Achieving Cultural Diversity In The Classroom

By: Lenora Billings-Harrisachieving_article

There are barriers, booby traps and blocked roadways on our journey toward achieving cultural competence among educators and students in schools. What do you say to the White teacher who always wants to touch your locks or braids? How do you tell your principal to stop giving you a high-five every time he agrees with something you say? The biggest barrier to giving feedback in these type situations is the fear most people have when it comes to speaking up in a respectful way to encourage others to stop insensitive or inappropriate behavior. One of the major reasons people do not speak up more often when they experience an inappropriate behavior is because they do not know how to speak up respectfully when they have to interact with the offender on a regular basis. If the offender is your principal speaking up may seem too dangerous. If the offender is a fellow educator in your department, well it is easier just to be silent. Or is it? That silence perpetuates inappropriate behavior.

Each of us, if we really choose to turn the tide of racism, sexism, homophobia and other “isms” must be unwilling to be a part of the silent majority on these issues. A major component of individual cultural competence development is the ability to execute courageous conversations. The following is a four-step process for giving feedback that is easy to understand but takes practice to implement successfully. This technique can be used by adults and young people. Once you have mastered it, try teaching it to your students and watch how they will take control of their own diversity challenges more often than not. The process is called S.T.O.P.™

SState the inappropriate behavior objectively and unemotionally.

When beginning this feedback, describe the specific behavior you want the offender to stop doing or saying. Your words need to be stated in a nonjudgmental, objective, unemotional way. Too often when we do speak up regarding inappropriate behavior we are emotional, we show our anger and we start with feelings and blame. This often causes the offender to become defensive or to go into denial mood. In order to maintain your objectivity and to assure the offender clearly understands what you are referring to, simply state what he or she has done. Be sure it is a behavior, not an attitude or opinion. This technique will not give you the ability to change others attitudes and beliefs. So don’t try this with political debates, sexist attitudes, etc. Instead describe a behavior. You should be able to see it, hear it or measure it.  For example, When you called me a Yankee…

TTell the offender how you feel when she or he performs this inappropriate behavior.

It is important that you state your feelings not your opinion. Opinions are judgments in disguise, so the offender may shut down the moment you judge their behavior.  Ask yourself, does it make you angry? Hurt? Excluded? Offended? Most people have a tough time identifying exactly what they are feeling, so practice feeling words by writing down as many as you can think of. Then practice… I felt excluded from our team.  This is not the time to explain why you feel as you do. Own your feelings and don’t blame the offender for how you feel. The goal here is to get the offender to stop the behavior.

OOptions, options, options.

Provide alternative behavioral suggestions. Frequently, when we tell others to stop doing something, we don’t tell them what we would prefer instead. For example, I would appreciate it if you would just not use the term Yankee. If you must refer to my birthplace, just say I am from New Jersey.

PPositive results.

Share with the offender what would be in it for her or him if he or she chooses to change behavior. Each of us behaves based on “what’s in it for me.” It is important that you answer this question. Change does not occur, unless there is a reason. If the individual cannot see a good reason to change behavior, the inappropriate behavior usually continues. When using this technique, do not threaten the person with company policy. (That may be needed later, if they do not stop the bad behavior.)  Rather, describe positive, interpersonal relationship results should he or she choose to change his or her behavior. Ask if she is ‘willing to work with you on this.’ Get her commitment.

Several years ago, after having taught this technique many times, I was faced with a personal situation where I had to walk my talk. A very close friend had the habit of using the term faggot often. Whenever he was referring to someone he did not like or someone who showed effeminate behavior, he would use this label. I find the term very offensive so I realized I needed to use the S.T.O.P.™ technique. Just like most people, initially I was hesitant. This individual was, and today still is, a very dear friend. I did not want to offend him or create any situation that would interfere with our friendship. He and his girlfriend were among six of us that often socialized together; my husband and I, he and his girlfriend, and another couple. Let’s call him Walter. While the six of us were enjoying a sunny and hot weekend afternoon in Phoenix at a pool party, Walter used the word. I had informed my husband earlier that if Walter used that term again, I would need to speak with him. I did not want my husband to be surprised nor caught off guard should things not go well. I waited for Walter to be in a situation where he and I could talk privately. Eventually, when he entered the kitchen to help himself to refreshments, I followed him. This technique only takes about 45 seconds. It is not intended that the offender respond at that time. What is important is that you get your points across quickly, non-judgmentally, and clearly. Here’s what happened.

“Walter, when you use the word ‘faggot’ [step one—S] I am offended and very uncomfortable in your presence [step two—T]. I would prefer that, if you must use a descriptor of this kind, you use words that are more appropriate, such as homosexual, gay, lesbian, etc. Actually, I would prefer that you not use a term at all unless you know, for a fact, that the individual happens to be GBLT and that piece of information is pertinent to the story you are sharing with us at the time [step three—O]. If you are willing to change your behavior in this way, at least in my presence, you certainly will be more welcome in our home [step four—P]. This invisible barrier that has come up between us will dissipate, and you, then, can tell your wonderful stories without any concern of offending me or anyone else in the group.”

Walter responded by not responding at all. He had a stunned look on his face. He walked away, went back outside, and dove into the backyard pool. I thought, “Oh well. No change here.” However, I was wrong.

Shortly thereafter when he and his girlfriend and the other couple went out to dinner, he shared this experience with them. It was not complimentary to me. Apparently, however, no one took his side even though I had not shared with anyone what I had done. Although they didn’t criticize him, they didn’t support the labels that he was, at least momentarily, putting on me. I learned of this interaction from one of the four other individuals.

The next several times that Walter and I were in each other’s company, I noticed that he did not use that term. I made it a point to let him know that I noticed his changed behavior and how  much I appreciated it. I did this in private. Several months later, when chatting with one of the other members of this party of friends, I was told that Walter no longer used the term in their presence either. A few years later, I was talking to another member of this group about diversity training in general. This member works for an organization that has many diversity initiatives in place and I’m always interested in learning what they are doing. Her husband works with Walter. She told me, and I later confirmed it with her husband, that indeed, Walter no longer used this term at work.

The point is this. The feedback took approximately 45 seconds. My objective was to get Walter to stop using that word, at least in my presence. I exceeded my objective and change occurred. I cannot guarantee that every time you use this process you will have similar results. However, you will never know the impact you, as one individual, can have on another individual unless you try.

Making a Difference

The best way to utilize this technique is to initially use it in a non-threatening environment. Use the S.T.O.P. ™ technique when giving feedback to a child regarding any type of inappropriate behavior. Once you have gotten comfortable with the process, then attempt it with others.

Plan what you will say ahead of time. Writing it out might be helpful so that you can focus your thoughts, stay objective, and identify options.

Be sure you’re in a private place when you walk through these steps. If the offender does become defensive or goes into denial, simply repeat the process calmly. Your last statement in the process should be… Are you willing to work with me on this?

Be sure to recognize and show appreciation for changed behavior as quickly as possible, so that the offender knows this was, and is, important to you and that you appreciate her efforts. TOC


Related links:

The Diversity Advantage: Enhancing Inclusion in the Classroom
Incorporating Cultural Diversity in the Classroom

On October 28, 2009, posted in: Teachers of Color Magazine Fall 2009 by

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply