Saturday, September 11, 2010

Back to School.....GO TEAM!

Fall is in the air & kids are back in school.


Every morning at juuuust about 8:55, the quiet throughout my home is a welcome respite from the chaos and confusion that precedes it. 
But what I also know is that when my household is quiet during the day for 9 months of the year, it means I have made the shift from those lazy days of summer to once again being part of a team whose goal is to educate my children. And I am finding that I much prefer the team approach to this teacher/parent/child relationship; we all want the best for our children, so we have to work together to accomplish it.  But I have wondered...

Do cultural influences affect education?

Yes.  A child's culture and background experiences are critical to learning.

We all like to think that we are color blind - and "culture blind", if you will.  Many people mistakenly believe that "culture" is only possessed by those coming from faraway, exotic, foreign countries.  Many in this great U.S. of A. believe that they are "just normal Americans", and may find it difficult to consider that there may be more than one shared culture in our society. 

Each of us bring different values, beliefs, and assumptions about child rearing and child development. Naturally, conflicts or differences in opinion may arise around what we feel is best for our child, what experiences we want for them, and what our expectations are. Learning how to recognize the other's point of view and coming to a shared solution is critical.  It is important for families to establish supportive, respectful relationships with teachers. These connections and relationships help teachers learn about strengths, needs, and culture of their student - your child.

It is crucial that we help create a richly diverse and welcoming enviornment in the classroom  and school as a whole.  Research has shown that children who feel valued, welcomed, and positively challenged in their learning enviornment, and when new learning skills build upon their prior knowledge, experience, and interests, they are more successful academically.

Clear, consistent, and open communication with teachers and administrators will help them accept, understand, and effectively teach children in their care. What is happening in a child's home is important to their learning. Every home enviornment has its strengths and challenges. A teacher who tries to understand a child's home culture can look for ways to build on family strengths as a means to support learning; they are able to address the child's interests and build on the skills they already possess by identifying alternative and creative ways to promote learning. 

But just as the teacher needs to understand your home life, you need to understand - and be part of - the classroom experience. A research study conducted by Morrow&Young* found that when parents were included/involved in classroom activities, when homework was assigned that required parental involvement, and when regular meetings with teachers, parents, and children were held, the literacy achievement of children increased. (*cited in Willis, 2000)

Understanding family dynamics helps teachers to individualize curriculum to ensure that it is meaningful to the child. The curriculum choices the teacher makes becomes part of your child's life story, affecting their skills, moviation, and excitement about learning.   One of the most powerful ways to honor children's cultures is by utilizing multicultural children's literature as part of the regular curriculum. Using such material stimulates discussion about human differences, diversity, and cultural beliefs/practices.  For those of us with transracial families, it is crucial that we share our knowledge of multicultural materials and literacy methods.  (And if you don't have knowledge of those materials, you better get it!)  Consider the following when choosing and looking for a new book:
  • Does this book reflect a diversity of gender roles; racial, economic, and cultural backgrounds; special needs and abilities; range of ages; range of occupations?
  • Do the text/illustrations present current, accurate, and respectful information/images?
  • Are cultural details naturally integrated into the story?
  • Is the speech of the people in the book accurate and appropriate?
  • Does the story help members of a group feel greater pride in their background?
  • Does the book encourage children to become more socially conscious?
And finally...check the copyright date of the book.  How might that have affected the accuracy/authenticity of the book?

How we view this world is shaped by beliefs, values, and experiences of prior generations of our respective families.  Each generation refines what they deem most important for their children to believe, value, and experience.  Our experiences also focus the cultural lens we use to understand and process the world around us. 

Teachers have the potential to play a powerful and crucial role in the lives and experiences of our children - and our families.  Constructive, nurturing relationships between teacher and child, as well as mutual respect and understanding between teacher and parents greatly enhances the long term positive impact on our children's emotional and intellectual development. 


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