The current dialogue on education reform is looking at critical issues such as hiring and retaining good teachers and innovative classroom instruction. But there is one critical piece of education reform that isn’t getting much attention. It’s particularly significant in diverse multicultural schools. And it doesn’t cost a lot to implement.
Research shows that academic achievement increases when students and their families feel connected to school. At the foundation of this reform is creating an atmosphere where every student feels valued.
The key is to recognize the culture of each student. Everyone has a culture – where we were born, where we grew up, who raised us, our ethnic background, our religion, our home language, our family structure, and more. Students feel connected to the school when they can be authentic and they don’t have to hide their culture to fit in.
Strategic tips for educators:
- Learn to pronounce all student’s names. What’s in a name? A person’s history and identity. Schools shouldn’t hand out nicknames just because the name is hard to pronounce. And no more,”Call me Mrs. K.” Teachers should model the behavior by expecting students to learn their names, as well.
- Rejoice in different accents.It’s not just about accents from other countries. Reports show a disturbing lack of respect for any accent that is”different,” like reports of a child from Boston being ridiculed for his pronunciation in a class in Ohio or the southern drawl of a child from Alabama laughed at – by the teacher – in a Maryland school.
- Let students see themselves in the classroom. A photo of each child should be posted around the room with the student’s personal writing. The students can draw pictures of themselves, encouraged to express their own individuality. Multicultural literature around the room should reflect the many faces in the broader community. Through class assignments, students can write autobiographies that include interviewing relatives and family friends. The assignments can be more sophisticated as students get older, using poetry or drama as vehicles for bringing their lives into the classroom.
- Create an opportunity for students to share what is important to them. Daily classroom meetings, where students share their ideas, thoughts, and experiences in a safe place, can build a true community. With guidance from the teacher, students learn the important skills of active listening and problem-solving together.
Not only should teachers recognize the culture of their students, they need to understand their own culture and how this impacts the way they interact with students and families. Did the teacher come from a family where children were supposed to be soft-spoken and only answer when spoken to? Then the creative boy who was encouraged to voice his new ideas at the family dinner table might appear to be disrepectful to the teacher. Does the teacher believe that every student should look her in the eye when she’s talking. Then she may misunderstand a student who was taught to look down as a way to show respect to an adult.
Education reform includes creating schools where every student believes he or she is an valued part of that school. To value the student, teachers need to understand culture — their own and their students — and make sure each culture is valued.