I have just completed my first year teaching abroad. I left Minnesota for the warm, tropical climate of Venezuela. The school where I am the behavior/climate specialist is international, meaning the students hold two passports in order to attend. Many students have a US passport, in addition to their Venezuelan passport, but other countries represented include Argentina, Colombia, Syria, Russia and China. I am thankful the classes are all in English (my Spanish is woefully inadequate). Many cultures are represented at my school, and I want to be respectful to the Venezuelans, I have spent this past school year trying to answer the question: How much of students’ behavior is based on culture and my perception of how schools should function?

In Venezuela the culture is very affectionate. Every morning co-workers, parents and students greet me by light kisses on the left cheek. Where I am from we don’t kiss people we don’t know, not even an air kiss. Family, yes, maybe. Shaking hands is perfectly acceptable when meeting someone. A hug, maybe, for an old friend. But kissing? No. And people I work with, no. This culture of affection took me a while to get use to; to not greet someone in this style can be seen as cold and standoffish.

When it comes to the classroom there are similar standards between US and Venezuelan teacher expectations. We want students to be focused, complete their work, and be kind to others. Perhaps these are universal code-of-conduct expectations. I recently gave a talk to a school in Sweden about social-emotional learning and PBIS. They also have similar expectations for their students. Perhaps the difference is in how we handle situations and that’s where the PBIS framework can help.

In the US our schools are inequitable for our students of color. Boys who are African-American are disciplined at a higher rate than their white counter parts. Teachers who are generally white, middle-class raised, tend to project their values on students who are different from them. It is important as teachers to spend time reflecting on the values they bring to the classroom and how they might be different from their students’ backgrounds and their perceptions of the world. Teachers in Sweden tell me they are having similar conflicts as more students from the middle east join Swedish society. Many of us have preconceived ideas and stereotypes about people who are different from us and these ideas must be addressed for our schools to be inclusive to all students and staff.

Teachers should reflect on how they talk to students, discipline students, and reach out to parents and the larger community. Schools need to provide support to teachers by creating school cultures and climates that are respectful to all students and staff, and by providing opportunities for exploration. One way to measure this is by using the Tiered Systems of Fidelity (TFI) Cultural Responsiveness Companion. This is an action planning tool PBIS teams can use to ensure that the practices and systems set up in their schools are sensitive to cultural needs across their school. The TFI is available at www.pbisapps.org as a free tool for schools.

Another great resource is the PBIS Culture Responsiveness Field Guide: Resources for Trainers and Coaches. It is also available at the PBIS website. This guide will walk PBIS teams, and the greater school community, through creating school environments that are safe and effective to all students and staff. It may bring up some hard questions and realizations, but it must be done to ensure that our schools are welcoming and fair to all. More resources on PBIS and equity can be found here: http://www.pbis.org/school/equity-pbis.

The above mentioned guide will be part of my summer reading as I reflect on the past year and get ready for the next year. I hope you make this part of your summer reading too.

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