SCHOOL CULTURE

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December: Month of Divine grace and natural beauty. December: Month of love & peace.

 

It is our firm belief that all peace starts with the respect and understanding of the Other. Respect and understanding come hand-in-hand with knowledge. And knowledge is embedded in culture. In the excerpt below, Simon Rodberg relates his experience of a culture friendly school and gives us tips on how to develop culture in our school. Enjoy!  

December 2016 | Volume 74 | Number 4

The Global-Ready Student Pages 66-69

The Culture-Friendly School

Simon Rodberg

 

The message in this school is clear: Cultures are welcome and cultural differences are worth embracing.

 

… Beyond college, we want to prepare students for a world of many cultures—and to contribute to a world in which those cultures are preserved, valued, and built upon.


Creating a Culture of Cultures

 We start from a place of cultural positivity. We believe all cultures are interesting, worthwhile, and powerful. When a student's family is from El Salvador, we want that culture to be part of our school culture. When a student's family has lived in a poor neighborhood of D.C. for five generations, we want that culture, too… The message to students is this: You can bring your whole self to this school. You can bring who you are on this educational journey….They are valued for who they are as well as for what they can become—and the buy-in from students and their families is enormous.

English language learners are not perceived as deficient at our school because everyone is a language learner. Given that language is a crucial part of both culture and global readiness, every student studies Chinese, French, or Spanish. We've also had students do independent studies on languages that their families speak, including Quechua, German, and Hebrew. As their interests become more international, our students simultaneously become more interested in their own backgrounds.

The message of cultural positivity is just as important, though in different ways, for students who are not from historically disadvantaged backgrounds. Even if you're not from another country, there is a cultural specificity to you as well….Maybe it's the pickles your aunt makes. Maybe it's a baseball cap from your father's hometown.

We are teaching students—in fact, they are teaching one another and themselves—that everyone has a culture, and that these cultures can sit together in a circle, like one garden with many flowers. When they go out into the world, our students. will need to appreciate the extraordinary range of cultures, and be both aware of and positive about the fact that they, too, bring their own

 

Where Cultures Meet

 …In a diverse society and with students heading for a fully globalized future, every school can—and should—be a culturally positive school. These tips can get you started:

  1. Structure ways for staff, students, and families to bring in their cultures early in the school year.
  2. Take individualized (rather than broad) approaches to cultural celebrations.
  3. Ensure that everyone both teaches and learns.
  4. Integrate cultural learning both in and out of class.

 

All of these guidelines are about creating and highlighting moments when cultures meet. These moments should be positive, even though students' experiences in the "real world" might not always be that way. Schools should, of course, always be safe places to rehearse for adult life. We should create the kind of school culture that helps students from all cultures understand, appreciate, and look forward to the possibilities both within and beyond themselves. As they face their futures, students from all backgrounds ask themselves, What will happen to me—and all that I bring with me—when I encounter the world? It's the school's job to make that question feel exciting and rewarding, full of positive anticipation rather than worry or potential loss.

Culturally positive schools call on students and adults, from every cultural background, to step forward, not as representatives of a particular culture, but as their full selves. By doing so, we can create a path to global readiness and to making diverse, integrated schools work.


References

Ladson-Billings, G. (2014). Culturally relevant pedagogy 2.0: a.k.a. the remix. Harvard Educational Review, 84(1), 74–84.

Perry, T., Steele, C., & Hilliard III, A. (2003). Young, gifted, and black: Promoting high achievement among African-American students. Boston: Beacon Press.

Rader, D., & Harris Sittig, L. (2003). New kid in school: Using literature to help children in transition. New York: Teachers College Press.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is the founding principal of District of Columbia International School in Washington, D.C. Follow the school on Twitter