Great tools and insight from the VSBA this month regarding the creation of culturally safe school environments.
There is no “one size fits all” way of communicating with all of the cultures that comprise our wonderfully diverse schools. Each one comes with its own set of family values and its own preferred methods of communication. A good place to start is by creating a welcoming, inclusive environment. Parents often are nervous about coming to school for any reason and need all the visual and verbal help you can provide to make them feel welcome and comfortable. They “scan” offices, classrooms and hallways for clues about how inclusive your school may be.
- Post photos of all students and student artwork on the walls
- Include lessons in the classroom that incorporate various cultures and traditions
- Offer school-wide cultural activities
- Recruit staff and volunteers who come from similar backgrounds
- Visit your students’ neighborhoods. Find out where families are congregating and who local community leaders are that can connect you with parents.
- Collaborate with apartment complex managers to make a recreation room available for families.
- Consider contacting parents’ employers about parent schedules or holding conferences closer to parents’ workplaces.
- Don’t limit yourself to meetings. Ask your families what kinds of events they would find enjoyable, beneficial and convenient.
Some ways we can make our schools inclusive are:
Go to the Families
Sometimes, when families can’t come to the school, the school has to go to the families. Meeting families in other settings, such as community centers or churches, can provide an informal way to start building a relationship, especially if your non-English speaking families feel shy or nervous about going to the school. You might also try planning parent or family events around the schedules of the families, especially if they are working a couple of jobs.
Grand gestures and small details will help in reaching families effectively. Here are 10 tips to help build communication bridges to the cultures in your school community:
- Avoid scheduling important events such as conferences or tests on major holidays and celebrations that large numbers of students are likely to miss.
- Do an “inventory” of your student population to find out the countries and cultures they represent. If most are English speakers and American-born, they may be acclimated to our American culture and would resent be singled out for any special attention. If they aren’t English speakers or American-born, then find out more about their family values and who the primary person to contact is. For example, in Latino and Asian Pacific Islander families, involving fathers as well as mothers is essential.
- Share information about cultural celebrations with teachers so that they are able to positively support them and incorporate them into lessons. Even a simple memo that explains why students will be out and offers some ideas for follow-up activities will be helpful. Use the diversity of your school population as a teaching opportunity. Invite families to share their cultural celebrations, plan an International Day, encourage teachers to include lessons in other cultures and diversity as part of the curriculum.
- Create a parent room (such as a lounge or classroom) with bilingual information and magazine subscriptions, a bulletin board, a lending library and a computer.
- Invite parents to share food, activities, and music at school events and in the classroom. Encourage students to share traditions in school assemblies, talent shows, potlucks, and fairs
- Offer cafeteria food that reflects the cultural influences of your families.
- Explore a variety of options for communicating with diverse populations, such as Spanish language newspapers, radio and television stations.
- Create a welcome DVD in multiple languages. This may even be a great student project!
- Connect new families with a contact person who speaks their language as soon as they enroll in the school for guidance and information.
- Create an “ambassador” program in which students and parents are trained to give tours.