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Agency and Culturally Proficient Practice

On my journey to discover the true meaning of agency and the use of it in education, I have taken a slight, but highly important detour into cultural responsive and proficient practice. A person's culture forms an extremely significant part of who they are and how they interact with day to day life. This being said, surely in makes sense that through acknowledging and respecting a person's culture leads to engagement and success in education? For this reason, it is not only necessary but should be a privilege to find out more about the culture from which learner identifies and belongs. So the question is where to start and what to do? 

 In trying to answer some of these questions, I have had the pleasure of talking to Graig Meyer from NC, USA, the founder of six strategies for culturally proficient teaching. From the discussions we had, it is clear that Graig is a passionate education who believes in the power of learner agency and the importance of acknowledging culture as one element in unleasing this agency. He also is very aware of the realities of school- life and what that means to learners.  We had a extensive and inspiring discussions around many of the different elements that contribute to effective cultural proficient and how to achieve this. He shared a few different stories with me and the one that I felt was most powerful was around a teacher, who put up his hand and said "The white students in my class are continuing to meet expectations and the afro-american student are not. I have tried to solve this problem on my own but, I can't. I have failed and need your help." At which point he stepped back and let the kids express themselves and work towards a solution together. I take my hat off to this guy not only for his bravery around admitting he couldn't find the solution but because he gave the students the ultimate agency in deciding what to do from there. A bravo is in order here, I feel! 

So what were the key messages/ tips and tricks that I have learnt from Graig Meyer this morning:

  • Flipping the scenario around: Working with teachers, to see how tapping into learner's intrinsic motivations, by spending a bit of time getting to know them and their families= less time having to constantly fence in the behaviours/ attitudes or use a golden carrot, to dangle at arms length, to get them across the finish line (what ever that may be). Results in  more enjoyable teaching, more time for quality learning and strong relationships.
  • Setting up home visits- get to know where your students are coming from. What are their values? How to they view education? What to they want for their kids? Use this as a vehicle for finding that intrinsic motivation. 
  • Using 'exit slips' to gain feedback. On your way out, pass in the slip or something similar. Can be about content or it can be about feedback-how did it go? What can I do to support you next time? What is 1 thing I need to know about you? After all the kids give the best feedback. 
  • Share differences but also look for commonalities. Learning from our differences makes us stronger as a team. 
So my challenge for all our teachers out there, let's move ourselves from knowing who our Maori and Pasifika kids are to actually engaging with this knowledge and embracing the possibility that comes from being culturally proficient in our practice!

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Comment by Hazel Owen on May 21, 2015 at 14:53

Whoa! What a powerful post! The anecdote of the teacher who stepped up and said "I have tried to solve this problem on my own but, I can't. I have failed and need your help", was thought-provoking. As well as empowering the students with "ultimate agency in deciding what to do from there", I also had a sense that he also stepped up and acknowledged a heap of biases - his own, and possibly his students. One bias was that, as teacher, initially, he felt he knew best and was the right person to solve the problem. Other biases were likely to be have been around restrictive / disempowering biases around who is good at what and why. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when he did this, and would also love to know what the end result was.

What do you feel the main learning is from this shift to empowering learners with this 'ultimate agency' for NZ contexts? How might you support teachers / facilitators to take a similar step...risk? Would you? How do you feel parents, whanau and the community might react? (Sorry - heaps of questions :D).

Really valued the tips and tricks you learned from Graig Meyer around getting to know learners and their motivations better :) Were there any that you feel may be tricky? Could they be tweaked a little for NZ contexts?

Thanks again, Sarah - really appreciate you sharing! :)

Comment by Hazel Owen on May 19, 2015 at 23:08

Just wanted to say a massive 'thank you' for sharing this, Sarah! You are a gem :) I will pop in a more extensive response in the next couple of days.

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