Saturday, November 16, 2013

Cultural Identity & Diversity

This week I stumbled upon a fabulous article entitled Cultural Identity of Students: What Teachers Should Know by Lisa A. Jones. The article discusses many aspects of students' cultural identities including students' self-concepts, school environments, and multicultural teaching. Jones first delves into students' self-concepts and examines the positive impact extracurricular groups can have on students' feelings of belonging. Jones mentions that students' cultures are constantly changing and students who are discovering their identities should be involved in groups that help them define themselves and embrace who they are. Additionally, Jones talks about teachers needing to be cognizant of their teaching practices, making sure that all students' cultures and identities are valued and appreciated. Finally, Jones quotes an author who writes on culturally responsive teaching and says that teachers should use "the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant to and effective for them" (Jones). This is where multicultural education comes in. Educators should strive to empower their students to succeed by providing them with a learning environment that respects their culture, embraces their diversity, and celebrates their differences. 

This article certainly echoes what we have been discussing in EDFI 4080 this semester - especially what we talked about in Chapter 8 of Nieto's and Bode's text. Extracurricular activities beyond academics have been successful in supporting students' learning and skills as well as creating a sense of belonging (Nieto & Bode, p. 306). Extracurriculars help students develop critical thinking and leadership skills, shield against negative influences, and help students feel that they belong and are understood (pp. 309-310). Additionally, in relation to multicultural teaching, Nieto and Bode mention that it isn't so much about a teacher's strategies as it is about a teacher's attitude (p. 318). An educator can create a fabulous curriculum that is multicultural; however, if that teacher doesn't possess the caring, respectful, warm attitude all educators should have, he or she is not truly involved in multicultural education.

I very much appreciate this view on multicultural education. In her article, Jones reminds us that there is more to teaching than a great curriculum. Teachers must remember that things like extracurricular activities that develop and affirm students' identities are just as important. Moreover, educators must possess attitudes that display the value they place on students' diverse cultures and experiences. Assigning projects or reports that have students learning about various cultures isn't enough. I think it's so easy to say, "Oh, yes, I incorporate multicultural education into my classroom because I have students do a project on another culture." That's all fine and dandy, but this semester one thing I have learned is that multicultural education is so much more than that. It is empowering our students, teaching them to respect and appreciate others, helping students understand differences, and implementing practices that value cultural awareness. Multicultural education is a practice that should be incorporated at all grade levels, in all schools, and in all classes whenever possible. Even if curriculum can't be explicitly taught in all settings, multicultural education should be implicitly learned by students through teachers' attitudes, just nature, and willingness to incorporate and appreciate diversity in the classroom.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Ethic of Care: Student/Teacher Relationships

This week I found an article entitled "Caring Teachers" by Heather Davis that discusses the role the ethic of care has in education. According to Davis, research has shown that caring, supportive teachers help their students behave responsibly, take intellectual risks, and persevere in the face of failure. The research cited in this article centers on three themes: caring guiding teacher engagement, caring as a professional disposition, and caring as a quality students perceive in a relationship. First of all, Davis discusses how teachers must view their relationships with students as important. She says that to engage in caring behavior, "teachers must believe that without action their goals (either personal or instructional) might be undermined." Secondly, Davis says it is integral for educators to view caring as something they do rather than something they feel: "Caring is an ethic, or a moral value, that teachers communicate to students through their selection of curriculum, their planning of a lesson, their establishment of classroom norms, and their interactions with students." Finally, the research shows that students' perceptions of their teachers' caring relationships is important. Teachers who truly follow this "ethic of care" are able to make their students feel understood and accepted - and this translates over to their academic achievements.

According to Nel Noddings, the caring actions of teachers are just as important as larger structural conditions that influence student learning (Nieto & Bode, p. 255). Nieto and Bode also affirm Davis' findings that teachers must show students they care - through relationships with their students, high expectations, and respect for students and their families (p. 255). If educators want their students to have a "sense of belonging" (p. 256) in the classroom, they must follow through with these actions of caring. 

Although saying that teachers should be caring and demonstrate this through specific actions might sound self-explanatory or unnecessary, it's important to pay attention to this characteristic of successful education of students. Especially when teachers are working with diverse groups of students who may feel unconnected with the school and/or community, educators must be careful to respectfully care for their students in ways that help them feel connected, capable, and successful - not only in the classroom, but in respect to their diverse values, beliefs, and abilities. As a teacher, I hope to demonstrate this ethic of care through my daily actions, encouraging my students to achieve their potentials and be proud of their accomplishments and who they are as individuals.