“Send the Muslims home! Build the wall and kick them all out!” Is shouted through every television in America multiple times a day. We can’t change that. But in our classrooms we have the power. So how do you make sure each student feels welcome, supported, and safe in a political atmosphere that is as polarized as our own? This is the question we will all be facing for the next 99 days of the election. I have a feeling that these differences won’t go away with a vote. This election has opened up a dirty chasm that a single day of voting won’t heal.
This summer I attended a Cultural Proficiency three day training. I would like to say that I went to the training to bring greater self awareness…but no. I have a new principal this year and this was my first chance to see scope her out. Although my motives were less than stellar, I learned so much and unexpectedly was given some great tools to help navigate what could be a bumpy fall semester.
1. Learn About Self
For students to be culturally aware they need to first know what is culture, and what mosaic of cultures are they living in everyday. In the first day of our training we focused on self. This process was eye opening. I always thought that culture was only race or ethnic origin. (I guess I had the Trump definition in my head.) But it is way bigger than that. Cultures are any group that where we share a common belief or experience. For example, cultures we are in together- teachers, Americans, and maybe you are also in the blogger culture. I am also in a other cultural groups- Texan (ya’ll), Catholic, middle class, 15+ year teacher, 40 and single. (If you have had the Ruby Payne training she talks about this too but with a focus on socio-economic cultures.)
Around us are dominant and beta cultures. This is where it gets a little messy. The dominant culture is the one in charge…and the strange thing is the people in the dominant culture don’t always know they are in it. However, if you are in the beta culture you are painfully aware of it. Because we are all members of so many cultures we will have both those experiences of being in the dominant and beta at different times in our life.
Teaching Self to Students
How do we help students learn about self? You can do student inventories. Students can create Play dough figures that represent the most important thing about them. Take pictures of students with those figures and post them in the room. An eye opening and sometimes painful activity we did in the training was getting on the line. Have them stand in a line then read statements like-
- I am (some number) age
- My parents are divorced
- I need to lose over 10 pounds
- Sometimes I don’t understand Math/reading/science/history very fast
- I am considered minority in this country
- I speak more than one language
- At home I don’t speak English
- Someone in my family has been to jail
- I am not Christian
You can go here for more questions. The statements are meant to make you cringe. Because we are taught to not notice or “see” the differences in others. This was uncomfortable. And it was super sad to have to be the only one on the line. No one likes to be identified as the beta culture. The most important thing to remember is that if you do this activity you must debrief that day. Make sure you ask debrief questions like-
- Were you the only one on the line at some point?
- What did you learn about yourself from the experience?
- Everyone of those questions identified a different culture. Thinking now, are there other cultures that you in?
2. Learn About Others
Knowing yourself is great, and there is nothing a student loves more…than themselves. (Most politicians are that way too.) However, to be successful global citizens there must be a shift from self to the outside community. As you go through your normal lessons there will be many opportunities for students to educate each other about their unique culture. Have them share, and ask questions about each others cultures.
Teaching Community to Students
Teaching community doesn’t have to be outside of your curriculum. It can be built in. Once there is a discussion of culture this opens up the discussion for a year long study. As situations present themselves give time for different cultural groups to share their experiences, and ideas. The key is to be vigilant in protecting the “safeness” of the room by allowing students to ask questions and using vocabulary that does not have bias but is “just the facts.” Other ideas include:
- When holidays come up, give students the opportunity to share what the different cultures celebrate or how that looks. During Thanksgiving instead of talking about a coming together of cultures have students make a food that is meaningful to them. Give them a chance to explain why or what it means to them.
- Host international days where students can wear traditional dress and are given the opportunity to share what the dress means, and why or how it is important.
3. Building Capacity
This next step is for teachers that are ready to take this safety net school wide.
In the training we discussed that for teacher leaders to create a culturally proficient environment the building will need to embrace the methodology. There must be an acknowledgement of historical performance and the data that supports a change needs to occur. Leaders will need to reach out to the community with survey’s, panels, community meetings, and staff. There will need to be training among the staff on what is culture, what different cultures need, and be create new systems that are created with the new cultural needs in mind.
Freebie Full of Tools
That first week of school is sneaking up on us. If you are ready to implement structures to have a Culturally Responsive classroom I recommend using some of the ideas above. Or, you could always download the ebook, Creating A Culturally Responsive and Caring Classroom. It is a free download with tons of ideas and different aapproaches. (I have even added my own two cents to it.)