Monday, July 08, 2019
Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Chapter 4
Hammond begins chapter four by telling us that this chapter will help us to "to prepare ourselves to show up differently in our relationships with children." Which begs the question, what changes will I make to be more aware and to foster better relationships in the new school year?
The overarching mantra I keep hearing in my head as I read Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain is to s l o w i t d o w n in ways that allow me to see my students, hear my students, respond constructively and positively to my students, care for my students, and reflect always on my actions and decisions.
Hammond directs us when it comes to unpacking our implicit bias. First step: ". . .accept the challenge of venturing into the unknown with an open heart and mind." Commit to being an effective educator of culturally diverse learners. Examine the deeply held beliefs that influence how you respond to children.
What are your cultural frames of reference?
It seems like I've been reflecting on my cultural frames of reference from an early age mostly because I often didn't feel like I fit into my surroundings. As a young child, I asked a lot of questions and had a lot of ideas. Many told me to "stop thinking." That made me feel different and less accepted. I was also a big girl which did not match society's obsession with looking like Twiggy at the time--again that distanced me from accepted norms. Further, as a first generation college student, I once again found myself somewhat different than most which translated into multiple journal entries trying to make sense of it all. All around me, growing up, however, most people were White, Catholic, and from big, two-parent working class families. My experiences with cultural diversity came from the television news, newspaper, a few books, school lessons/discussions, and family conversations. The news mostly showed people that looked differently than me in a negative light. Men were typically shown as leaders while women were mostly displayed as housewives. Yet, the error of hippies, yippies, and the Vietnam War opened my eyes to differences and birthed many memorable dinner time conversations. The assassination of JFK, RFK, and MLK awakened me to ideas and events I had not heard of before--this frightening and troubling awakening stayed with me. My grandmother, who grew up in hard times in the early 1900's, well-educated me about classism and racism. When my words were closed-minded, she opened my eyes with stories. Similarly, my father, brought home story after story of the people he would meet, stories that demonstrated a mostly open mind to different cultures, religions, and ways of living. My mom, by nature, has ben an accepting, loving person who looked forward to knowing new people. Yet, television repeatedly shared negative images of people different from me, and those images created some fear and worry in me about differences. We didn't have ready access to information to readily learn the truth of the matter, research, and learn more--I craved the ready-access we have today with the Internet back then. As a child, I always wanted to morph myself into different people so that I could live amongst them and learn what it was like to live in a different kind of place--I wanted to know about these differences from my earliest days. Still today, I am very curious about the ways different people live: what they believe in, the decisions they make, and the traditions they follow.
How might I widen my interpretation aperture?
It is important to broaden our interpretations and explanations of students' and colleagues' actions. I really like the way Hammond gives us a framework for interpretation: description (what's happening), interpretation (looking and listening w/greater detail to understand specifically what is happening), evaluation (making a judgement about the positivity or negativity related to the task objective). I often use this three-part process for evaluating behavior, and when I don't use this process, it is because I feel stressed or rushed. Again, the mantra "slow it down" comes to mind. One example that occurred in my classroom is that a child had something that appeared to be another child's object, but I couldn't be sure. I observed the child play with the object outwardly. I listened to the another child claim that the object was their's. I couldn't be sure so I simply stated, "______ is missing her _______, and I'm not sure if someone took it or if it is lost, but we all need to be on the lookout for it and we have to respect and not take one another's things." The event was repeated once or twice more, and then in time, it ended. This was better than jumping to conclusions or passing judgement, but put the issue out into the group openly and gave the issue time. In another situation, a child could not sit still--he was up all the time which disrupted my teaching, his learning, and the learning of others. I thought a lot about it, and decided that whenever he felt like he needed to move a lot, he could ask for a basketball break. He started with one long break on the playground shooting hoops, and then as time went on and trust grew, the breaks became shorter and shorter while his attention to learning became deeper and deeper. Rather than chastising his anxious movement time and again, but giving him control over his breaks/needs, we built a more trusting relationship and a setting where he was able to manage his energy in positive ways that led to better learning. A third example this brings to mind, is that once when working with a few children who were really difficult to settle down and teach, I decided to use mind mapping with them. At several points in the mind mapping exercise, I predicted what they might add to their giant maps, and in every case I was wrong--I had clearly misjudged their primary interests, cultural identification, and needs. This taught me a valuable lesson and eventually led to a project type that fit both the content/skill expectations as well as the children's learning needs and interests. Mind mapping led to a win-win teaching/learning situation.
There have been situations, however, when my rush to judgement and evaluation have resulted in poor teaching/learning decisions. For example, I once taught a child who was greatly distanced from the typical student's experience, background, and support in my school. This child's situation was like none that I had ever worked with. I was too quick to judge, and didn't make enough time to really get to know the child or his family--that rush to teach rather than taking the time to know greatly challenged my ability to teach this child well. The fact that we are placed in classrooms with many students, great expectations, and oftentimes more demands than support, makes sensitive, culturally attuned relationship building challenging at times, but this does not mean we can't work as well as we can towards boosting all relationships to move every child towards success.
Managing your emotions and reframing potential threats
In days of old, there was little discussion of the human-side of educators. Many pedagogical resources treated teachers as if we were unfeeling robots, rather than real people with experiences, perspectives, culture, strengths, and challenges. Hammond helps educators to be knowledgeable, compassionate, and positive about who they are and what they need to do to teach all children well. This statement by Hammond is very powerful, "The culturally responsive teacher's ability to manage her emotions is paramount because she is the "emotional thermostat" of the classroom and can influence students' moods and productivity.
What sets you off?
As I read Hammond's list of triggers, I noted that issues related to equity trigger me. If I feel that a situation is unfair or inequitable, I am triggered. I am also triggered by a lack of control--when an individual leads me without sensitivity to the work I've done, my experiences, or my plans, I feel unheard and disrespected since I put a lot of time and thought into the work I do. With children, what sets me off the most, is a feeling that I'm not doing enough--I can see what a child needs and I feel overwhelmed by those needs. For example if I'm teaching a child who is not getting his/her basic needs met, I am immediately triggered or if I make a decision that turns out to be a not so good decision related to a child's needs, I am again triggered. These are triggers that have occurred with my own children and children at school. I have to coach myself down from this by saying, "I made the decision with the best of my abilities--it didn't go well, own it, and revise or this child is clearly in need of supports far greater than what I can supply in one setting or step, I have to step back and think deeply about what this child needs, then systematically work with others to help this child--I can't do this on my own, and I can't blame the child about his/her great needs because I feel overwhelmed."
Label your feelings
Clearly certain situations are more difficult for me as an educator than other situations. One such situation that challenges me is when I notice a downward slope with regard to a child's care or needs--when a child or others are in a situation that is not nurturing them in positive ways, I become internally upset. My initial reaction is that I want to fix the situation right away, yet, typically situations like this are never a quick-fix but instead in need of a multi-prong approach towards betterment. I can label my feelings when situations like this arise by saying, "This is a complex situation that will require a multi-prong, collaborative, step-by-step approach." To acknowledge this is a first step towards making positive change and providing needed supports. I really like the SODA strategy Hammond offers: Stop, Observe, Detach, Awaken.
In summary, this is an amazing chapter that provides a good path for educators to become better at what they do and how they relate to students. As Hammond suggests, I will practice since "practice makes permanent." I want to revisit our first six weeks plans with colleagues so that we are all making time to know our students well, and thinking about the triggers that arise--triggers that will awaken us to some of the work we'll need to do to serve each and every child well this year.