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Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Ask Dr. Lynch: Culturally Responsive Classroom Management

Dr. Matthew Lynch
This week, reader Kristin G. asks:
I am a teacher in a culturally diverse elementary school in New York City. How can I create a culturally responsive environment for my students? What does classroom management look like in a culturally diverse environment?
Kristen, thank you for your question. I applaud your efforts to create a culturally responsive environment for your students. To begin, consideration of classroom management techniques is critical when building a culturally responsive learning environment. It is imperative that the instructor have a good grasp of culturally dependent interpersonal behaviors. Otherwise, it is possible that behaviors that are considered normal within the scope of a student’s culture will be misinterpreted as a behavioral problem or learning disability.
In general, it is likely that conflicts between teacher and students will arise if the teacher has not educated him- or herself about cultures and accompanying behavior patterns.
For instance, many Asian children are taught by their community that it is a sign of disrespect to look an adult in the eyes. On the other hand, in the European American community, it is considered a sign of disrespect if one doesn’t look the speaker in the eyes. If a teacher is not sensitive to such nuanced cultural differences, s/he may interpret a sign of respect in entirely the wrong way.
To further illustrate, consider the standard style of discourse in a European American classroom. Students are expected to sit quietly in rows of desks and absorb information that their teacher chooses to share with them. If a student wishes to participate, he is required to indicate this by raising his hand and waiting patiently until given permission to communicate.
On the other hand, in the African American culture, interaction is more assertive and straightforward. If an African American student blurts out the answer to a question without permission, a teacher in a traditional classroom would be likely to mistake profound interest in the material for deleterious rule-breaking. If the teacher quashes such culturally normal behavior, it serves to inform the student that her style of discourse is “wrong,” while the instructor’s style of discourse is “right.”
Instead of engaging in authoritarian classroom management techniques, an instructor in a culturally responsive classroom creates a caring, nurturing bond with students. In this environment, students think twice about jeopardizing their relationship with the instructor by making poor behavioral decisions. Potential methods for building rapport with students include spending time on connectedness-building games over the first few weeks of class, starting up conversations with students outside of class, and starting the class in a welcoming manner, despite whatever behavioral problems may have occurred during the last meeting of the class. This kind of amicable partnership between student and teacher tends to foster an optimal learning environment.


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