A culture of caring and concern for all.

A reflection on the importance of creating a climate of caring and concern in the classroom for students from diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural groups.

The reason caring and concern in classrooms is so important is that if a child does not feel safe or cared about, then it is very difficult, if not impossible for them to develop.

This opinion is not new, in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory in psychology, proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” he describes this theory using the image below;

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/60/Maslow's_Hierarchy_of_Needs.svg/2000px-Maslow's_Hierarchy_of_Needs.svg.png

Abraham Maslow, A Theory of Human Motivation, 1943

Another example of this is the affective domain, one of three domains in Bloom’s Taxonomy, with the other two being the cognitive and psychomotor (Bloom, et al., 1956). For an overview of the three domains click this.

The affective domain (Krathwohl, Bloom, Masia, 1973) has a connection to establishing a positive classroom because, it includes the manner in which we deal with things emotionally, such as feelings, values, appreciation, enthusiasms, motivations, and attitudes.

Bloom's Taxonomy: The Affective Domain

Bloom’s Taxonomy: The Affective Domain

Who am I?

My background is white European, I am from an Irish mother (who was a nurse) and an English father (who was a mechanic), which makes me British working class.

I grew up in a medium-sized working class town a former industrial centre fallen on hard times. We were not poor but we certainly were not rich. My Mother and Father both worked full-time to provide for me and my younger sister. I did well in school and went through 6th Form College and then was given a grant to attend University. The grant and the student loans meant that I could afford to go and that made me the first member of my family to go to University. Then I decided to teach overseas, another first for my family.

After traveling and working in different countries I am now settled in Japan.

Japan is largely a homogeneous culture, there were 1.98 million foreign residents in Japan as of March 31 2013, accounting for 1.54 percent of the population, with 84.28 percent of them between the ages of 15 and 64. So when we talk about students from diverse racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds the numbers are very small. in my own Grade 4 class, 98% of my students are ethnic Japanese. So whilst there isn`t much diversity here, there certainly is a well-defined cultural group – the Japanese.

The culture of Japan is very old and traditional values run deep. The family unit is usually father is the bread-winner, mother is the homemaker, and the children study hard and are respectful to their elders. Although this is slightly stereotypical, it is largely still accurate.

As a teacher this means that I can mostly focus on learning and understanding one culture. It also means that I can focus on learning one language – Japanese. In order for me to “know” my students culture I need to better at Japanese.

“A different language is a different vision of life.” Federico Fellini

How does cultural background affect school, teaching and learning?

A family`s engagement with school and their child`s teacher is very important and if that engagement is missing it make a teachers job much more difficult. There may be many reasons why this happens, however for a family who cannot speak English there are even more reasons why this engagement may not happen. Schools should support teachers in contacting and incorporating these families because then the families can help their child do well in school.  Due to scheduling difficulties it is often difficult for all the child`s teachers to attend parent-teacher conferences, this is something our school can improve on.

Here in Japan the father generally works long hours and is the main provider for the family. As such it is very difficult for the dads to engage with school and their child`s teachers. An idea that has been with me for a while now, in fact since I became a father, is to create a”Fathers club”  where teachers and dads can do “manly” projects and events like wood crafts and camping! This would also help me understand Japanese culture better, be a better teacher in Japan and be a better father to my two mixed race children. As I researched in a previous post (Building Bridges) getting to know my student personally means that they should also get to know me. If I can connect with my students and my students` culture through this activity, it would help us develop positive relationships.

Who we are.

Cultural difference is very complex and varied, sometimes a really personal and emotional topic. Thinking about differences is not just about ‘them’. It is also about ‘us’. It asks us to think about the essence of who ‘we’ are,
Teachers teaching in a multicultural environment should bring this issue into their classrooms. It has to be approached carefully because they can easily create as many problems as they solve. If the teaching and learning objective is to encourage a positive, constructive and optimistic approach to differences there are things that we should and shouldn`t do.

Strategies to help build a climate of caring and concern.

 

Know your students.

As I presented in a previous post (Building bridges). Having an “interest inventory” will help us make learning more relevant to their lives. In the process letting them know we care by trying to make interesting, meaningful lessons. My students are from different cultural, racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds to me, so getting to know each other well, in spite of all our differences is vitally important.

This is especially important if your students are from a different cultural or socioeconomic background than you. Numerous studies have shown that cultural misunderstanding between teachers and students can have a hugely negative impact on students’ educational experience. But research has also shown that teachers who visit students’ homes and spend time in their communities develop a deep awareness of students’ challenges and needs and are better able to help them.

Celebrate diversity
Do talk about everybody’s differences. Teaching about cultural difference must be inclusive of all students, at all times. Don’t single out particular groups, such as ‘ethnic groups’.
Celebrate similarities
Start with positives, such as the benefits of cultural difference. Emphasize social cohesion: the way differences can complement and benefit each other. Focus on shared and core values, such as respect, acceptance, generosity and freedom.
Challenge misconceptions
Discuss the range of possible attitudes to cultural difference, without allowing students to say if they agree with the attitudes. Then, in a somewhat more detached way, they can then work through the consequences of different attitudes.
Don’t start by having students voice their attitudes to cultural differences. This might be the first time they have been asked to voice their feelings on this subject in a formal or public way, and once they have voiced them they will feel that they have to remain committed to them. We want to have flexibility in what we think about different cultures not sticking rigidly to a single point of view.

Be an active listener

Really listen and remember what your students tell you. Aside from the fact that sometimes they are trying to tell you something personal and important in a second language it`s good manners. I believe that students often mirror their environment and if the teacher doesn`t really care what they are saying then why should they listen to you?

Be consistent

Maintain a system of positive and negative consequences, in line with school rules. The students will respect teachers for it and as long as they feel that it is their behavior that is the problem not that they are “bad”.

Be calm

If misbehaviour occurs be emotionally distant from it.

Teach tolerance

Bullying and abuse either physical or verbal based on gender, sexual orientation, race or socioeconomic status has no place in my classroom.

Get feedback from your students

I incorporate this into my classes through written reflections. I ask my students for their opinions on our classes, what they found difficult, what they didn`t enjoy, what was easy and what they enjoyed. I ask for written feedback as it allows students who, culturally would not critique their teachers to feel more comfortable giving me the feedback.

Never shout

Simply put when you need to shout to communicate, its time to reflect on you practice.

Never Shock

Similar to the above, don`t lose control of your emotions and do something to make your students “jump”. It can take some children a long time to get over these shocks.

Morning report

Each Monday give children a chance to report on the weekend if you have a first period class.

Be aware

In the midst of curriculum development, lesson planning, grading assignments, report writing and teaching class it`s easy to miss things. Keep your eyes open for children who seem withdrawn, sad, tired or listless and reach out to them.

Dear Diary

Make it clear to the students that usually we should not read other people’s diaries but this one is special, because it is a way for them to communicate privately with their teacher. Have regular diary writing in class, on a variety of topics that enable them to write about themselves and their lives.

Conclusion

Relationship dynamics are the the heart of any class. The relationship between the teacher and students. The students` relationships with each other, the parents` relationships with their children and their school. All of these will largely determine the experience of “school”, and they should be as positive and warm as possible regardless of  race, ethnicity, culture, creed or gender.

References

Bloom, Masia, & Krathwohl,. (1973). Bloom’s Taxonomy: The Affective Domain. Nwlink.com. Retrieved 2 July 2016, from http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/Bloom/affective_domain.html

Family Engagement. (2016). Tkcalifornia.org. Retrieved 2 July 2016, from http://www.tkcalifornia.org/teaching-tools/family-engagement/

Foreigners make up 1.5% of populace | The Japan Times. (2013). The Japan Times. Retrieved 2 July 2016, from http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/08/29/national/foreigners-make-up-1-5-of-populace/#.V3dn044wI1h

Four Ways Teachers Can Show They Care. (2016). Greater Good. Retrieved 2 July 2016, from http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/caring_teacher_student_relationship

Phillips, M. (2014). Creating an Emotionally Healthy Classroom Environment. Edutopia. Retrieved 3 July 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/creating-emotionally-healthy-classroom-environment-mark-phillips

The multicultural policy for Victorian Schools. Dos and don’ts when teaching about cultural differences. (2004) (1st ed.). Victoria. Retrieved from https://www.eduweb.vic.gov.au/edulibrary/public/teachlearn/student/lem/dos.pdf

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