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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Teaching Well: Cultural Proficiency

Note: As we begin school year 2017-2018, I revisited this post and added new updates in blue, and now that we're getting ready for school year 2018-2019, I've updated again in green. 

Our staff will devote this week's faculty meeting to cultural proficiency. Consultants will come to guide our work.

First, as I embark on this meeting, I am mindful of language and these articles:
I am also mindful of the number of constructs in our own work that impact what we do for each child.

Then I'm positively challenged by the conversation points, Benchmarks of a Culturally Proficient Teacher,  we'll discuss. I've added those points below and some initial response as I prepare for the meeting. There is so much we can do to better our work in this area, and Tuesday's conversation will certainly serve as a positive start. 
  • Study their students and spend time learning who they are.
    • How do we learn about our students?
    • What informal and formal assessments provide that knowledge?
    • Are there things we can do to better know our students and their families such as a different kind of orientation process at the start of the year, different use of lunch time/duties, roles, groups, and structures?
    • How might we survey students and families in this regard to forward our efforts.
2017-2018: Institute an orientation, intake process to get to know students and families better and build even better relationships. We started this new orientation process with a short pre-school orientation for a few students and a better intake survey. We will continue to follow the efforts we outlined to better this process. 

2018-2019: The orientation was mostly successful--we have a few logistics to figure out to improve what we did last year and hope we can iron those out to have an even more successful orientation this year. 
  • See their students as individuals AND members of different identity groups, and recognize that both influence their students ability to engage, connect and succeed with their academics.
    • How can we use heart maps, mind maps, self stories, and other introductory projects to begin to identify students' multiple identity groups and help educators with regard to creating and supporting collaboration and a sense of team in their classrooms. Our team is using the Selfie project, Culture Flags, Early Writing Efforts, Surveys, and related math projects to build knowledge of one another. Last year we forwarded the selfie project and this year we'll forward a timeline project since it fits our new social studies standards. We'll also continue many team building activities at the start of the year, make a team movie to celebrate our school team and share with families at curriculum night, and include other relationship building/get to know each other activities that connect with the curriculum. 
    • Explicit discussion of what culture is and work with that concept can help in this regard. We started this discussion by talking about the history of people, skin shade, history of learning, and opportunity lost/found. Soon students will engage in a specific activities related to culture. We will once again promote this successful teaching and discussion. 
    • Can we use a birthday slideshow where every child says their name correctly and we match a name and a face during our birthday recognition time at school assembly? We have not forwarded this idea yet, but I do think it's an important idea. Our school now does recognize each birthday person and each person says their own name. The visibility might be greater if the students said their name at the front of the assembly. 
    • In what other ways can we be sensitive to students' diversity in our schools? We have flags of many countries in our school. I would also like to improve the signage in our school related to this. This is a good question to ask students and see what ideas they have. 
2017-2018: Write a grant to support more inclusive growth mindset, SEL, and culturally proficient signage Our grant resource changed so we were unable to do this. Also building the "selfie" project to allow every child to introduce himself/herself and his/her interests through an audio/visual project at the start of the year. We're in the midst of this. This effort was successful. Talk about our "culture talk" and activities and think about how we are going to embed that in the start of the year efforts. We started this. This was successful, in fact some students turned it into their own anti-racism service learning project. Think about how we might further the "birthday name" project.This was changed for the better. 
  • Self reflect on their values, their culture and their teaching styles and recognize how these values impact how students engage and learn.
    • Do we spend enough time getting to know about the values of our students' cultures via conversations with students and family members. This is a good focus for upcoming parent-student-teacher conferences with the question, What do you value about education?Both fall and spring conferences included students. We deepened students reflections and roles at these conferences. We can continue to deepen this and make time for good conversation and relationship building with students. Helping out with the after school homework club is one avenue for this I want to explore. 
    • How do we best share knowledge amongst educators and the learning community so that we are sensitive to each other? We have had informal exchanges so far, and a lot of more formal exchanges are planned in the coming days. Our student service meetings are an excellent vehicle for this and will continue. 
    • Have we made the purposeful time to learn about the multiple cultures that make up our school community? This is a good question for a faculty meeting--perhaps I'll have a chance to support this. This is a good area for a start of the year mapping project--we could ask students what places in the world have meaning for them and why. By doing this in an open ended way we invite participation but don't force any one idea or obligatory share. 
    • Do we explicitly think about our own values and how those values impact our work with regard to success or lack of success for students? This is another good perspective as we listen carefully during the first conference of the year. Listening is imperative in this regard. 
    • How can we break this topic down for greater understanding and more targeted, successful, and positive work. This is another good question to discuss as an intimate and broader grade-level/school team. One big focus of the new social studies standards is to look at how the past affects the future--this might be a good place for this kind of conversation to grow. 
2017-2018 Think about ways to co-construct classroom goals and track progress with families and students on a regular basis. Greater communication will foster greater inclusivity and success. Work on vehicles for greater follow-up and response related to each student's goals, efforts, needs, and interests. 
  • Keep in mind that students come to us with a fully formed cultural background/knowledge and find ways to connect these strengths to "school" knowledge.
    • How can we specifically start the math year with survey work that identifies our many similarities and differences and create infographics to demonstrate this and discuss this.
    • How do we make space in our classroom to demonstrate what's important to each child and what they identify with?
    • How can we use early year infographics to inform future work, investigation, discussion, and collaboration?
    • How do we explicitly discuss this topic as teams, school, classes, etc. . .?
2017-2018 Build in more culturally proficient math activities including the ones listed above. We are beginning activities related to this in class this week with birthday/Math team activities. I want to follow Emdin's advice related to student question/expression bulletin boards too. Deepen the early year math activities to better include the standards while also building an opportunity for children to share their cultural backgrounds and knowledge.
  • Design and create instruction that knows, honors, acknowledges, and respects a student's culture. 
    • Where in the curriculum can we better design teaching/learning unit to be inclusive our the multiple cultures in our classroom? There will be a lot of opportunity to do this with the new social studies standards. 
    • What trends are occurring now that support this work?
    • What units specifically can we begin to rethink in this regard? Building this in with SS curriculum and deepening this with math/science curriculum. 
    • What are we doing already to meet this call, and what can we do more? We need to work on effort to bring in diverse voices to speak with students about topics related to the curriculum--we started to build this effort this year, but there is more we can do next year. 
    • Is there too much redundancy in what we do? Can we look at this systematically and make sure that we are covering a broad and deep range with regard to the teaching/learning we do in this regard?
    • How can we creatively use WPSF funds, professional learning time, RTI, and PLCs to support this work? It will be good to use the funds this year to support teaching the new SS standards via diverse voices and experiences. 
2017-2018 As a team use these questions to guide our development of the curriculum map, expert visitors, and field studies. These questions continue to be important, and good questions for a team discussion. 
  • Provide the emotional ego strength to challenge racist societal view of the competence and worthiness of students and their families. 
    • What is "ego strength?" What does this look like and how is it encouraged and developed? Discuss the issue of "fairness" early on in the year. Discuss the phrase "fair is not equal" and "All men are created equal" including the history of those phrases and how they should be interpreted today. Let this be a continual point of discussion throughout the year. 
    • How do you explicitly and respectfully acknowledge gaps in opportunity, freedom, recognition, wealth, and inclusion? Discuss what people need to succeed and how we can help each other get what they need to succeed. Foster self advocacy, voice, and choice in this regard. 
    • Flocabulary's "Week in Review" is a good catalyst for this kind of discussion in the intermediate grades. Students love these discussions. What other programs, films, activities, and efforts positively promote this kind of discussion? Make current events discussion a mainstay of the week routine, build in time for this. 
2017-2018: Again look carefully at these questions as we work on the curriculum map this summer. I want to discuss this point with the team, and decide how we will make this a regular part of our program. We had an initial discussion about prejudice and racism this week with the theme that no prejudice of any kind is allowed in our teaching/learning community. Build on what we did in 2017-2018 with the notes above. 
  • Recognize and challenge inequities in access and opportunity to programs, curriculum that encourages academic engagement and achievement.
    • How do we readily and sensitively deal with the inequity with regard to access to WIFI and technology?
    • How can we better schedule family nights, special events, and conferences so that all families are included? (We do this quite well now, but there is probably more room for growth)
    • How do we provide equitable access to extracurricular events and opportunities?
2017-2018 Institute a better plan for providing all students who need it with tech and WIFI. Institute the orientation, and think carefully about the questions above as we create the program map. We have invited families who do not have good computers to contact the principal to borrow a computer. We will also work to help families get affordable WIFI if needed. We started a sign-up for conferences early, carried out a curriculum introduction night, and added all curriculum presentation materials to the website. As far as extra-curricular events, the school system has provided transportation for this so we may want to think about how we can use that effectively.We will continue to be sensitive to this. The PTO was sensitive to this too. We are building in supplies and scheduling to support this effort in order to be inclusive with all of our programming and teaching/learning efforts. 
  • Constantly look for ways to differentiate their instruction so that it validates and invites more of the students' culture into the classroom.
    • Boaler's collaboration study is a good place to start with regard to this. The study demonstrated that by explicitly teaching collaborative skill and encouraging greater collaboration, students' collective academic performance improved.
    • What other studies out there provide us with avenues of differentiation that work with regard to leading all students to success?
2017-2018 Add six of Boalers floor-to-ceiling explorations into the fifth grade math curriculum. We started the year with lots of team building activities, and will continue those activities. I'd like to more explicitly teach collaboration and will design lessons to do that. We will continue to work towards this focus. 
  • Never give up on students or on their ability as an educator to teach every student.
    • How do we talk about students' learning? What language do we use?
    • Do we teach in ways that students like best or feel most comfortable with? Do we query students and families about this? 
    • How can we begin to look at new structures to support this work? Where do we find that our students who don't succeed fall down most, could it be that what we are asking for is not what is most important and sets students up for failure?
2017-2018 Update and embed lessons and initiatives included on the Learning Behaviors and Mindsets website to support this kind of work. We are beginning the year with explicit discussion about this. Last week we watched Boaler's TedTalk about Mathematical Mindset--students were attentive and responsive to the talk and its emphasis on growth mindset and brain-friendly learning. We are also observing our students with detail to find out where and why some students fall down. For example during a recent team activity, there were a few students who could not successfully work with their teams--I'll explore this more to figure out how I can help those students with team skills. Our early year emphases on learning mindsets and behaviors has been very positive. We will continue this. 
  • Support a growth mindset and empower students to see and understand themselves as successful learners.
    • How do we focus  progression and growth rather than current knowledge, content, and skill with regard to the way we teach, discuss student effort/success, and promote better learning mindsets and progress?
    • How can we provide greater choice with regard to learning paths and process?
    • Do we teach the brain science and growth mindset truths to children--the science that supports the fact that all children are capable of learning well?
We had a lesson based on the fact that students lead their learning--we will continue this emphasis on self advocacy, learning leadership, brain-friendly learning, and growth mindset throughout the year. This week a specialist and I are attending a conference that will help us to understand brain-friendly learning more We will continue to build on this by adding in Mystery Science's module on the brain so students understand how to support their learning in brain-friendly ways. 
  • Create a sense of family and caring in the service of academic engagement and achievement.
    • In what ways do we support positive relationships within and amongst the learning team?
    • How do you promote a positive, inclusive community within your classroom and school?
Our team created a great, positive video of all the students smiling as they engaged in learning. We shared the video with the learning team including colleagues and family members. We showed the video to students. We have focused on the fact that engagement and happiness matters to good learning. As a teaching team, we will continue to build this emphasis. We emphasized team all year last year and we will continue to do that throughout the year ahead. 
  • Acknowledge that this is a work in progress and it will take time to reach all the benchmarks.
    • How do we take this work seriously and give it thoughtful time? Perhaps this could becomes a once-a-month focus of PLC work and endeavor?
    • How do we readily share the ideas and practice that work with each other on a regular basis? Perhaps we could have a 10-minute share at the start of the faculty meeting that poses questions in this regard and shares positive actions and stories?
I'll ask my teammates if they would like to make this our shared goal this year, and if they would like to continue the good work we did last year with it. I'll also share this post with the school administrator since he initiated this discussion by inviting the IDEAS consultants in who shared these attributes with us. We made good progress in this arena this year. Next year I plan to work more closely with SEL competencies to develop each child's ability to manage and lead their social emotional learning and strengths. 

We can't just talk about this issue in isolation as the educators. We have to broaden this issue to the entire learning community by providing time to talk with family members, students, and community members as to how we can do this better. All of our students will be living, learning, and working in diverse environments. The positive work we do in this regard will well prepare them for their future. Fortunately we have a very diverse student body and we continually address issues of cultural proficiency in our school. Programming in many areas has improved too, however there is still room to think deeply about our programming and how we might do an even better job in this realm.