Published on 2013/01/30

The Importance of Integrating Multicultural Learning Into Teachers' Professional Development Programming (Part 2)

The Importance of Integrating Multicultural Learning Into Teachers' Professional Development Programming (Part 2)
Teachers of any race can be particularly effective with a multicultural group of students so long as they learn to connect and identify with the particular challenges facing their student group.

Last week, Pepper Lynn Werner looked at the role of Family Involvement in integrating multicultural education into teachers’ professional development. This is the series conclusion.

So, how should teachers conceptualize their roles? The learning process should not be viewed as being about the teacher as the source of all knowledge and the student as the passive recipient. Teachers and students are learners together. This goes back to Family Involvement and how everyone becomes a learner in the classroom. They become joint learners in this multicultural classroom. ‘The teacher has a culture, and the teacher and students learn together, share their cultures and construct new knowledge in the classroom. That’s how I see teachers conceptualizing their role.’ (Banks, n.d.).

As mentioned earlier, if there is diversity among the teachers themselves, you’re in luck! However, it’s not the race of the teacher, per se, that matters, but a set of cultural characteristics that make them effective with students of color. Researchers Judith Kleinfeld and Gloria Ladson-Billings found that white teachers could be effective with Native Alaskan students if they demonstrated characteristics that were in tune with their students’ culture, and both black and white teachers could be effective with African-American children if they chose to identify with the children through such means as living in the same community, understanding the daily lives of the students and foreseeing their verbal and nonverbal cues. Effectiveness in teaching in a diverse classroom has a lot to do with the values, attitudes and experiences of the teacher. It likely isn’t accurate to say any teacher can become effective with students from diverse racial, ethnic and cultural groups. That’s wishful thinking. However, having cross-cultural experiences, reading multicultural literature, having friends from different racial groups or seeing a variety of movies — these are the kinds of experiences that will enable teachers to acquire the ability to reach across cultures.

Perhaps, for a Professional Development session, there could be a book review; something from the literature that is multicultural and with a different perspective. For example, read about Christopher Columbus and consider the point of view of the American Indian. They did not think Columbus was so wonderful, nor that he was the one “responsible for founding America”. There were half a million Indians living in North America when he arrived and they believed that he was “responsible for taking their land”.  Discuss the possibilities of the American Indian and when teachers present it in class, make sure a range of perspectives are covered. What did the women think? The children? Don’t always gravitate toward the examples of the dominant culture. It’s important to vary the perspective as different concepts and issues are taught.

The social action approach, according to Banks (2000), involves teachers helping students to make decisions about important social issues and to take action to solve them. Teachers need to do, and teach their students to do, three things: to know, to care and to act.

One goal of multicultural education is educating students from the beginning to construct their own knowledge and to think for themselves. There is no singular model for this. For instance, what is American? It’s not how we look — we can look all kinds of ways — but it is a commitment to a set of democratic ideals. This is what students must understand. There is diversity in every classroom, perhaps not culturally, but there are children from different social class or religious groups and various gender identities, so there is diversity present everywhere.

In Professional Development, why not step out and watch a video or a film and then role-play? This could involve racial discrimination. A list of videos that a teacher could play to focus on this subject would include:

  • Gentlemen’s Agreement” starring Gregory Peck (blacks aren’t the only people discriminated against)
  • In the Heat of the Night” and “They Call Me Mister Tibbs” starring Sidney Portier
  • Sergeant Rutledge” starring Strother Martin
  • Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” starring Sidney Poitier and Spencer Tracy

Have the teachers play a role other than their own race/color/heritage. These simulation games can be very powerful and can positively influence teachers’ racial attitudes. Research has shown that vicarious experiences can be powerful or more powerful than the actual contact.

To make this social action approach most effective, teachers must engage in a process of self-transformation; it begins with themselves. Banks says, “For teachers to start with themselves in self-transformation, it is a process of reading, a process of engaging with the other, a process of understanding that the other is us and we are the other.” In other words, check our shoes before we put ourselves in someone else’s.

Learning Forward’s (2012) seven standards for professional learning that increase teacher effectiveness and results for all students are (modified):

  • Learning Communities: Groups of teachers who are committed to continuous improvement, shared responsibility and collective goal alignment. This could include the families mentioned previously, community members or specific mentors in the field.
  • Leadership: Skillful leaders who develop capacity, advocate and create support systems for professional learning. Consider the Distributed Leadership concept that draws on the strengths of the many and aids in developing creativity.
  • Resources: Prioritizing, monitoring and coordinating resources for professional learning. Think outside of the box for new, different and multicultural ideas.
  • Data: Using a variety of sources and types of student, educator and school system data to plan, assess and evaluate professional learning. Seek outside professionals in the field of multicultural education to assist with curriculum development.
  • Learning Designs: Integrating theories, research and models of human learning to achieve intended outcomes. Present ideas with new thought perspectives to invoke a different response.
  • Implementation: Applying research and sustained support for implementation of professional learning to foster long-term change. This is what will have the most positive effect on the students — building trust and strengthening the relationship.
  • Outcomes: Aligning outcomes with educator performance and student curriculum standards. The fact is,  classrooms are more diversified than ever and the long-term outcome can be nothing but positive.

The above standards can be more narrowly focused on multicultural education and used in specific ways. Be purposeful with the Professional Development. Be intentional and seek specific goals. Be determined and open to new ideas. And be aware that the students are worth the extra work and dedication.

With Wyoming (and other states) in the process of implementing the Common Core Standards, now is the time for our teachers to implement a more multicultural curriculum as well. It would be a much less difficult task to do now since major change is coming down the pike. There is no time like the present to include all of the students all of the time.

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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

Learning Forward, Seven standards for professional learning. (2012). Retrieved from (The international nonprofit association of learning educators).

NAME, National Association for Multicultural Education. (2003).

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

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Readers Comments

Greg Allen 2013/01/30 at 12:11 pm

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.

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