The complex realities of culture and the role it plays in the way we think, act, and what we value are critical understandings for teachers to be effective educators of culturally diverse students. Teachers must be well-versed in not only the most visible manifestations of their student’s cultures such as foods, holidays, and language; but also in the implicit forms such as interactional patterns, values, and beliefs. When taking a critical look at how our schools reflect the various cultures of the students in its charge, it is painfully clear that many of our K-12 schools are stuck at the basic (and smallest) level of understanding of culture. Many schools tout their superficial references to student’s food, clothing, holidays, and customs as sufficient in including the diverse cultures of their students. This is a great start, but only a start. Schools can often neglect the deeper levels of interactional patterns and shared beliefs that are essential in creating more positive cross-cultural interactions between students, parents, and their teachers. When these deeper levels of culture are misunderstood or ignored, cultural conflict can ensue. Misunderstandings, assumptions, and stereotypes about what students and their parents value in regards to education can result in negative teacher expectations towards students they do not understand.
Schools must also be able to reflect on their own culture and critically examine the cultural messages students are receiving from them and rectify any conflicting messages about the value of their diverse student’s lives. If left unexamined, cultural conflicts between teachers, schools, and students can be detrimental to the achievement of students whose cultural norms do not match that of the teacher or the school. When students do not feel connected to their learning environments or educators in front of them, disinterest and disengagement are inevitable.
So what can schools do to ease any cultural disconnects diverse students experience and begin to bridge those gaps for more culturally congruent learning environments? Check out the tips below!
To assess the dominant cultural norms and expectations exhibited throughout the school, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Whose cultural norms are valued in terms of language, speaking, dress, style of hair, foods, holidays, interactional patterns, and beliefs?
2. Whose history is taught throughout the curriculum (not just on holidays) and from whose perspective is it from?
3. What are the demographics of the teachers? Do they match that of the students? Is there a good male to female teacher ratio?
4. What attitudes do teachers hold regarding students who are poor, homeless, students of color, differently abled, LGBTQ, and religiously different?
5. What do the achievement gaps look like? Do certain demographics consistently perform below others? If so, how has your school attempted to address those gaps? Are students, their parents, their home life, or their socioeconomic statues blamed; or has your school sought ways to increase the learning opportunities for their struggling students?
If the answer to many of these questions related to White, English-speaking, female, middle-class, heterosexual, cis-gender, and Christian cultural norms, your school, like many others across the nation is still in the beginning stages of becoming culturally responsive to ALL students. Am I suggesting that we throw away the baby with the bathwater? No. Do we have to make sure every single aspect of our schools matches that of every single student? No, that ‘s not realistic nor logical. What I am suggesting is that schools be knowledgeable of the diverse cultures of their students. Don’t punish students whose culturally relevant ways of speaking, dressing, interacting, perspectives, and learning are outside of those dominant cultural norms. I am saying, let’s be knowledgeable enough to mediate between the two. And even within the knowledge of cultural diversity, know that not all students from the same cultural backgrounds will act, think, or believe in the same ways. People are not a monolith! As I said, this is complex stuff. In short, differences are not deficits, only opportunities to learn about something new.
Think about it: What if the school you went to was immersed in a culture that thought, spoke, interacted, valued, perceived, and learned in different ways than you? How well do you think you would do if you had to constantly put aside who you were to become who someone else thought you should be?
Culture is something we all possess and carry with us in our interactions with others. Because educators must interact with many different kinds of people and engage them in learning, it is essential that teachers understand how to communicate, inspire, and relate cross-culturally to be effective teachers for a variety of students. Let’s get to learnin’ ya’ll!
I’d love to hear how your school is creating more culturally inclusive environments for your students! Drop me a line in the comments section below! Happy teaching!