A Lens of Our Own
When considering our cultural responsiveness we must first develop a sense of our own cultural positioning. We all view the world through our own cultural lens. This lens is developed over a lifetime and is a product of our experiences. It is therefore mostly imperceivable by us unless we consciously look to understand it. In order to truly respond to our learners in a culturally conscious way, we must acknowledge the barriers that prevent this way from being the norm.
So how might one go about this journey of self-discovery? How might we begin to understand the culturally appropriate acts we should take when faced with a culture unfamiliar to our own? I recently attended a CORE Breakfast Seminar by Alex Hotere-Barnes (2016) who spoke about what he had coined ‘Pākeha paralysis’. Hotere-Barnes found that those persons who worked effectively in cultures which were not their own had broken free from the ‘paralysis’ of a society permeated by racism. Learning to be clear in their relationships and comfortable in themselves. Dissonance is not always a bad thing, it can create movement and growth, however, unacknowledged dissonance can lead to an uneasy disposition. Indigenous pedagogy models have a lot to offer us as we navigate the complex landscape of a colonized society. I have heard too many times, teachers with the best intentions professing that they do not see colour in their classrooms. Taking pride in their ability to ‘treat all learners as equal’. To deny a person’s culture exists so that we might treat everyone the same is to force our own unconscious bias onto others, those who are disadvantaged most are those whose cultural knowledge differ most from our own. In an oppressor society, these are always the oppressed.
“If the structure does not permit dialogue the structure must be changed” Paulo Freire
Vision and Mission
So what do we do toward becoming more culturally responsive? Most schools have a strong theme of culturally responsive pedagogies outlined in their vision and core values. But for many schools, this understanding stops at the document. Constant effort should be made toward creating awareness and maintaining high expectations of cultural responsiveness from all stakeholders.
CORE Education pride themselves as innovators and thought leaders of learning and education. Cultural intelligence and multiculturalism is actively promoted across the organisation. To me, multiculturalism is an awareness and appreciation of all the cultures around us. In this digital age these cultures might be present both virtually and physically. Multiculturalism is embracing the differences that exist across our society and being aware of our own cultural lenses. Having a multicultural disposition in our work means that we are actively aware of multiculturalism. I believe, it is important in our work, that we make genuine effort to engage with and find meaning in with both our own culture(s) and those of others who we engage with in an authentic way. Having a multicultural disposition involves being comfortable in looking to others to guide our understandings of culture with which we are less familiar, and sharing with others the intricacies of those in which we are.
I have found that professional learning involving learning a language offer much more than vocab and sentence structures. Completing language courses, in Te Reo Māori for example, draw a lot on the tikanga and cultural understandings involved in a Māori world view. Professional learning targeted at developing certain sectors of our society ie. Māori learners, Pasifika learners, may be helpful. However, more depth of knowledge comes from an immersion in that culture, for example attending hui at marae or visiting schools with high population of Pasifika students. I believe that in making an ongoing effort to develop my own sense of culture and identity helps me to build a multicultural disposition. Firstly, an understanding of our personal bias is necessary if we are to address the bias’ and preconceptions honestly. My ideas about multiculturalism continue to evolve as does the multicultural nature of our society. Bringing an awareness of multiculturalism to the way I work and communicate both professionally and personally helps me work towards being more open minded and accepting of all persons.
Educators and schools nationwide are working to develop resources responsive to our multicultural and bicultural society. However, there is a long way to go. Presently most of the resources we use in our schools are strongly grounded in the dominant culture, to be truly culturally responsive there are mojor shifts needed in resourcing our education sector at both school and professional development level. It is important that we continue to question the resources we are using in our practice and those we are provided with. There are many educators working to develop culturally relevant resources but more can and should be done. Contributing to this deficit and sharing the culturally located resources we create helps build a culture of critical thinking over compliance.
CORE Education. (2016). Multiculturalism: Navigating the spaces between Ethnicity, Identity, and Diversity using Cultural Intelligence. Retrieved 26 March 2016, from http://www.core-ed.org/thought-leadership/blog/multiculturalism-navigating-spaces-between-ethnicity-identity-and-diversity