" . . .contrary to myth, effective collaborative cultures are not based on like-minded consensus. They value diversity because that is how they get different perspectives and access to ideas to address complex problems. Under such conditions, inequity is far less likely to go unnoticed or to be tolerated." -Fullan, 1999, p.37
This quote absolutely resonated with me. Often we like when groups flow and are easy- no resistance, no tension. True collaboration that is worthwhile and leads to positive change must contain diversity in order to see an issue from as many angles as possible. Without diversity, sometimes decisions are made that leave out one or many perspectives, which is, of course, problematic and counterproductive.
As I read about Maple View School District I couldn't help but compare my school district with Maple View. They sound very similar. The authors of the book asked the question "How do you learn about the families of your students?" That question got me thinking, and I'm not really sure how. I meet the families of the students I work with individually sometimes, but I don't know if our school really has a conscious, intentional, plan for meeting and getting to know families besides the standard Back-To-School-Night, Open House, and PTO meetings. I definitely see that as an area where our school site can grow.
As I think about how Cultural Proficiency can have positive impact on education at our school site, I see the most impact coming from having teachers use this approach in order to become aware of their own biases, prejudices and expectations. Since teachers at my site work very often one-on-one with students, they can personally impact and influence students in a big way.
Reading of Supt. Campbell's story in striving for major change in Maple View two components struck a chord with me. The first is that Dr. Campbell recognized the need to "strengthen the connection between teaching to standards and culturally proficient instruction" (p.57). If a standards-based instruction approach was to be implemented effectively in the classrooms of Maple View, the teaching staff would be much more connected and successful if they were also culturally proficient. The second item that struck a chord with me was the idea of viewing diversity as an opportunity rather than a challenge. That is HUGE! So often educators get stuck in talking about what is wrong and why the circumstances within a given population create barriers. The shift to looking at diversity as an opportunity is vital.
In table 4.1 on page 59 I also took particular notice of the shift in language between "assumptions that hold us" and "assumptions that we hold." If, as educators, we see assumptions as something we hold, then there is the possibility to challenge and change. When assumptions hold us we are powerless to do anything about it. Language is powerful! The most important question in this chapter is the one that asks us what it is going to take for us to grow as culturally proficient learning communities. I don't know that answer to that question, but I do know that being willing to look at ourselves and our communities honestly, and with an positive attitude, along with being aware of the language we use, will go a long way toward progress in that direction.
"We can work to change the embedded structures so that our schools become more hospitable places for student and adult learning. But little will really change unless we change ourselves."
-Barth, 1991, p. 128
A true learning community must be intentional, inclusive, aware, connected and realistic. There are many challenges in bringing together diverse groups of people to work, learn, and grow together. In an educational setting a learning community must begin with a shared understanding of the population being served by schools in the area and must be lead by leadership that is committed and open to sharing ideas for the common good of students. I loved the quote on page 38 that suggests that success lies in the ability for school leaders to transform their thinking ". . . from accountability as a matter of compliance to thinking about accountability as their moral, professional responsibility." This chapter really gets at the crux of true leadership in suggesting that true leadership comes from within the leader, and is not a set of motions that a leader puts him or herself through. When it comes to looking at the achievement of all students within a community, the leadership has to have the ability to look beyond the circumstances and ask, "What are we going to do to ensure student achievement despite these circumstances?" A community is just like anything else... the situation is what it is. Judgement and the throwing up of hands doesn't help in any way. A community needs leadership that can approach the situation with an acceptance of what is- and the determination to see what can be pulled together through learning, community, collaboration and shared vision to enact and implement true change that leads to achievement for as many students as possible.
I have worked as part of several learning communities through the span of my almost 20-year career- each of them different. My current school site is a school of choice, and attracts a variety of students for a variety of reasons. It is probably the most diverse group of students with diverse backgrounds and circumstances I have ever worked with. Fortunately our current leader has a heart of gold and carries empathy with her wherever she goes- which balances well with her business sense and ability to run a school building, and leads to her making student-centered decisions that consistently improve student achievement and student experience at our school. Like most schools though, we still have a lot of work to do. We have an extremely close and caring staff who have been together through several iterations of our school plan and several changes in leadership. As a staff and learning community we are in need of a consistent mission and vision for our students, or as mentioned on page 45, we have to ask ourselves, "What is the business of our business?" It is my hope that in this coming school year we hone in and define that vision and purpose so that it can be incorporated into every single aspect of what we do as a school and a learning community. I hope to see our parents and families come to feel welcome and valuable to our learning community as well. Clearly the best thing for students is for their community, parents, school leaders, teachers, and peers to share an understanding of community culture and circumstances and be able to keep that in mind as we work to educate students and lead them to achievement and success. The lens of cultural proficiency might help our learning community stay on an authentic path, and not fall into the trap of just going through the motions for compliance.
I was not able to join our virtual session on June 2nd as I was attending my high school's graduation. Congrats to the hardworking students of the Vista Visions Academy Class of 2015! In lieu of attending class I listened to the recorded session, and I was still able to enjoy the discussion and interaction. Here are a few of my thoughts as I listened to this session:
Article on Confronting Racial and Religious Tensions-
I agreed with Christina, Ulisses and Sara that it is important to allow time for students to express themselves in terms of their confusion, questions, and anxieties regarding these issues. Validating students and creating a supportive environment in which they can discuss and come to understand these issues is really the foundation for true understanding and change. I also agree with the quote that Angelica shared about these issues being distracting to students in their academics if these are issues students are struggling with. Anyone who knows me knows that I love Story. Our personal stories are such strong driving forces within us, and when we find ourselves in supportive environments we can learn so much from the stories of others and also use our own stories as point of reference and/or filters for understanding the world, people, and dynamics we yearn to learn more about.
Fiore Chapter 2: My thoughts and observations on the class discussion:
"Validate, Appreciate, & Celebrate all students' cultures"- Will Mellman (while also teaching them how to navigate and be successful in mainstream American culture)
Case Study: Caroline Jackson
Connection is EVERYTHING . Don't wait for the community to come to you. Reach out. Be approachable.
Food is common denominator that people can feel proud of & share
"The future is in our hands . . . . A history that leaves out minorities reinforces separation, but an inclusive history bridges the divide." -Takaki, 2008
We have to look critically at our history books and ask ourselves whose story is being told . . . and whose story isn't being told. An inclusive history is the only history that matters, as the TRUTH is the only foundation that serves to help us move forward in a meaningful manner. Chapter 2 of Culturally Proficient Learning Communities brought up so many important issues- so many, actually, that it is tough to organize them.
Three Key Learnings: