This school year, I took on a new position as a mentor to new educators. It meant stepping out of my own classroom, a place I’ve spent many years, to guide and support first-year educators as they build their cultural and linguistic responsiveness in their own classrooms. Here are some strategies I’ve shared with them, drawn mostly from my own experiences as a bilingual educator:
1. Incorporate lessons on language as a communication tool. Discuss with students the languages spoken in their homes and community as well as their preferred languages. Talk about ways in which one might be understood or misunderstood either through translation (for multilingual learners) or in other more subtle ways, including communication via social media. Consider using the lesson plan “Communication—The Total Impact of Your Message,” and several low-risk community-building activities to help students get to know one another and practice modes of nonverbal communication.
2. Transition to an investigation of respect and how it is defined and demonstrated across a variety of cultures. Invite students to tell stories about how they show and perceive respect in their families and households. In my school, these stories can be directly connected to our school wide positive behavior expectations: Respect everyone, respect education, respect the environment. Once your classroom comes up with a common understanding of respect, use it as the basis of classroom agreements. Consider creating posters detailing your agreements that everyone will sign, then post them in the room for reference and reminder.
3. Explore concepts of culture and how to work together effectively in a learning environment. Using components from “Shaping Our Culturally Responsive Selves,” invite students to investigate themselves as cultural beings through some moderate-risk community-building activities. You can use the classroom agreements to set the cultural expectation for your classroom, defining it as an academic space where students use multiple modes of communication to learn and respectfully express ideas.
4. Engage students in an activity that has them reflect on your responsiveness. For example, you may have students move around the classroom, discussing and responding to a series of topics written on large sheets of paper. These topics could include: things teachers should know about students; helpful strategies and techniques teachers use; ways teachers make learning fun and interesting; and “I know my teacher cares about me as a person when s/he …”
I encouraged those I mentor to continually refine these strategies over the course of the school year and to infuse them into their daily practice. I also encourage the school to provide professional development for all educators related to cultural and linguistic responsiveness. It’s not just first-year educators who benefit from regularly reflecting on how we meet the needs of diverse learners. When the whole school is reflective is responsive, students are more likely to thrive.
Berg is a mentor to new educators in Madison, Wisconsin.