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The main goal of designing a harmonious and well-blended learning environment is creating a mutually beneficial and advantageous relationship among teachers and students. This is evident and visible in each of the learning programs that best describes the essential learning process in elementary and secondary schools. The remainder part of this chapter will discuss how you and other teachers can promote positive relationships among teachers and students that can set up a supportive environment for better learning.
You can create a beneficial and supportive learning environment by using four important parameters like:
1) The role and participation of the teacher,
2) The participation structure,
3) Peer culture, and
4) Relationship and association between teachers and students
The role and participation of the teacher
To make community learning a success, you should be actively involved in the process of teaching. You should also learn with your community. In addition, you should learn from community students. The learning process becomes much more productive, when students also learn from their community. Teachers can also use their experiences and skills, as enabled and empowered learners to create and design suitable learning methods, help students in the learning process and later collaborate with students in setting up a mutually beneficial environment for learning.
Please refer to the techniques highlighted in Chapter 4. You can learn from your students about the nature and tenor of subject matter or topics that interest them very much. You can also use techniques that are more productive and result oriented. When you interact with your students, you can extract useful insights into more relevant relationships between different members of the community that includes balances of power, duties, rights and leadership.
You are a coach or an orchestra conductor for your students. In essence, you want to build and create harmony, support, congruency and teamwork among your students. Your classroom is your team. Each student in your class can use special talent or skills that are properly developed and those are not well developed. Some of your students like to practice in isolation, but they need the support of others to succeed. As a teacher, you will need to work towards creating an efficient learning community, where teamwork and collaboration will become very essential; with this approach, you can easily promote academic and personal growth by using the perceived strength and skills of your students.
The participation structure
Learning becomes very successful, when there is proper interaction and relationship between different students. In a conventional classroom, you will direct and lead classroom teaching and later act on your needs and requirements. While talking about the context of a community of learners, Au and Kawakami described that " emphasis is on cooperation, collaboration and what the class as a whole can accomplish, not competition and individual achievement at the expense of others" (p. 282).
However, never confuse the collaborative learning environment highlighted here with the principles of "cooperative learning" as described by Slavin (Slaving, 1983). The author opines that "classroom techniques in which students work on learning activities in small groups and receive rewards or recognition based on their group's performance" (p. 315). In a collaborative style of learning, relationship occurs naturally and with purpose, with a clear focus on learning, while bringing down competition among individuals and groups. On the other hand, relationships are well structured, manipulated, adjusted and controlled by the teacher in charge, by replacing individual competition with individual competition.
Past research suggests us that naturally occurring collaboration among learning communities is uniform and consistent with home cultural practices, and in many cases, it is far more productive than conventional teacher-directed and captained class curriculum.
This was evident in many studies involving the Warm Springs Indian students (Philips, 1972), Native Hawaiian students (Au and Mason, 1981), Odawa Indian students (Erickson and Mohatt, 1982), Mexican American students (Moll, 1986), African American students (MacLeod, 1991; Moses et al., 1989), and Appalachian students (Wigginton, 1977, 1991).
Academic performance of students can improve with a collaborative learning community environment. Au and Mason (Au and Mason, 1981) provided an interesting finding that suggested the period lost from learning in a classroom, where the teacher attempted to force Native Hawaiian children to adhere to traditional classroom rules of turn- taking. In another similar study, another teacher became very successful in enhancing academic productivity, after focusing on learning outcomes and allowing the children additional freedom of choice and options in classroom participation.
As young children go through learning process in their schools, they become very successful in building robust relationships among their peers and friends that eventually allow them constitute ruled or governed communities, those are separate from the adult world; this is referred to as peer culture. Schoolchildren always spend more time with their peers than with adults. In the course of time, the bond among peers becomes very powerful and productive than those between students and their teachers.
Children also want to become accepted members of their peer groups. Now, a peer group becomes more powerful that eventually will be recognized by teachers and students. Alienation and disconnect from a peer group could be very painful and dangerous than school failure. This is possibly the reason why students from oppressed groups prefer to choose peer group to confirming to school traditions and later enhancing their chances of academic success.
The immense power of peer culture is visible in most schools. In many cases, it occurs when it conflicts and disagrees with teacher's expectations for a student's behavior and behavior in the classroom. Some children may face serious problems, when their home culture disagrees with that of schools, or when the perceived demands and expectations of the classroom are incongruent with real life expectations of the students.
When students foresee an escalation in conflict and when the school and teachers are adamant in their resolution to enforce their students to conform to existing school practices, you can expect a steep rise in willful resistance. For an example, teachers may not allow students to speak in their native tongue, while they are in their classrooms or when they become friendly with their peers outside the classroom. School resistance is global and common, and it occurs in elementary and secondary schools (D'Amato, 1988; Macleod, 1991, 1995; Solomon, 1992).
Resistance remains alive due to the reciprocal and mutual behavior of both teachers and students. The most surprising thing here is that neither the teacher nor the students are fully aware of the conflict, or how it came into being or how to resolve it completely.
School resistance can come in form and shades. However, the most important ones are as follows:
1) Not following or refusing to adhere to school rules and regulations
2) Not conforming to the set behavioral practices of the school
3) Displaying different values and practices deliberately
4) Impulsively defying the school authority
5) Strong portrayal of ethnic group pride
6) Trying to establish perimeters of group boundaries for other members
Experts believe that these behaviors are predictable psychological responses on part of the students. These behaviors may start with a situation that is personally endorsing and culturally incongruous. Unfriendly and demanding attitudes of school authorities in enforcing students to adhere to a strange and unacceptable practice may prove to be very dangerous and detrimental. You can always interpret resistance from student as a signal of unconscious, self-motivated and psychological protection given to self. Noguera (Noguera, 1995) views unending persistence from school management and teaching staff as something that is uninformed, counterproductive and potentially catastrophic.
Is it possible to prevent school resistance by teachers?
Chapter 4 will give you techniques of RIQ to acquire and apply precious knowledge of student's culture at home and experiences at school. These precious pools of knowledge will help you in design and create diverse instruction plans and to support positive relationships within the ambience of classrooms. These simple measures will help teachers to eradicate classroom resistance. You can achieve this objective by knowing what your students cherish and value, and in what manner they learn best to frame the curriculum and create most productive learning outcomes. Chapter 5 of this book discusses in detail the methods that link the student's experiential backgrounds and learning choices and options.
Methods to recognize and deal with resistance
First, it is very critical that you should recognize the behavior patterns that actually signal conflicts. Some educational experts suggest that the most readily observable pattern is when a small group of students from the same ethnic group, social class, or academic performance level act in concert to resist school work, pressure their peers to resist school work, or disrupt a class (Anyon, 1980; D'Amato, 1988; Gilmore, 1985; Kohl, 1994). Teachers may need to put more efforts to recognize a unique pattern, when one or two students in a class begin to refuse to cooperate. However, you may need to examine and evaluate the student behavior across the classrooms in the school to detect a particular pattern that is not yet noticeable. Some of the methods that help you make a quick assessment across many classrooms in a school are:
1) Examine and scrutinize referrals
2) Possible detention and suspension records
3) Parental contact records
4) Dropout rates at high schools
Secondly, you will need to find out ways to introduce minor adjustments to classroom teaching practices, to include students' backgrounds, values, traditions and community perceptions; all the while, you will be assuming the responsibility for deciding learning goals (Au and Mason, 1981; Cummins, 1986).
You can fine-tune learning experiences and outcomes by accommodating students' requirements without diluting content or quality of curriculum. As mentioned elsewhere in this chapter, Au and Mason (1981) recommended the hypothesis of "balance of rights" to increase students' influence over social interaction and methods to learning. In this approach, students are allowed to mix and interact naturally and use several communication strategies those are similar to their home culture. In this method, the teacher involved did not change or alter the basic objectives of teaching. However, the teacher created a learning process that was more accessible, easy, flexible and meaningful.
However, you should know that students would never deliberately conflict with their teachers. In many cases, teachers' responses to their behavior and mannerism confuse most of them. Defiance and resistance arise most probably because of students and teachers' tendency to act instinctively out of their cultural practices and norms that made the part of their socialization process. Factors other than peer-group association may also contribute to school failure. Difficult and inaccessible mode of instruction could also be the part of the reasons for school resistance.
In nutshell, when you learn about students' backgrounds, thoughts and perceptions, culture practiced at home, quality of relationship with peers, are some of the most critical factors to create a supportive and conducive learning environment. Reframing class curriculum is yet another approach that can help you prevent or bring down the level of resistance to classroom practices. With the right blend of curriculum and school practices, you can develop and foster a positive interaction between adults and peer culture.
Teachers and students - an enduring relationship
Teachers and students are the essential attributes to a mutually acceptable classroom. In partnership, they can easily construct and build social context of a classroom. In addition, both of them can introduce and integrate their own cultural values, perceptions and norms in a classroom. Mutual association and harmony are the two positive outcomes when both teachers and students share a common culture. By chance, if it is not possible to share a common culture, one should take immense care to respect differences in values, traditions, customs, cultures and perceptions, so that you can achieve a social order in the form of harmony and peace in the classroom.
Links with home culture - Some Tips and Suggestions
Teachers must be intelligent enough to design and build a harmonious and mutually balanced relationship with students by gaining knowledge about all socially acceptable relations among people in different scenarios. Teachers can acquire such knowledge by referring to the RIQ approach described in Chapter 4. Teachers can promote and enhance positive relationship among students from different cultural groups by ensuring positive dialogues among peers, and among students and parents from similar cultural groups.
Au and Mason (1981) gave an example of link between student's home culture and relationships within classrooms. These authors gave a description of the performance of low-income Hawaiian children in the domain of two different teaching methods. The first teacher (called the low contact - LC), employed a conventional method of teaching, where the deliberations of the classroom was controlled by the teacher. This approach used a classical approach of teaching, where the teacher called students to answer the questions; here, all students were required to raise their hands before giving answers to the questions.
The teacher reprimanded those students, who gave answers first without getting permission. This classroom was a big source of conflict between the teacher and students. The teacher was trying to assert the authority by retaining the basic principles of traditional classroom. On the other hand, students were attempting to enforce or introduce ways of behaving those were common to their home culture. However, both the teacher and students were not aware of the reasons or causes that were actually causing the conflicts.
Now, how would a teacher form a meaningful relationship with all students when there is more than one type of culture? You can nullify many differences just by ensuring teamwork, collaboration and cooperation among students, and by allowing them to choose their own groups to sort out any differences. Your students are more likely to choose their own group partners with whom they share common perceptions; this will occur only when the curriculum content and learning experiences are flexible and meaningful to the students.
Some teachers may unduly worry and fetter about ethnic and racial segregation. They may also eventually worry more about these trivial things and forget about the actual learning processes or establish a positive relationship among students. When racial and ethnic thoughts take precedence over teaching, some students may fail to seek benefits of culturally derived preferences for better social interactions and learning processes. When students lose in this way, their academic progress may suffer in an irreparable manner. In the end, the basic relationship between the students and teacher will always be negative.
Respect, concerns and interest as the cornerstones for success
Yes, students are immature! However, as a teacher, you may wish to build a positive relationship with your students by showing respect, concern, care, affection and interest in their learning processes regardless of their cultural background. Teachers can be polite with their students. Teachers can avoid unnecessary actions and statements that humiliate, embarrass and reprimand their students. Get ready to acknowledge positive and unique qualities, accomplishments and achievements of students, so that you can develop a long lasting and stable relationship among students. Make sure that your efforts are honest, true and sincere. Let your efforts be not mere attempts to make your students feel good. Public praise and rewards are acceptable with some students, while other sensitive students may not readily accept such moves from their teachers. In all, the teacher must always be aware of the students' home culture and their traditions.
Teacher not only teaches, but also learns along with their students. Teachers can succeed in teaching by providing a harmonious and well-blended learning environment. Learning could be a big success, when there is proper and efficient interaction and relationship between students belonging to different cultures. Teacher is just like a symphony conductor. Do you agree with all these suggestions?
Pause and Reflect
Do you want to build a positive relationship with your students by taking care to see what they are doing in their class and how they are learning their lessons? Teachers can be very good assets for any school that follow an inclusive curriculum. Now, how do you teach, when you come across a class full of students, who come from different cultural groups? How do you link your students to their home culture? Design an action plan that helps you achieve these goals by overcoming unforeseen challenges.