Compassion: Cure for the Soul

I got into the teaching profession because I love working with children. Sure, they can drive me crazy (did I mention that I teach middle school?!?!), but they also bring such joy in their innocence and goof-ball antics. I’m lucky in that I work with a culturally diverse faculty and student body because there’s so much to learn and appreciate from those who have a different story. It’s not always sunshine and puppies, but that’s the purpose of growing pains.

I came across an article shared by a peer in my doctoral program (TY @19Chr1stine) that asked the question “Can Equity be Taught?” It brought to light the fact that quite a bit of the struggles teachers experience in the classroom are due to factors that are not necessarily academic. The Edutopia article focused on disciplinary and academic issues that stemmed from a teacher’s disconnect between their cultural, racial, and ethnic backgrounds and that of their students. Another article was based on a study that examined racial mismatch that influenced teacher expectations for their students. This study was enlightening because it highlighted the differences in expectations between teachers and students who shared the same race or whose race was different. It’s a bit hard to read in that I think all of us have been guilty of this offense at some point in our career.

While the Edutopia article introduced ways that districts and other educational organizations are attempting to address this issue, it might feel to some as if teachers are being demonized for not being sensitive or cognizant enough to racial, ethnic, or cultural differences. But I want to make it very clear…teaching and being a teacher is a learning process. It’s a process of discovery that occurs not only between teacher-student or student-student, but also introspectively within oneself. In fact, I think what everyone in the world needs right now is a huge dose of compassion. Compassion for each other. Compassion for oneself. Compassion for those with whom you disagree. You get my drift.

I think if teachers came from a place of compassion when approaching each and every day with their students, it would change the dynamic of the entire classroom environment and the relationships within. This topic brings to mind a book I read last summer called The Brain-Targeted Teaching Model by Dr. Mariele Hardiman. In this book (as well as the website), Dr. Hardiman highlights ways to develop and nurture a learning environment that is inclusive for all learners. In particular, Brain-Target 1 Emotional Climate is one area that could help build a learning community that is supportive, safe, and caring. It’s a great read and if you’re a classroom teacher, I almost feel like it’s a must read especially if you work with a culturally diverse student population.

I’ll leave you with a question from the Edutopia article: “Is a problem that a teacher sees as stemming from a student’s character or behavior sometimes really about the school’s discipline policies, or about cultural differences between the way the teacher and student perceive the unfolding situation?” (Berwick, 2017).

Just remember, show compassion to yourself. Make it a goal, a project that you constantly keep in the forefront of your mind. Emotional, spiritual, and mental growth does not happen overnight. And for some of us, it’s a mindset change to think different. But we need to do this. Our students deserve teachers who are kind to themselves, but also who are not above admitting that perhaps the current way of doing things isn’t necessarily going to work any more. To be a culturally responsive educator, we need to be open to all that we are and all that our students bring to our classrooms. It’s not easy holding a mirror up to one’s actions and thoughts. But how else will we ever grow as a human being?

Intersectionality: Socioeconomic Status, Race, & Education

One facet of multicultural education is the notion of equity versus equality in educational policies and practices. Federal legislation has attempted to address the inequality of resources and access to education through the passage of legislation such as Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Individuals with Disabilities Act (2004), Race to the Top Fund (2009), and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (2015). Federal funds and policies influence what happens at the state, district, and school levels. However, despite efforts from policymakers, educators, and the private sector, income and race-based stratification remains as equality only addresses part of the problem. Equity plays an equal and key role in a child’s education (Banks, 2016).

The following video is an interview of Dr. Karl Alexander as he shares the culmination of his 30-year study on the influence of socioeconomic status and race on youth growing up in Baltimore beginning in early 1980s. This longitudinal study began with children enrolled in the 1st grade and followed their progress (and life) until early adulthood. It’s an enlightening video that explains the intersectionality between race, socioeconomic status, and education–all components that comprise a culturally diverse learning environment found in many of our schools today.

Dr. Alexander’s video brings to the forefront the influence of socioeconomic status on student learning. I was first introduced to his work through a short video on the summer slide (e.g., summer learning loss, summer gap) and how summer break disproportionality affected low-income childrens’ (irrespective of race) rate of academic growth when compared to middle class children. The academic and socioeconomic trajectory of children has been found to be based in large part on the socioeconomic status of their home life growing up (Lareau, 2011). And I don’t mean to say that race does not also play a significant role because it does. However, it appears that socioeconomic status has a slight edge in the influence department.

National programs like Head Start and Summer Bridge to local programs such as summer school (remedial) and summer institute (enrichment) seek to provide support to eliminate or reduce summer slide for low-income and/or minority students. Thus, it’s important as educators that we are cognizant and remain vigil of the barriers that prevent our students from achieving their personal best. Though we cannot erase poverty, we can and must provide our students with the appropriate scaffolds and support they need. We need to help bridge the gap between socioeconomic status and student learning.

References

Banks, J. A. (2016). Cultural diversity and education: Foundations, curriculum, and teaching (6th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Lareau, A. (2011). Unequal childhoods: Class, race, and family life. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Look Within, My Friends

It’s easy to point fingers while telling others what they need to change, but little good does that do for your credibility if you are not making the change yourself. It’s the whole pot calling the kettle black thing.

I did a Google search to see what kind of tools were out there for one to use as a self-assessment. Some surveys were the full-on-research-study-probably-someone’s-dissertation survey while others looked quite simple. Then there were the surveys that you could fill out, but the question was…where are your answers going? I mean, what’s the point if you don’t receive any feedback?

Scouring my library (it’s not exactly the George Peabody Library), I came across a book from my master’s studies. In it was a self-assessment survey that allowed the user to examine both classroom and school-wide practices. I reached out to the author of the book (Carl S. Grant) and he graciously gave me permission to use the survey as part of my blog series.

I created the surveys in two different Google Docs and I challenge you to complete the survey(s) honestly. No one is going to see your answers. In fact, the Google Docs are view only so you’ll have to make your own copy if you want to assess the level of multicultural components within your instructional practices or across your school.

P.S. Speaking of the George Peabody Library, I wanted to share that I totally geeked out there last summer with a friend who is also a doctoral student with me in the program. Below is a picture of us right before we hit the books…

P.S.S. Yes, the library is just as amazing in person.

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