What should teachers understand about effective classroom behavior management?
Page 3: Cultural Influences on Behavior
When they reflect on comprehensive classroom behavior management, teachers should always keep in mind that one of the major influences on behavior is the students’ culture. Culture is a word we use to loosely describe any of the beliefs, norms, and practices characteristic of a particular society, group, or place. And because teachers themselves come from particular societies, groups, and places, they must be mindful that their own beliefs and practices can be likewise influenced, as can the broader policies, practices, and expectations of the schools and districts in which they teach.
Culture is such a powerful influence on our outlooks and behaviors that often we are not even aware of it, instead believing our perspectives are “just the way things are.” In the context of increasingly diverse classroom settings, such unexamined beliefs can lead to avoidable conflict and a loss of valuable instructional time.
For Your Information
Cultural differences are particularly important to understand as the U.S. student population becomes more and more racially, ethnically, and linguistically diverse. In the 2017–2018 school year, 53 percent of elementary and secondary students identified as a race or ethnicity other than white. On the other hand, during that same period 79 percent of public school teachers were white and non-Hispanic. Even in schools where the majority of the student population was from diverse racial or ethnic populations, the majority of teachers were white. This disparity in cultural and racial backgrounds and experiences can lead to unique challenges and potential misunderstandings.
Source: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)
Defining Cultural Gaps
For Your Information
Race is not synonymous with culture. However, racial identity is the product of social, historical, and political contexts, and thus students’ racial and cultural identities often share many commonalities.
Although there are many different cultures within the United States, the education system’s definition of what is “appropriate behavior” typically reflects white, middle-class cultural norms and values. These norms are reflected in broader school district practices and policies, as well as classroom expectations around behavior, communication, classroom dynamics, and family engagement. This can result in a cultural gap. In education, a cultural gap refers to any significant disparity in world views, values, and expectations that exist between a teacher (or the school culture as a whole) and racially and ethnically diverse students. Often times, these disparities negatively impact the success of diverse student populations.
When we take into account the fact that student populations are becoming more and more diverse while the majority of classroom instructors are not, this cultural gap becomes especially acute. It’s important for teachers to identify and anticipate cultural gaps that may influence their behaviors and interactions with their students, preferably before they occur.
Identifying Cultural Gaps
Once we are aware of the possibility of these culture gaps—and the problems that might arise because of them—we can take thoughtful steps toward a better, more thorough understanding of them. What do cultural gaps actually look like in practice? How might they affect interactions between a teacher and her students in a real classroom setting? Take a moment to read through the table below. Though by no means exhaustive, the examples included here illustrate certain specific perspectives and approaches that might result in cultural gaps.
|Differing Cultural Perspectives|
|Respect for authority figures|
Teachers are automatically regarded as an authority figure (based on role/position or age).
As a new member of the community, teachers must earn respect.
|Relationships with community|
Teachers are expected to collaborate with family members or community elders.
Students and families expect teachers to act independently.
Standing very close to someone when speaking is seen as violating personal space.
Standing very close to someone when speaking indicates a close relationship.
Eye contact conveys listening.
A lack of eye contact indicates deference or respect.
Verbally conveying information in a direct and assertive manner is valued.
Verbally conveying information in an indirect and passive manner is valued.
Providing directions in the form of a question (e.g., “Can you join us for group time?”) implies an expectation to comply.
Providing directions in the form of a question implies an expectation of choice or an option to decline.
Students who listen and remain quiet are respectfully engaged.
Students who actively participate are engaged.
Families who participate in school events are considered to be interested and involved in their child’s education.
There is a clear distinction between the role of the teacher and that of the family: Academics is the sole responsibility of the teachers while families provide instruction on skills and knowledge needed at home and in the community.
For Your Information
Cultural gaps can cause teachers to misinterpret students’ behavior, which can lead to conflict. These conflicts can have a range of effects: students feeling misunderstood or marginalized, higher rates of discipline referrals, and students leaving school altogether.
Although teachers should have an understanding of the differing cultural perspectives of their students, they should also keep in mind that not everyone with the same ethnic or racial background has the same values. In other words, teachers should avoid cultural stereotypes—oversimplified beliefs used to define a culture or group of people.
In the same way, teachers should reflect on their own cultural perspectives, values, beliefs, and behaviors. By understanding their own cultural perspectives, those of their students, and those promoted by the school, teachers can better identify cultural gaps. Once teachers understand why these gaps exist, they are ready to learn how to address them.
Think about a group of students you are currently working with or may work with in the future. Using the information above, consider these questions.
- How do your values and beliefs influence your classroom practices?
- Where might cultural gaps exist between you and your students?
- How might you respond differently to students whose behaviors and interactions do not align with your own cultural perspectives?
Listen as Ashley Lloyd discusses strategies for identifying cultural gaps and describes an experience that she had that lead to a deeper understanding of how culture might influence behavior. Next, KaMalcris Cottrell discusses how she addresses cultural gaps. Finally, Melissa Patterson discusses how she respectfully addresses cultural gaps.
School Behavior Support
High School Teacher
Addressing Cultural Gaps
For Your Information
When working with students, teachers should take an asset-based approach, rather than a deficit-based approach. Recognizing and understanding why students behave in certain ways can prevent misunderstandings based on cultural differences.
Because cultural gaps can impact engagement with students, teachers should create a classroom where students’ cultures are acknowledged, respected, and reflected. They can do this by implementing culturally sustaining practices—practices that not only accept but foster students’ cultural norms and values. These practices are designed to recognize and bridge cultural gaps and represent a shift from the traditional focus of schools, where students are expected to adopt white, middle class norms and to change or shed behaviors that don’t align with the school’s or teacher’s expectations.
Although culturally sustaining practices may look different depending on the context, teachers can:
Did You Know?
Many districts have personnel who can offer teachers information, training, and supports on topics related to equity, diversity, and inclusion. This can include cultural liaisons and community outreach specialists with personal knowledge and understanding of the cultures represented in the community. These professionals can help teachers develop the knowledge necessary to implement culturally sustaining practices.
- Evaluate current classroom practices
- Identify the foundations of existing practices
- Review practices to determine and reduce potential areas of culturally based conflict
- If cultural gaps exist, determine whether practices have to be done in a particular way or whether changes can be made
- Establish and teach clear classroom expectations that help students feel safe and secure
- Be open with students about differences in school practices and expectations and those in the home or community
- Incorporate the cultures of the students in the classroom by:
- Making sure that the curricula and materials reflect the historical and contemporary cultures of the children represented in the classroom and in the community
- Bringing in community and family members as part of regular classroom practice
Listen as Lori Delale-O’Connor discusses culturally sustaining practices. Next, listen as she explains how culture plays a role in classroom behavior management practices and why it is important to examine these practices with a cultural lens.
Lori Delale-O’Connor, PhD
Assistant Professor of Education
University of Pittsburgh School of Education
Culturally sustaining practices
How culture plays a role
To learn more about cultural influences on behavior and how demographic differences can lead to cultural gaps that negatively impact students, we encourage you to listen to Lori Delale-O’Connor in this extended IRIS Interview. In addition, she offers examples of how teachers can implement culturally sustaining practices to create inclusive classrooms where all students feel supported.
To learn more about student diversity, view the following IRIS Modules:
- Classroom Diversity: An Introduction to Student Differences
- Cultural and Linguistic Differences: What Teachers Should Know
Even teachers who believe that they engage in culturally sustaining practices can benefit from taking the time to reflect on their knowledge, attitudes, and practices. Complete this activity to identify strengths and areas for growth. When you are done, click the “Finish” button to get some feedback.
Adapted from “Double-Check: A Framework of Cultural Responsiveness Applied to Classroom Behavior,” by P. A. Hershfeldt, R. Sechrest, K. L. Pell, M. S. Rosenberg, C. P. Bradshaw, and P. J. Leaf, 2009, Teaching Exceptional Children Plus, 6(2).
Ms. Rollison — The Story Unfolds
Recall that Ms. Rollison expects her students to raise their hands to speak. In her classroom, a group of students repeatedly calls out questions and responses and appears to talk over each other. Because this behavior does not align with her expectation, she sees it as “rude” or “violating classroom rules.” The group of students, however, is used to learning from each other in a group context and consider their verbal behavior as appropriate and supportive.
How can Ms. Rollison bridge this cultural gap? Rather than correcting or disciplining the students until they follow the rules, Ms. Rollison can:
- Strive to understand the differences between the expected behaviors in the classroom and acceptable behaviors in students’ communities.
- Consider why she (and the school) require students to share and participate in such a structured manner.
- Engage in a conversation around these differences and work to build a classroom community that acknowledges them and bridges this cultural gap.