California Educator

August/September 2023

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game-based learning, I created a lesson where children pre- tended to be the president for the day. In the game, students drafted laws and reviewed the government's checks and balances. While circling the classroom, I realized that a student was not working. After I inquired, they let me know that they couldn't participate because their religious views prohibited them from running for political office or voting. In an instant, I had to come up with an alternative activity that would still enrich this student's learning experience. After school, I called the mother for clarity and a plan of action moving forward. It helped me to bridge a disconnect that I didn't know existed and provided an opportunity for my students to learn about tolerance, diversity and the importance of understanding one another. I gained important insights: Lesson plans cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach. I needed to be flexible and prepared to create lessons that reflected the population of my classroom. 3. Appreciate an aspect of your students' culture or background When it comes to appreciating and understanding different cultures, there's a fine line between appreciation and appro- priation. As a teacher working in a diverse environment, you need to show interest and respect. During my time teaching elementary school, most of my students were Hispanic and Black. The school celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month and Black History Month to reflect those groups within the school's population. Every class was required to create a performance for each cultural celebration — a dance, a song, a poem, a play or any variation of performing arts. I approached my class's performance for Hispanic Her- itage Month with care and reverence. I sought input and contributions from Hispanic students and their parents through classroom discussions, informal conversations and self-guided research on the diverse Hispanic community of the school. This allowed everyone to express the aspects of their culture that they wanted to highlight while ensuring that non-Hispanic students could show their appreciation in the most appropriate way. The school body enjoyed the per- formance, and I valued the opportunity to teach my students the history of the month. 4. Reach out to other educators at your school Studies show that minority teachers usually work in envi- ronments where the community matches their own cultural identity. If you're in an environment where you don't share the same background as the community or neighborhood, there's a good chance that someone in the building does. It's best to reach out to that teacher, counselor, secretary or foreman and ask if they can offer guidance for connecting with the community. They can not only act as a buffer but also help you bridge communication gaps that arise with parents and students, as cultural barriers can hinder effec- tive communication. My first year of teaching was in an affluent African American community where most of the parents had an expectation of communication through email. When I moved to a Title 1 school later in my career, parents weren't very responsive to email for a variety of reasons. When I casually pointed this out to a veteran teacher, I learned that the com- munity preferred to communicate through text messages and phone calls. The realization that meeting people at their preferred communication level is vital for nurturing teach- er-parent-family relationships was a turning point for me that led to the practice of connecting outside of the classroom. Creating relationships with your students will take time and consistent effort, require interest and understanding and should be a priority for the beginning of the school year. A willingness to be reflective and humble in your approach so that you remain respectful to students and the school community will create an environment of mutual support and respect that can result in successful academic outcomes. This story originally appeared in Edutopia. Free Books for Young Children On June 6, California launched a statewide expansion of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. It allows all California children under five to be eligible to enroll in the program to receive a free book every month in the mail. The program is currently active in 30 counties and is expected to fully cover the state by 2028. The expansion was made possible by SB 1183 (Grove), signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom last year. Dolly Parton's Imagination Library is active in all 50 states and has gifted over 200 mil- lion books since 1995. California is the first state to provide a bilingual option (English and Spanish), and when its expansion is complete, it will be the largest Imagination Library in the nation. Learn more at 27 A U G U S T / S E P T E M B E R 2 0 2 3

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