Transformative Approaches to Culturally Responsive Teaching

IDSL 880, Felipe Lopez Sustaita, Matt Chaney, and Vicki Maxa

Chapter Review, Transformative Approaches to Culturally Responsive Teaching. Chapter Eight, Tisdell, E. J. and Tolliver, D. E. (2009).

Engage cultural imagination: To help students develop curiosity and connect to their cultural roots and those of others. We share our significant moments with you, and are curious about yours. Please feel free to leave us a comment, below. To meet your presenters in their cultural context, mouse over the picture and use the arrow on either side of the large photo, click the thumbnails below, or swipe on your touchscreen to enlarge each subsequent photo.

In Transformative Learning in Practice, Mezirow and Taylor, 2009.

Summary: The chapter on "€œthe transformative approaches to culturally responsive teaching"€ defines cultural imagination: "Working with images that arise out of conscious and unconscious memory specifically around aspects of one's culture" (p. 90). The authors then discuss how to engage cultural imagination in our teaching, and with our students. A holistic approach that engages different art forms such as music, art, poetry, images, and symbols is used to spark cultural memory in one another. This process of sharing should be deeply engaging, and should "blend the scientific mind with the spirit's artistry" (p. 91).

"Until it Becomes You." The authors use this phrase as a reminder to experience culture in multiple ways. Engage the heart. Captivate the mind. Involve the physical self. Arrest the imagination. The authors propose that these multiple ways of knowing will create new interactions with others, and lead to the creation of shared knowledge. Such cultural responsiveness allows us to share and assimilate our own heritage, and to learn and respect the cultures of others. Each narrative sparks a new response and creative power is inspired. As we practice this and encourage our students to do so as well, we find the pathway to effect change and transformation. It becomes us.

Methods of experiencing culture suggested by the authors for use in the classroom:

  • Poetry
  • Dance
  • Song
  • Art
  • Bringing cultural symbols to class
  • Analyzing popular culture movies
  • Writing exercises
  • Inclusion of nontraditional and unconventional texts
  • Skits
  • Role plays
  • Monologues

Culture and Transformative Learning. Engaging our cultural imagination with our students provides a foundation to learn about structural power relations and how positionality shapes access to education and later, classroom dynamics (p. 91). Students examine cultural messages about power, and expectations of behavior for people of a specific gender, race, or class (p. 93). Internalized messages are reviewed, as are the dominant forces and resistances of society (p. 93). As we share this knowledge and examine this foundation, we build community in our classrooms (p. 91). Students begin to engage. With their culture. With one another. Through integrating multiple narratives, new learning emerges. Transformative learning begins.

Curandero. Civismo. Creatividad.
The Creative Spirit.
The Science of the Mind, The Artistry of the Spirit.

The words and the symbols of our different cultures are important. Sharing them is more important, still. Students may feel vulnerable about such disclosure; it is imperative to provide a safe and trusting environment for learning. The authors cite Parker Palmer, who suggested, we do not think our way into a new kind of living; rather, we live our way into a new kind of thinking (p. 98). Asking learners to engage their cultural imagination, then providing multiple activities for doing so "engages students' cultural imagination as new knowledge 'becomes them'...It taps into their kuumba and helps keep their spirits alive, hopeful and with the creativity to make change in the world....That is living their way into a new kind of thinking...Indeed, that is transformative learning" (p. 99).

The authors of this chapter, Elizabeth Tisdell and Derise Tolliver, share the above information then provide a look at their own culture. Rather than reviewing that information, Felipe, Matt and Vicki thought that you might appreciate information about our cultures and how we work with students. It is our sincere hope that you find our voices may add to your educator's toolkit, and strengthen your diversity repertoire.

Felipe, On Cultural Experience. One of the authors talked about her Danish-born Grandmother, who spoke very little English and at gatherings, she would not say much because it was difficult for her to assimilate another culture. My Father, who passed away 10 years ago, never learned English - my mother who is 72, never learned English, either. I know how difficult it was for them not being able to communicate. I still remember walking into little stores after a long day of work and people would look at us as if we were criminals. I was young back then and did not
understand, but as I grew older, I did. Just last month after picking apples with my
brothers, I got the same reaction from people. It’s sad that workers labor so
hard to put fruit on people’s tables and get this reaction. I often think about my Father, and his experiences in the 1950’s. I am sure he was mistreated during those days. He is a huge motivation for me as I strive for excellence. The second idea that I found intriguing was that images can serve as a gateway to a deeper understanding of one’s self (p. 90). For instance, I see Cesar E. Chavez as someone who fought for my family's rights so I take a lot of pride in working at LCC, in the Cesar E. Chavez Center. It represents the progress that has been made, and brings opportunity for progress to continue. I know I've talked about the negatives of being treated like a second class citizen, but I can’t imagine how it was back then. Our history is important. Now that I work in an educational setting where Cesar E. Chavez is embraced, I often take time to educate others about who he was. Our history and our culture is important in our lives.

Cesar E. Chavez and the United Farm Workers (UFW) Eagle. Cesar Chavez championed workers’ rights, changing how migrant workers were treated. He created the UFW, the United Farm Workers Union, and provided leadership for fair pay and housing for migrant workers. Chavez promoted change through nonviolence. During our meetings for this presentation, we found connections among ourselves through Chavez’s work. Matt talked about the strong participation of FSU students in Grand Rapids, at the annual Cesar Chavez Social Justice March, which Vicki also talked about, because GRCC is one of the sponsors. In the picture above, LUCERO students at LCC pose in front of our mural, which pays tribute to the work of Cesar E. Chavez. Chavez used the eagle, also pictured above, as a symbol of unity. He acknowledged the importance of this action, saying, "A symbol is an important thing. That is why we chose an Aztec eagle. It gives pride . . . When people see it, they know it means dignity."

My Cultural Values: Some values that come to mind when I think about my own Mexican Family: The importance of Family, Unity, Integrity, Hard Work, Respect for your Elders, Humbleness, Religion, and Pride. Growing up as a Migrant Farm Worker, these are cultural values that were taught early on in my life. During my early years up until my teenage years we had 10 people living in a one bedroom migrant camp in Hartford, Michigan and Portland, Tennessee. I learned early on that family and religion were very important in order for us to survive, and so I value those two things more than anything else. The other things I mentioned came natural, passed on through my culture.

Encouraging Cultural Values in Students. At the Cesar E. Chavez Center we treat everyone that comes in to our office with the utmost respect. We are very student oriented and we do everything we can so that they have an amazing experience. All of our employees at the Center are bilingual (Spanish and English). We are able to assist and advocate for students even if they are international, because my staff and I know how it feels to be outside the majority culture. We try our best to make students feel at home. Our mission is for them to come back to our Center. We also have three computers at the Center, we are able to assist with registration, show students how to use e-mail, go into Desire to Learn, and a variety of other tasks to help them fit into the college culture. We also have Writing, Math, and Science tutors come to our Center. The focus of the LUCERO Program is to create a positive connection for Latino students with each other and with LCC and to develop exceptional academic, leadership and professional skills while learning about and celebrating diversity and culture. LUCERO offers students assistance through the operations and leadership of the Student Services Department. With the guidance of Student Services, LUCERO students have the opportunity to partake in an experience that enhances their college life here at Lansing Community College. This aligns with my dissertation, which examines Latino/a leadership in community colleges through case study analysis.

My Kuumba, My Creatividad, My Symbols. The photo of my family was taken on a great day, when my boys completed their first 5k run/walk for the LUCERO
scholarship, our group efforts raised over $8,000. In the picture with me are my wife Danielle, and my sons Amancio, Felipe, and Sion. The second picture is a LUCERO event, taken at LCC. Last of all, graduates from the LUCERO program proudly wear colorful serapes that show our solidarity, and pride in our heritage. My students truly earn their stripes!

Vicki, Cultural Values: My ancestors hailed from England, Ireland, and the Netherlands, but I don't know a lot about those cultures from first-hand experience. Our cultural traditions are more reminiscent of American values. From my parents and grandparents, my cultural values include family, music, a love for nature, and the value of hard work. Both my parents were born in Arkansas and moved to Michigan as children. When visiting relatives in the south, there was never a TV, and after a day's work in the fields, the fiddle, harmonica, organ, accordian and guitar were passed around as everyone sang. I am taught by my culture to challenge truths, rather than simply accepting them. I also learned that people from all walks of life have more commonalities than differences...even as there are individual and cultural differences that make each person and their traditions a unique treasure. Authentic living provides the harmony, and each culture provides a melody that, when combined, is the musical composition of life itself. To find true meaning in life, one must listen carefully.

Encouraging Cultural Values in Students: It's important to meet students
right where they are, then guide them to learn and grow. Ensuring students know and apply the concept of diverse perspectives that can bring new knowledge to one another is important in my teaching. Correcting stereotypes is also something I use to ensure comprehension and empathy. A safe, respectful environment permits learning for everyone. The journey of education begins with understanding, and recognizing the value of working with others. My dissertation work reviews college completion in the context of Job Training, which is short-term immersion training in vocational skills, leading to immediate employment. These students have the highest completion rate of any group at GRCC (79.4%) and a significant number hail from low-income and ethnic minority backgrounds. I hope to discover and share what it is that factors into their high rate of perseverance and success.

My Kuumba, My Creatividad, My Symbols. Below is a picture of my
family. On the left is my brother Tim, a distance runner and counselor at Kellogg Community College, his wife Diane who is also a cherished friend, and my husband Joe, an avid golfer and industrial designer. It was taken on the USS Fitzgerald in
Corpus Christie. We vacation together frequently. The next picture is Jacky, my dog,
competing in dock diving in Traverse City. JackAttack is a true High Life Flier
and Rainbow Rider. Finally, four of the students I've worked with in Job
Training demonstrate their emerging talents and collaborative abilities in
automotive technology.

Matt, Cultural Values. As I reflect on my cultural imagination as it relates to my cultural values, I can’t help but to think about how important how God, love, family, and unity resonate deeply in our souls on both sides of my family. The genesis of my cultural imagination begins with an abiding faith in God, support of family, the warmth of their love and a strong value in that of having a good family name. Having good old fashioned family values was paramount in our household as I reflect on my childhood. My Dad instilled in each of his children the importance of having a faith in God and he studied the Bible religiously until his passing. He demonstrated to our entire family what it meant to be a man. He took care of, supported and provided for his family the way that a man should. He wasn’t afraid to show his love and affection towards us, while at the same time displaying his strength as a man.

My Dad was a man’s man. My Mom was the protector, supporter and nurturer of the family. She downright loved her family, immediate and extended family. She bragged on her children's accomplishments and those of the extended family members, as well. She even bragged on the neighborhood kids accomplishments in a way that made everyone feel special and important and valued. She taught me to value and respect everyone’s uniqueness and worth at a very young age. She also was the glue to our entire family, immediate and extended. She made sure that I took a pause from my life to call or visit my Grandmother and aunts and uncles regularly. She felt that staying connected to family and loved ones was important. She demonstrated this on a daily basis as she kept our entire family connected, which is why she was affectionately called “The Ambassador.”

Encouraging Cultural Values in Students. My life's work for the past 18 years has been devoted to the importance of valuing diversity as it relates to multiculturalism and inclusion. I first encourage cultural awareness by personally demonstrating a commitment to diversity, myself. I try to be an example of someone who values and embraces diversity, and I let the students see that example in a variety of ways. I believe that you can't adequately preach the importance of cultural awareness as it relates to issues if you do not lead by example. In addition, my department highlights many cultural awareness celebrations, such as Hispanic Heritage Month, Native American Heritage Month, MLK Week, Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Asian Awareness Month and LGBTQ observances. We sponsor numerous activities that are designed to educate one another on cultural awareness. I also visit many classrooms to engage students on issues of diversity and multiculturalism. I encourage students each and every day to step outside of their comfort zone and engage in learning about different cultures and heritages in order to increase understanding, and ultimately find out our differences and commonalities. I wholeheartedly feel that this is important work and it is also important to the students’ educational growth and development. My dissertation is closely related to this, I am researching the effectiveness of mentorship on African American males. Young men of color are underrepresented on college campuses, and finding solutions to this problem has been a quest for me.

My Kuumba, My Creatividad, My Symbols. The first picture is of my daughter, Cydni, and myself. The second is a collage of three pictures, the first is my brother Dana and I, kissing my Dad, who was battling Parkinson’s. Next, my Dad and his brother, then my Mom. The next picture is of my parents. The last picture is a collage of the values and direction of the Office of Multicultural Student Services. Our mission statement is that our department promotes the intellectual understanding and appreciation of diversity, inclusion and social justice by creating opportunities for learning and leadership development for our campus community. In addition, we provide meaningful support to assist in the transition, retention and graduation of our underrepresented student populations. My staff and I live and promote these values each and every day.

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As we reflect upon our own cultural heritage and seek to learn about others, we invite you to test these ideas, and to use transformational learning to engage, in your work and in your lives, until it touches your spirit. In the words of the authors, "Until It Becomes You!"

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