Cultural Responsive Teaching: Recognizing Your Culture

For many years in high school and college I remember learning about cultural differences. Because I am white, I often assumed that I didn't really have a culture because I was in the majority. Since beginning work, I have learned what it means to have a culture and how my culture impacts my students.

What are some aspects of culture that make a difference in our interactions with other people?

Belief System
Cultural belief systems are more than a religion. A belief system involves a conviction of truths usually passed down through generations. Many beliefs are so ingrained within us that we are not even aware of their existence. What we believe will impact how we interpret reality as we experience it and plan for the future. Some common examples of belief systems are one's views on religion, politics, and ideas about human behavior. Belief systems also involve views on social roles and responsibilities, attitudes towards other cultures, traditions, and expectations for behavior.

When I examine my own culture, I see that my belief system involves having faith in Christ Jesus as my savior and having moderate-conservative political views. I also value education and a hard work ethic.

Working within the public schools has taught me many new belief systems. It has not been without challenges. An area of growth for myself has been to adjust my teaching based on what I discover about my students' system of beliefs.

Family Dynamics
Although this seems as a more obvious aspect of culture, the nuances of family dynamics across cultures is not always so obvious. Difference in family dynamics may include gender roles within family, discipline practices, parenting style, forms of showing affection, and many more.

Upon analysis of my own family dynamics, I can see an even balance of power between male and female member. I also notice that my family feels free to show affection both through touch and words. Discipline practices and parenting styles that I grew up with varied from that of my friends. The environment was a little more strict than some of my classmates and more lax than others I knew.

By understanding my own experiences with family dynamics, I can start to explore how other people's families differ. Knowing how my students' families interact definitely changes the way that I approach IEP meetings. When meeting with families, try to observe how the parents show affection, discipline, and treat people of different genders. You may notice that some families honor their elders or that the father speaks and the mother stays quiet. This is key information for you to use with your student. Use it to adjust your practice so that it is meaningful and relatable to your student.

Concept of Time
This cultural difference seems to be one of the more well known. In America, many believe that time equals money. Our time is very precious and I know that I have heard comedians and radio commenters discuss how people they know from other countries who visit America comment on how much we rush around. Other cultures may have more of a cyclical view of time. For me, a meeting at 2:30 means we start at 2:30, but for others, they may show up at 2:35 or even 2:45. I think linearly when it comes to time. I must complete A, B, and C by this date.

Some cultures are generally more cyclical than others. You might have some families that are always late for IEP meetings or conferences. When working with families, I try to remind myself that their culture may be different from mine and that as long as we still manage to meet for the IEP, we are a-ok (even if it gives me a little anxiety).

Communication Norms
Finally! Of course we SLPs are experts in communication, or are we? I know quite a bit about communicating in North America in English, but other areas and languages are not my forte. What are some communication norms for the United States? We use eye contact. When meeting people, we may shake hands or use a salutation. It is ok for children to speak to their elders. You should smile when you talk to people. Tone of voice can change the meaning of what is said. When addressing people, you may use their first name or call them Mr. or Mrs. From my experience it was ok to beckon for students to come toward you.

These norms are not true for all cultures. Some Asian cultures view eye contact as a form of disrespect. So the next time, you are evaluating a child for Autism, make sure to note if their family makes eye contact. If they are taught implicitly to avoid eye contact, it may not be Autism.

In the Karen culture, people do not beckon to each other by curling their index finger back and forth. This is considered rude. When picking up a student from a classroom, think about how you get their attention. How will they understand the gesture you use?

Have you ever had a student call you "teacher?" They may have forgotten your name, but they may also be showing respect. In certain cultures, it is disrespectful to call a teacher by their name. Rather, they call the you "teacher" because it shows they are respecting what you are doing and placing themselves in the position of a learner.

What are some cultural differences you have noticed in the families with whom you work?

Cuturally Responsive Teaching: The Basics

Over the past several years, schools have been completing training around culturally responsive teaching. But what does culturally responsive teaching entail? Over the next several weeks, I will be posting a blog series focused on how general and special education teachers as well as speech language pathologists and all school staff can improve their cultural responsiveness within the classroom. Let's start with some basics.

According to Merriam Webster, culture is knowledge, experiences, beliefs, values, attitudes, hierarchies, religion, perspective of time, roles, and concepts acquired by a group of people. These concepts are often formed over the course of multiple generations in a group or individual efforts and experiences. Children often emulate the culture of their family.

America has always been called "the great melting pot" because of the diversity of races, ethnicities, and cultures of the people. Granted, America's history has not always been kind to diversity. This history carries a weight into the present and future. News reports frequently point to continued prejudice. As professionals in the school system, we have a unique opportunity to make a difference for our students by being culturally responsive.

We know how diverse our schools, cities, and country are, but what does it mean to be a culturally responsive teacher?

According to the National Education Association, cultural competence is the ability to successfully communicate and empathize with people from diverse cultures and incomes. We need these skills to help our students learn as much as they can each year. What are some steps to building a culturally responsive classroom?

1. Recognize your own cultural norms and bias.
2. Grow your cultural diversity knowledge base.
3. Create an environment for students to engage in cultural conversations.
4. Provide culturally responsive learning opportunities.

Over the next 4 weeks, I will be exploring my own learning of cultural competency and sharing ways to improve all teaching in the area of cultural responsiveness.