

Apni Shala focuses on building social and emotional competencies among individuals and ecosystems through its various initiatives. In this article, we are going to explore how Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) manifests in the work we do at Apni Shala. In our exploration, we will look at curriculum, pedagogy, and professional development and how it translates into practice. 

Diversity and Inclusion-informed SEL at Apni Shala

It may sometimes seem difficult to imagine how D&I manifests or translates in the work with students. At Apni Shala, we intentionally work on developing our curriculum and pedagogy, and on training our team to build awareness and competencies that respond to multicultural needs. We do this towards supporting the process of creating a compassionate and just ecosystem for students and adults to thrive in. Our reference point for how we make sense of D&I and its impact on student learning comes from our knowledge partner – the National SEED Project.  

With this understanding and from our experience at Apni Shala we have shared below what it might look like to have D&I-informed practices in the school through examples from our experiences across our School SEL programme initiative in partnership with government schools and NGOs and through Khoj community learning center (an initiative to build an SEL integrated school). 


At Apni Shala, students are kept at the centre of the design of our SEL curriculum, which means that differences in students’ contexts, backgrounds, abilities, etc. are ongoingly considered in the design.  Here are a few things to remember while you go about your own process of bringing a D&I lens into designing a curriculum.  

  • Developing an understanding of the background of the students and their context. Understanding who is in our classrooms must inform our design process. Design for inclusion of all kinds of learners. This would entail getting to know the diversity in gender and sexuality, regional identities, caste, class, religion, and neurodiversity in the classroom in a respectful, non-intrusive way 
    • At School SEL Programme, we start the year with a few rapport-building sessions. Through these sessions, facilitators create opportunities to gather information on the different needs for differentiated instruction based on students’ learning abilities (check for literacy levels,  hearing/speech/cognitive differences, presence of behavioral differences) 
    • Another way that facilitators do this in the School SEL programme is through planned interactions with the principal, teachers, and caregivers throughout the year. With the principal, the approach is to get a more holistic overview of the communities that students come from, whereas with the teachers and caregivers, facilitators are able to draw more specific insights regarding challenges students might be facing. These are usually combined with existing scheduled meetings with the respective stakeholders such as parent-teacher meetings. 
    • At Khoj, the teachers in partnership with the community development team plan timely engagement with the caregivers of the students to better understand the socio-cultural backgrounds of students so as to inform the curriculum design. These happen through caregiver meetings and home visits every month.
  • Creating a balance of windows and mirrors for our students i.e. providing spaces for exposure to lived experiences similar to those of the student and those that may be different from the lived experiences of the student 
    • While designing sessions for SEL, facilitators often share their personal examples and invite students to share their own connections to activities or experiences. One such activity is in the curriculum for the 5th grade. Students are asked to draw their own community the way they see it. Facilitators also share their own experiences with their respective communities. Opportunities like these allow for students to see their own lived experiences validated through the sharing of others and also, find windows into experiences that might be different from their own. 
    • Similarly for the 6th grade while unpacking the meaning of empathy students are asked to reflect on the ways they have shown empathy and when they have found it difficult to show empathy. Students are able to identify similar experiences by listening to their classmates’ experiences while also seeing that empathy need not be shown or experienced in the same way by all. 
    • At Khoj, the module of grade 1 discovering myself has a number of activities and objectives which allow the students to reflect on windows and mirrors. As the name suggests the focus of this Unit is getting a deeper understanding of self and gaining some understanding of what are the important parts of identity as per the age group, understanding of what kind of environment is around oneself, how does the child feel about the environment, and how they interact in this environment. In the classroom, an activity is done where the students make an identity circle in which they write the place where they stay, their family, physical features, language, festivals and share their own circle with the whole class. When a person is sharing, the rest of the class makes a list of things which are new for them on one side of the page and things that are common on the other side of the page.
  • Ensuring that the curriculum relies on drawing from the “scholarship of the shelves and the selves”. Students bring wisdom that comes from their intergenerational cultural and social experiences and acknowledging and celebrating that, is as critical as creating opportunities for learning that comes from the world around us whether through media, academia, or stories of others different from ourselves. This also involves creating space for facilitators’ own life stories and examples to be brought into the design. 
    • At Apni Shala, in grade 7, facilitators introduce themes of social awareness to students such as gender, sexuality, religion, pollution, child labor, etc. Facilitators draw from the resources available to them through media, videos, articles that become a part of the scholarship of the shelves. Once the students are introduced to these topics they begin to look into their lived experiences and start discovering topics that they feel called to explore in their life. In the process of deciding a topic to research, they also work on identifying their reasons for choosing this topic. Factors such as how this topic has impacted them, their families, their communities, etc. emerge in their explorations. This gives them ample opportunities to explore and bring to the class the scholarship of the selves.
    • The way we have done this at Khoj is ensuring that various faiths, genders, and cultures are represented in the stories used in the language class, in the sample problems used in the Math class, and in the rituals, foods, celebrations, environmental diversities mentioned in the EVS class. Breaking the hegemony of the English language by using multilingual texts for content. 
  • Choosing resources that are D&Iinformed. While bringing resources to the classroom for students to explore SEL themes, facilitators can be conscious and mindful in their choice so as to not reinforce stereotypes or prejudice that may already exist regarding various identities. In identifying resources a few things that we keep in mind at Apni Shala are- the possible emotional triggers a resource may evoke and how we may respond to them, offering stories that are not already available in the participant group, offering new, diverse perspectives to expand learning on the theme, ensure that the resource does not portray “people as problems” but acknowledge systemic lenses.
    • In designing a session on personality, facilitators use examples of people who are known for their skills and expertise in their respective fields. Facilitators choose persons across the gender spectrum which include female, male, and transgender persons so that students are offered resources that expand their perspective on gender
    • Another example of using resources this way is when doing a session on relationships students and facilitators collaboratively define family as a concept. Facilitators bring in examples that highlight families with not only mothers and fathers but families with two mothers, fathers, with a single parent, or with grandparents, with pet animals etc.   


While designing the curriculum is a part of the manifestation of D&I principles, pedagogy is what ultimately helps put this into practice. The pedagogical approach can be differentiated to address diversity in classrooms in multiple ways. 

  • Differentiating Content

The big ideas for any concept can be differentiated to cater to the diverse needs of learners in the classroom. At the practice or pedagogy level, inclusion and diversity often mean that instruction is paced as needed for all children in the class, peers are expected to value each others’ processing time, and wait time is a part of usual sharing. Expectations of responses are varied and diverse ranging from verbal sharing to drawings to writing and expressing. Using a range of stimulating materials as part of classroom learning, from audio-visuals to kinesthetic aids and movements as well as songs. 

  • Differentiating Process

Ensuring there are different ways of processing content also ensures inclusion in the classroom. In the classroom, some ways we do this at Apni Shala is through the use of a multiplicity of options for different learners that address differences in readiness, interest, and learning styles. While facilitating activities in the classroom, facilitators use options of individual journaling, pair-share exercises, small group sharing, jigsaw activities, letter writing, etc. which allow for all learners to engage in their own way to process the same content.

  • Formative assessment

When assessing or creating opportunities for students to demonstrate what they know, facilitators and teachers may rely on many different ways of expression. 

  • In the Apni Shala SEL session, facilitators may create opportunities through art, poetry, role plays, journaling, etc. for students to be able to share what they have learnt. These serve as great checks for understanding to ongoingly gather data on if students are relating to the content and if objectives of sessions are met.
  • At Khoj, assessments are differentiated in the form of individualized assessment conversations where the teachers meet with students individually to check for understanding of a unit or module’s objectives. 
  • Learning environment

Flexibility in the use of space, time, and materials supports creating a conducive environment for every learner in the classroom.  

  • One of the ways this is done in the Apni Shala classroom is through flexible options in the use of language. It creates opportunities for peers to translate and support one another in sharing. 
  • How we utilize materials at Khoj is also very flexible. Students do not always have the materials needed for a particular activity. For example at a time when students did not have access to colors we used natural colors and different types of art such as coffee painting. They also use chocolate wrappers for craft activities. For a subject like math, students use what is already available in their homes. They were taught shapes in which the students gathered materials with different shapes – plates in the shape of a circle, oval shaped goggles, square shaped tables and many more.
  • Use of Norms 

Norms that support and reinforce some principles of D&I can help students take responsibility themselves to ensure that there is space for everyone’s voice to be heard. An Apni Shala facilitator shared an example of this in the design of his sessions. Equity of voices (which means who gets the chance to speak and how many times)  is very important in his classrooms. He is able to regulate this by reminding the students in his class to step up and step back to ensure all voices are heard and sometimes inviting students who may not have had the chance to speak. Additionally, the norm of no blame, no shame, and no guilt is also something he reinforces in all his sessions. It allows him and his students to be free from all judgments and thoughts that they feel before saying or sharing anything about their own selves. You can read more about how we use norms in this blog post

Professional development

A constant engagement and reflection of our own identities impact our interactions and our approach as SEL practitioners. In our attempt to build a space that allows for this reflection and for expanding our own team’s knowledge  Apni Shala designs and facilitates a 30-hour training programme for the Apni Shala team and external participants called Diversity Shala

The objective of Diversity Shala for the Apni Shala educators is to be able to create multiculturally equitable, socio-economically aware, and globally informed classrooms. Diversity Shala is a training that all staff members are active participants of throughout the first few years of work at Apni Shala. The participants are expected to engage in action-reflection in their workspaces and introspection into their own beliefs and values and how their work reflects them.  In Diversity Shala, the themes covered include gender, language, sexuality, religion, caste, etc, and concepts such as privilege, intersectionality, window and mirrors, selves and shelves, etc.  

Additionally, our team comes from diverse backgrounds – socially, economically as well as culturally. During team interactions, learning about and from such diverse lived experiences helps expand the worldviews of team members and also informs their facilitation and teaching practice. 

At Apni Shala we also recognize that diversity, equity and inclusion cannot only be the responsibility of the staff to bring into their practice. It also requires a systemic change that would include policies, structures, and organizational practices that truly allow for a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace. While we may not be able to cover this within the scope of this article we continuously strive to make our workplace inclusive. 

At times, when we begin to engage with diversity as educators, it may feel like a lot of work and may overwhelm some of us. Kiran Bir Sethi, the founder of Riverside School, reminds us, “well, this is the work of an educator – all children (have access to learning).”* With adequate support built for educators, it is indeed possible for us to continually learn and build more diverse and inclusive spaces for social-emotional development for ALL young people. 

We hope that these examples provided you a glimpse into how we have gone about bringing D&I into our SEL work. We would love to learn how you may be doing this as well. You can leave these in the comments below. Additionally, if you would like to learn more about our training on Diversity and Inclusion please write to

*shared at SELebrating Inclusion Summit.

About the authors:

Amrita Nair, Director of HR, R&D and Advocacy, Apni Shala

Amrita with a Bachelors’ degree in Psychology from Mumbai University, and a Masters’ degree in Social Entrepreneurship from TISS, is a part of the founding team of Apni Shala. Before founding Apni Shala, Amrita worked with the Akanksha Foundation and Aasara Home for boys. She has also been trained in personal counseling and rational emotive behaviour therapy. Since 2013, she has been an active facilitator of the Theatre of the oppressed. She was part of the DBS-TISS Social Entrepreneurship Programme from 2013 to 2016 and a WIPRO seeding fellow (2017). In 2016, she attended the New Leader’s Week with the National SEED project and has been facilitating Mumbai-based SEED groups. Amrita has also facilitated a diverse group of educators and leaders with organisations such as Nashik Cambridge School and Ummeed Child Development Center. 

Shahbaan Shah, Programme Facilitator and R&D Support, Apni Shala

Shahbaan pursued his Bachelor of Art (Sociology) from Wilson College, Mumbai. Before Apni Shala, Shahbaan has worked with Akanksha Foundation, facilitating service-learning initiatives with children and youth. He joined Apni Shala Fellowship in 2018, after which, he joined the organization as Programme Facilitator. In his role, he facilitates social-emotional learning for children, educators, and parents in a variety of settings and supports R&D initiatives. He is also a co-founder of two collaboratives, Education Through Sports and The Shor (a poetry collaborative). 


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