Published on 2013/01/23

The Importance of Integrating Multicultural Learning Into Teachers' Professional Development Programming (Part 1)

The Importance of Integrating Multicultural Learning Into Teachers' Professional Development Programming (Part 1)
One critical element of improving multicultural education for teachers is encouraging the integration of Family Involvement into the classroom.

“Multicultural education is a philosophical concept built on the ideals of freedom, justice, equality, equity, and human dignity…” (NAME, 2003)

Research has shown there are limitless benefits to multiculturalism in the curriculum. In fact, its absence can be a true hindrance to students. Multiculturalism adds to students’ (and teachers’) comfort when working with their peers of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Infusing multiculturalism into the curriculum won’t happen overnight, nor will it be accepted by all teachers since it may take extra work in the beginning; time can be so precious to a teacher. However, it is critical to make sure teachers have access to professional development programs that teach them how to integrate this vital information into their curricula.

Author and researcher Donna Y. Ford has created four approaches to integrating multiculturalism into the curriculum, two of which I will focus on in this series. This is critical in order not to overwhelm teachers who are just starting to introduce multicultural content, especially since overload might lead to discouragement from trying the implementation at all.

Ford (1991) states that “transformation includes that the basic goals, structure and nature of the curriculum are changed to enable students to view concepts, events, issues, problems and themes from the perspective of diverse groups. Students become more empathetic by viewing events from multiple perspectives.” How can we teach educators to do this in a weekend of professional development?

One option is having Family Involvement (FI). FI has been defined in many ways; it can have minimal or substantive impact on student achievement. It can range from having family members volunteer in the classroom to having them participate on field trips to asking them to set aside times for study at home. Through this involvement, teachers can learn the various roles family members play within their homes and apply that to the classroom. Culturally-competent teachers develop meaningful relationships with their students and their families. This leads to trust and strength in the classroom as teachers are then better able to interpret events from multiple perspectives.

Through the transformative approach in the classroom, students are provided with the knowledge and skills to better understand the perspectives of their classmates. For example, students of color are informed and empowered when teachers focus on how the common American culture emerged to make up the nation. What better way to do this than to have a person of color talk with the students in the class? The caveat is, this will require curriculum revision and changes in teacher preparation, which may mean additional time, effort and commitment. However, the students are well worth the investment.

This is where professional development comes in. School districts have requirements regarding professional development, such as topics covered, the number of times per year training is required, how long the trainings will last, etc. But what has the largest and longest lasting positive impact on the teachers and students? This is where we need to place our focus.

Districts must be dedicated to serving all of their students. If a few school days are dedicated to equipping teachers to integrate multiculturalism into their classrooms, then the first steps can be made toward a curriculum that includes all of the students, not just the white, middle-class majority.

Professional development is only as good as the way it’s implemented and the follow-up responsibility falls on the cooperation of the teachers for the benefit of all of the students. There are limitless sources among the teachers themselves to increase multicultural content in the classroom. Draw on those strengths, distribute the work load and the creativity is endless.

How do we do this? How can we implement multiculturalism without putting too much of a burden on teachers? Professional development is for the sole purpose of increasing the knowledge of teachers that will help improve student achievement. This is not ‘in-addition-to” work that the teachers are doing right now, though perhaps it can be a replacement for some of the things that may not be working.

Dr. James A. Banks developed “the five dimensions of multicultural education:”

The first dimension is content integration. This could include putting African-Americans, Mexican-Americans and Asian-Americans into the curriculum for language arts, social studies and science. The possibilities are endless.

The second is knowledge construction. This process moves to a different level because teachers help students to understand, investigate and determine the implicit cultural assumptions and frames of reference and perspectives of the discipline they’re teaching. They help kids to understand. Having the students become critical thinkers, readers and writers is crucial.

The third dimension is equity pedagogy. This is having the teachers change their methods to enable kids from diverse racial groups and both genders to achieve comparable success. This means modifying their teaching styles so they use a wide range of strategies and teaching techniques such as cooperative groups, simulations, role-playing and discovery. The teachers need to be open-minded and flexible and use a wide variety of strategies that cater to a wider range of students.

The fourth dimension is prejudice reduction. This can apply to all teachers, regardless of what they teach. Adolescent prejudice is very real, and kids come to school with prejudices toward different groups. Teachers need to be sensitive to this. All educators should use methods to help kids develop more positive racial attitudes.

The last dimension of multicultural education is empowering school culture and social structure, in other words, looking at the overall school culture to see how to make it more equitable. There must be a ‘total-buy-in’ to the new ideas and approaches to multiculturalism.

Check back next week for the conclusion of this series.

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Resources

Banks, J.A., Educating Citizens in a Multicultural Society. (n.d.). (Teachers College Press).

Banks, J.A. and Tucker, M. (n.d.). Multiculturalism’s Five Dimensions. NEA Today Online. Retrieved from http://www.learner.org/workshops/socialstudies/pdf/session3/3.Multiculturalism.pdf

Learning Forward, Seven standards for professional learning. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.learningforward.org/default.aspx. (The international nonprofit association of learning educators).

NAME, National Association for Multicultural Education. (2003). http://www.nameorg.org/resolutions/definition.html

Werner, P. (2012). Multicultural Gifted Education. University of Wyoming.

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Readers Comments

Chuck Schwartz 2013/01/23 at 11:52 am

The first part of the article appears to suggest that teachers can learn from students of color (hence the line, “Teachers and students are learners together”). However, the writer goes on to list a variety of artificial ways for teachers to learn about students of color, seemingly conflating the two very different approaches.

Watching movies and reading multicultural literature are ways of learning about a community without input from the community on what that learning should look like. It’s absurd to think this type of approach makes teachers culturally competent or ready to tackle on real issues of racial, religious, ethnic, socio-economic or gender diversity that come up in the classroom.

It would appear to me that the best source for such knowledge is the students themselves, as the writer suggests at the beginning of the article. In practical terms, how about a session where students give presentations to their teachers on the types of learning they value, the challenges and opportunities in their lives, etc.? These students would not purport to speak on behalf of their entire communities, but teachers would at least begin to see the variety of perspectives that exists in their classrooms.

    Peter Laramie 2013/01/23 at 1:35 pm

    I disagree with this. I think this is a well-articulated piece about the need for more multicultural education. I don’t think the writer is at all claiming that the implementation of her suggestions will lead to the ideal multicultural learning environment.

    She has simply presented a good case for multicultural education and noted that there are some small steps teachers can take to move forward on the issue. When she discusses the Implementation and Outcomes standards set out in Learning Forward, she acknowledges the need for longer-term thinking.

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