Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

What does it mean to be Culturally Responsive?

We've just been through a process of appointing our Leaders of Learning and this was a question that caused some robust discussion amongst our team.  Often, the answer you expect to hear is influenced strongly by your own personal experiences.

For me, my most recent experiences have been in a Decile One school, where 80% of our students were Maori.  When thinking 'cultural responsiveness' I reflect on Te Kotahitanga, the Treaty of Waitangi and the importance of valuing and validating what each student brings to the classroom.  Also the importance of being responsive to students experiences and co-constructing the learning around their views and knowledge.  Working in this environment my focus was largely on lifting Maori Achievement - not just academically, but also about finding ways for school to be a successful place for Maori.  The evidence was clear, that what is effective for Maori students is effective for all students.

This clip from Andrew Solomon, talking about 'Love, no matter what' reminded me that being culturally responsive is more than just valuing and validating the views and beliefs that learners bring, but also about accepting their identities.  

I love how he talks about Vertical and Horizontal Identities.  Vertical Identity is what's passed down through generations - ethnicity, nationality, language, sometimes religion.  While some of these things are difficult, no one attempts to cure them.  Horizontal Identity refers to the things that you often have to learn from a peer group, things that you don't have in common with your family and what often makes you quite alien to your parents.  These are the things that people almost always try to cure.  Andrew Solomon makes reference to being gay, the deaf community, to families with down syndrome and autistic children.  These are all examples of identities that form cultures.  The challenge is how others accept individual identities.  Solomon talks about three levels of acceptance:  self acceptance, family acceptance and social acceptance.  They don't always con-incide.  Children who don't 'fit' into what their family deems as 'normal' often feel that their parents don't love them.  Solomon talks about the idea that a parent's love for their children is unconditional, the issue is that often parents don't accept them, and that acceptance takes time.

Being responsive isn't just about acknowledging, but also about being accepting.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Relationships - the power of the Advisory

Visits to the Self Directed Schools in Canada: Westmount in Hamilton, Mary Ward in Toronto, Bishop Carroll in Calgary and Thomas Haney in Vancouver reinforced the impact that the 'Teacher Advisor' can have on students and how they experience school.  My passion around the advisory concept, and around students and their whanau having that one person they can connect with, has developed through having my own advisory group at my previous school, and exploring ways to ensure students are at the centre of the learning. Also, having positive relationships with students has always been an underlining philosophy for me as a teacher  - It's not rocket science!  Let's face it - any ineffective personal or working relationship results in a toxic environment for all involved, so why do we go there? 

Open to learning conversations and restorative practices are popular initiatives dominating the educational world and it all makes complete sense  - in theory it seems so simple.   What's the problem? 

Lets not forget that positive relationships are not a new concept in schools and I feel slightly frightened when an educator mentions it like it's some revelation.  Forming strong connections with students, I would argue, is the underlying success for effective teaching and learning - and it has been happening for years.  What hasn't happened is structures put in place to support the concept of a teacher as an advisor, a mentor, or in our case at Hobsonville Point, a Coach.

Deans, Tutors (a couple of roles that come to mind) are people put into these positions to be pastoral and academic mentors.  Most of the time they are people that connect with students through forming positive relationships, however, at the same time they are landed with large groups of students which then limits that expectation to provide each student with what they need.  

The Advisory concept advocates for small groups of no more than 15 students.  It also advocates for quality time, not just 5 - 10 minutes of a morning.  Our Coaches will be that one person that advocates for students and builds and fosters caring relationships, along with academic mentoring.  The Coach will be that person who ensures each student is engaged and challenged in learning and experiences that are relevant to them.  The Coach will have the time and skills to build our learners to be inquirers and self directed learners as well as working with students to explore interests and pursue passions that can be linked back to their learning.  The Coach will be that go to person for family and ensure that students and whanau don't get lost in the education system.  

Our challenge is to not lose sight of what is important - our students, and to ensure that everything we do must ensure students are at the centre.  'Personalised Learning' is a concept that, as teachers, we all want to aspire to, but it's extremely challenging to truly personalise learning for students when they are being processed through levels at schools based on their age and a timetable structured around teacher and their specific subjects rather then student needs.  What is most exciting here at Hobsonville Point, is that we are in a position to make a change.  

At times it feels like we are venturing into the unknown and while we are drawing on research and what we've seen in our travels, what we are doing is radically different.  What keeps us grounded and what reassures us that we are doing the right thing is seeing the potential of how our thinking, planning and developing will enable true student centred and personalised learning to occur.   Students belonging to a Learning Hub, with a Coach is just one aspect to ensure students remain at the centre of everything we do.