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Exploring relationships between the lived experiences of teachers who are culturally competent and their success with diverse students

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Exploring relationships between the lived experiences of teachers who are culturally competent and their success with diverse students
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White, Kimberly Ann Kennedy
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English
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xiii, 235 leaves : ; 28 cm

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Multicultural education ( lcsh )
Teacher effectiveness ( lcsh )
Multicultural education ( fast )
Teacher effectiveness ( fast )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 224-235).
General Note:
School of Education and Human Development
Statement of Responsibility:
by Kimberly Ann Kennedy White.

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|University of Colorado Denver
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|Auraria Library
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ocn122938703
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Full Text
EXPLORING RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN THE LIVED EXPERIENCES OF
TEACHERS WHO ARE CULTURALLY COMPETENT AND
THEIR SUCCESS WITH DIVERSE STUDENTS
by
Kimberly Ann Kennedy White
B.A., Metropolitan State College, Denver, 1994
M.A., University of Oregon, Eugene, 1997
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Educational Leadership and Innovation
2006


This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
degree by
Kimberly Ann Kennedy White
has been approved
by
Deanna J. Iceman-Sands
Honorine Nocon
Nancy Leech
Lupe Martinez
II- io-o(p
Date


White, Kimberly Ann Kennedy (Ph.D., Educational Leadership and Innovation)
Exploring Relationships between the Lived Experiences of Teachers who are
Culturally Competent and Their Success with Diverse Students
Thesis directed by Professor Deanna J. Iceman-Sands
ABSTRACT
This study investigated relationships between the lived experiences of highly
effective teachers who are culturally competent and their success with diverse
students. The focus questions for this study were: (a) What do effective teachers
who exhibit cultural competence know about their own family, social, and cultural
backgrounds? (b) What are their experiences with diversity? (c) What are teachers
perceptions of the relationships between their lived experiences and their success with
diverse students? Specifically, this study sought to identify various characteristics of
effective teachers lived experiences that contribute to their cultural competence in
working with diverse students; and uncover teachers attitudes about the relationship
between those experiences and their success with diverse students.
The major components of data collection included an extensive nomination
process of teachers who fit the criteria of the study, identification of critical cases,


classroom observations, and semi-structured interviews. Teachers described details
about their childhood experiences, family beliefs and values, core beliefs and roles' as
educators, and perceptions of self as highly effective. Classroom observations
revealed teachers classroom environments, teaching practices, and interactions with
students. The study found that these critical cases, identified as highly effective
teachers who are particularly successful with diverse students, demonstrated varying
degrees of cultural competence. Furthermore, for these critical cases, success with
diverse students developed more from their personal values, beliefs, and attitudes
than from exposure to or preparation for working with diversity.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend
its publication.
Signed
Deanna J. Iceman-Sands


DEDICATION
I dedicate this thesis to my amazing husband, best friend, and soul mate, Arlo, and
my two wonderful children, Eamon and Alisonyou are the light of my life and the
center of my universe. Thank for you putting up with me and for your incredible
support during this long journey. I love you!!


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
I want to thank my advisor, Dr. Deanna Sands, who is an amazing role model and
inspiration. Thanks to all of my committeeDr. Honorine Nocon, Dr. Nancy Leech,
and Dr. Lupe Martinezfor supporting my work and providing much needed
feedback. I also wish to thank the Urban Schools Doctoral Lab for many
opportunities for learning and discussion. Many thanks to the excellent faculty at
Metropolitan State College of Denvers Department of Englishyou encouraged me
as an undergraduate, inspired me to follow my dreams, and welcomed me back as a
colleague. Finally, I want to thank my supportive and loving parentsMom and Leo,
Dad and Darlene, and Suzanne and TimI appreciate your cheering me on and
believing in me. Thanks also to the support of my friends, especially Jessica Parker
and Paul and Cheri Humphreyyou rock! Many blessings to everyone Ive
encountered along the way.


TABLE OF CONTENTS
Figures................................................................xii
Tables................................................................xiii
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION........................................................ 1
Focus Questions.................................................. 5
Conceptual Framework..............................................5
Methodology.......................................................6
Researcher Role and Assumptions..................................10
Results and Conclusions.........................................12
Organization of the Dissertation.................................13
2. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE.............................................15
Challenges of Urban Schools......................................17
Discontinuity between School and Home Cultures...................19
Characteristics of Effective Teachers in Urban Settings..........23
Attributes of Teachers' Cultural Competence......................27
Cultural Responsiveness....................................28
Cultural Relevance.........................................30
vii


Reflective Teachers
.32
Conceptual Framework............................................34
3. METHODOLOGY.........................................................40
Research Design: Qualitative Case Studies.......................42
Site Selection............................................47
Participant Selection.....................................50
Data Collection.................................................60
Classroom Observations....................................60
Semi-Structured Interviews............................... 64
. Data Analysis..................................................66
Within-Case Data Analysis.................................68
Cross-Case Data Analysis..................................69
. Conclusion.....................................................71
4. WITHIN-CASE RESULTS: CLASSROOM OBSERVATIONS OF
TEACHERS.............................................................74
Valley Elementary...............................................75
Ms. Ramirez...............................................76
Mr. Miller................................................81
Ms. Casadas...............................................87
Mountain Elementary.............................................92
Ms. Kendall...............................................94
vm


Ms. Snider,
100
Ms. Platte.............................................106
5. WITHIN-CASE RESULTS: SEMI-STRUCTURED INTERVIEWS OF
TEACHERS.........................................................113
Valley Elementary.............................................114
Ms. Ramirez............................................114
Mr. Miller.............................................121
Ms. Casadas............................................127
Mountain Elementary...........................................132
Ms. Kendall...............................!............132
Ms. Snider.............................................138
Ms. Platte.............................................145
6. CROSS-CASE ANALYSIS: CLASSROOM OBSERVATIONS AND SEMI-
STRUCTURED INTERVIEWS............................................153
Demographic Data: Overview of Critical Cases..................154
Classroom Observation Data....................................155
Classroom Environment..................................156
Teaching Practices.....................................158
Student Interactions.................................. 159
Evidence of Cultural Competence....................... 161
Semi-Structured Interview Data................................163
ix


Childhood Experiences.....................................165
Family Beliefs and Values.................................167
Experiences with Diversity................................171
Educator Core Beliefs.................................. 173
Roles as an Educator......................................176
Evidence of Cultural Competence...........................177
Perceptions of Self as a "Highly Effective" Teacher.......181
Conclusion.................................................... 182
7. DISCUSSION OF FINDINGS.................;..........................'...187
Lessons Learned: Addressing Findings and Assumptions............190
Teachers' Lived Experiences...............................191
Teachers' Experiences with Diversity......................195
Teachers' Perceptions of Lived Experiences.............;... 197
Elements of Teacher Effectiveness and Cultural
Competence................................................198
Dealing with Anomalous Findings: Expanding the View of
Cultural Competence............................................203
Limitations of the Study........................................208
Implications and Areas for Further Study........................210
Conclusion......................................................214
APPENDIX...............................................................216
A. FAMILY NOMINATION FORM.......................................216
x


B. INFORMED CONSENT: CLASSROOM OBSERVATIONS......217
C. CLASSROOM OBSERVATION TOOL....................218
D. INFORMED CONSENT: INTERVIEWS..................221
E. INTERVIEW PROTOCOL............................222
REFERENCES...,.........................................224
xi


LIST OF FIGURES
Figure
1.1 Celtic knot demonstrating the human experience............................37
3.1 Critical Case Data Collection.............................................73
Xll


LIST OF TABLES
Table
3.1 School Demographics According to State Department of Education Data..50
3.2 Themes of Cultural Competence........................................53
3.3 Family Nominations...................................................56
3.4 Nominated Teachers................................................. 58
3.5 Characteristics of Cultural Competence and Tool......................59
3.6 Teacher Demographic Data.............................................63
6.1 Emerging Themes from Classroom Observation Data.....................156
6.2 Emerging Themes from Interview Data.................................165
xm


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
Ten years following the publication of her personal account of life as a
teacher, Vivian Paley (2000) reflected:
When I began writing White Teacher, I thought I knew
certain children best because our backgrounds were similar,
and that it was my task to open up the classroom, to explore
and welcome differences. I have since discovered that all
the children have more in common with one another than
any one of them has with me. The major source of
incongruity is between their thinking and mine. (p. 36)
Teachers bring with them a collection of lived experiences and conceptions of self, as
well as a multitude of cultural and social experiences that shape their identities
(Gollnick & Chinn, 2002). At the same time, schools are a meeting place of diverse
peoplestudents, families, teachers, and school staffwho also bring with them
various backgrounds, beliefs, values, and experiences. Current research on schools
acknowledges disconnections between home and school cultures, particularly in
urban areas where student populations tend to be economically disadvantaged and/or
ethnically diverse (Delpit, 1995; Howard, 1999; Kozol, 1991; Nieto, 1996).
Oftentimes, teachers in these urban areas are White and from middle class
backgrounds, yet many of their students come from cultures and experiences that
1


differ dramatically from their own (Banks, Cookson, Gay, Hawles, Irvine, Nieto,
Schofield, & Stephan, 2001). Furthermore, teachers are often unaware of their own
cultural and historical biases (Delpit, 1995). While the population of culturally
diverse students is growing in public schools, the teaching population continues to be
culturally and ethnically homogenous (Capella-Santana, 2003; Thomas, 1994), and
significant numbers of teachers feel unprepared to teach students from diverse
backgrounds (Futrell, Gomez, & Bedden, 2003; Villegas & Lucas, 2002).
An overwhelming number of urban schools struggle to meet federal standards
and are continuously under pressure to meet state achievement goals. In their
comprehensive analysis and report on urban schools, the Pew Charitable Trusts
(1998) found that most students attending urban schools in about half of the states
with large cities failed to reach minimum achievement goals on state standardized
tests. Yet within these urban schools are teachers who show a different picture.
Within the walls of some schools are teachers who are successfully meeting
achievement goals and making positive connections with their students.
Previous research identified several characteristics of teachers who are highly
effective with students from diverse backgrounds and needs (Clark, 2003; Sobel &
Taylor, 2003). Effective teachers included those who had positive attitudes toward all
students and their abilities, teachers who honored and valued diversity and promoted
equity, and teachers who were able to adapt their teaching to meet the needs of all
students. Furthermore, culturally relevant teaching offers teachers the opportunity to
2


bring studentsespecially those who are at risk and attend urban schoolsto the
highest levels of achievement' (Gay, 2002; Ladson-Billings, 2000). According to
Ladson-Billings (1992), culturally relevant teaching is defined as instruction and
curriculum that is culturally congruent to a schools community. In practice, it is
designed not merely to fit the school culture to the students
culture but also to use student culture as the basis for
helping students understand themselves and others,
structure social interactions, and conceptualize knowledge.
(P-314)
Many educators work to develop culturally competent teachersteachers who exhibit
both culturally relevant and culturally responsive teaching practiceswho are able to
make important connections with students different from themselves and who use
instructional strategies that help their students succeed (Gay, 2002; Ladson-Billings,
1995; Middleton, 2002).
Villegas and Lucas (2002) argued that teachers must know themselves before
they can leam about and integrate their students cultures into the classroom. Nieto
(2003b) pointed out that autobiography is part of teaching (p. 123). Other
researchers contend that studying teachers lived experiences prior to and during their
tenure as teachers is vital in understanding the ways in which they develop their
identities as teachers and the impact their lived experiences have on their classroom
practices (Goodson, 1992; Kohl, 1984; Powell, 1996). Questions still exist as to the
role of lived experiences in teachers abilities to be highly effective. Why are certain
teachers highly effective while others are not? How do these teachers develop
3


positive attitudes about students from diverse backgrounds? In what ways do their
lived experiences contribute to their ability to be highly, effective? Furthermore,
are highly effective teachers also culturally competent? This study extends current
research by considering the ways in which teachers lived experiences contribute to
their being highly effective, as well as culturally competent, with students whose
family, cultural, and social backgrounds differ from their own.
The purpose of this qualitative study was to identify highly effective
teachers in low performing schools in order to explore their lived experiences.
Specifically, I hoped to investigate relationships between the lived experiences
(including family, social, and cultural backgrounds and personal experiences with
diversity) of highly effective teachers who are culturally competent (i.e., they
exhibit both culturally relevant and culturally responsive teaching practices) and their
success with diverse students. In the context of this study, I defined culturally
competent teachers as those who:
Know students families and communities;
Value and honor students cultures and backgrounds;
Have positive attitudes towards all children;
Challenge students with high expectations for learning; and
Provide schoolwork that reflects the diverse backgrounds of students.
I sought to identify various characteristics of effective teachers lived experiences that
contribute to their cultural competence in working with diverse students and uncover
4


teachers attitudes about the relationship between those experiences and their success
with diverse students. The goal of this study was to better understand the ways in
which highly effective teachers draw from their lived experiences to foster successful
classrooms and relationships with students from diverse backgrounds.
Focus-Questions
Teachers can be and are effective in a multitude of ways and, like all people,
draw upon their lived experiences within socio-cultural contexts (Rogoff, 2003). This
study centered on human experience and the stories that people recall, tell, and
interpret at particular moments in time. Like all people, the teachers in this study are
constantly changing, influenced by experience and time (Clarke, 2003; Goodson,
1992). This study addresses three main focus questions: a) What do effective
teachers who exhibit cultural competence know about their family, social, and
cultural backgrounds? b) What are their experiences with diversity? c) What are the
teachers perceptions of the relationships between their lived experiences and their
success with diverse students?
Conceptual Framework
In the conceptual framework for this study, I describe lived experiences as a
woven mesh of intertwining cultural, socio-economic, and personal experiences,
much like that of a Celtic knot (described in detail in Chapter Two). Lived
5


experiences are ever changing and inherently complex. Experience differs for every
individual; collectively, experiences, including ones family, cultural, and social
background, contribute to a persons identity, or the distinct personality of an
individual (Dictionary.com, 2006). Identities are constructed within social and
cultural backgrounds and further shaped through interactions with others (Holland,
Lachicotte, Skinner, & Cain, 1998).
Within the context of this framework, lived experiences are related to the
development of a persons identity and shape beliefs, values, and attitudes. Lived
experiences, therefore, influence a persons ability to be culturally competent.
Furthermore, the amalgamation of lived experiences contributes to an individuals
ability to work well with diverse students.
Methodology
The nature of the focus questions in this study required in-depth information
about the participating teachers lived experiences. The goals of this study were met
through case studies (Yin, 2003). Creswell (1998) identified case studies as an
exploration of a bounded system or a case (multiple cases) over time through
detailed, in-depth data collection involving multiple sources of information rich in
context (p. 61). 1 gathered data about participating teachers through two major
sources and within the context of purposefully selected sites (Strauss & Corbin,
1990); Yin (2003) argued that case studies should include at least three types of data;
6


a limitation of this study was that I gathered only two types of data. The components
of data collection included classroom observations and semi-structured interviews.
In the context of this study, I defined highly effective teachers as those who
met the following criteria: (a) their classes are consistently high performing according
to state-level, student achievement data; (b) they have been teaching in the school for
at least three years (and therefore, would be more likely to understand and/or
participate in the culture of the school and community); (c) they were nominated by
the schools principal and instructional support staff as being particularly successful
in their work with diverse students; and (d) they were nominated by the families at
the school. The goal was to identify highly effective teachers in high performing
classrooms within schools that are low performing overall.
In order to identify teachers, I first sought out area school districts that had
schools rated as low performing in their student achievement scores, according to '
state-level, student achievement report cards; and schools that have a high percentage
of diverse students and/or high poverty students. I narrowed the field even further to
include only elementary schools to increase the chances of identifying critical cases
who worked within similar contexts. The two buildings included in this study were
identified as urban schools. My doctoral lab, the Urban Schools Research Lab,
defined urban schools as buildings that are situated in urban areas and have a
majority of students (60% or more) who qualify for free and reduced lunches and/or
7


have populations that are made up of a majority of students from diverse socio-
economic and ethnic backgrounds.
In the first stage of identifying critical cases within these two buildings, I
verbally asked for nominations of highly effective teachers from the two schools
principals and learning-support staff (including coaches who worked with teachers
and students and a coach who supported English language learners). Specifically, I
asked them to nominate the teachers in the building who: (a) have consistently high
performing classrooms according to state achievement data; (b) have been teaching in
the school for at least three years; and (c) are culturally competent teachers according
to the criteria I identified for the Family Nomination Form.
The second stage of the nomination process was to determine families views
on teachers in the building. I developed a Family Nomination Form (Appendix A)
that identified characteristics of teachers who are culturally competentteachers who
exhibit both culturally relevant and culturally responsive teaching practices. The form
asked family members to help identify teachers in their school who know students
families and communities, value and honor students cultures and backgrounds, have
positive attitudes towards all children, challenge students with high expectations for
learning, and provide schoolwork that reflects the diverse backgrounds of students.
In order to verify the nomination results and to collect data about culturally
competent teaching practices, I engaged in classroom observations (Creswell, 1998).
The observation tool, adapted from Sobel, Taylor, and Andersons (2003) Diversity-
8


Responsive Teaching Observation Tool (Appendix C), was developed from their
research in urban schools, their work with teacher candidates, and their review of the
literature on dissonance between home and school cultures and culturally relevant
instruction.
Finally, semi-structured interviews allowed me to collect specific data about
lived experiences from critical casescases that uniquely possess characteristics that
contribute to understanding the focus area of the study (Clare & Hamilton, 2003).
Interview prompts were organized into the following categories: (a) family, social,
and cultural background; (b) experiences with diversity; and (c) beliefs about the
impact of these experiences on work with diverse students (Appendix E). Further
questions emerged from the on-going data collection and analysis process.
Prior to data collection, I obtained clearance to conduct research with human
subjects from both the participating school district and the university. Participants
read and signed consent forms prior to data collection (Appendix D). Furthermore, I
provided compensation with gift certificates to each participant. I transcribed
interview data, entered the data into NVIVO (QSR, 1998-2002), and then coded and
analyzed these data through constant comparative analysis (Strauss & Corbin, 1990).
Researcher Role and Assumptions
In the context of this study, my role is both as an insider and outsider within
the broad culture of teaching. I am a White woman who is native to the area; in my
9


extended family, I was the first woman to graduate from college. Although I grew up
in the dominant White culture, I had an economically diverse upbringing. My
childhood (including my parents divorce) provided me the opportunity to live in both
poverty and wealth. My mother and fathers families were very different
agricultural roots from Scotland and Germany on one side; working class, Irish-
Catholics on another; and upper-middle class professionals on another.
In the course of this study, I found that while, my lived experiences differed
from the teachers identified in this study, I also shared a great deal with them. Like
most of these teachers, my immediate family was middle class, moderately liberal,
and Catholic when I was growing up; like all of the teachers in this study, I am
married, and like half of them, I have children.
As a teacher, I have over ten years of teaching experience with students from
kindergarten through college and in both public and private classroom settings. My
current teaching position is in a four-year college preparing students to teach writing
and literacy in elementary schools. Previously, I was an instructor in the universitys
teacher preparation program teaching a graduate classroom management course. I
also bring prior research experience as a coordinator for a faculty research center, a
position that involved extensive work in interview and survey development, data
collection, and analysis.
As part of my doctoral program, I had the opportunity to conduct research
with peers and faculty in a doctoral research laboratory that focused on urban schools.
10


Although I conducted research in the district included in this study, I have never
taught in this particular urban district. Furthermore, this district enrolls high numbers
of students who speak Spanish; I had only a basic understanding of Spanish, although
I did have knowledge of several other languages.
In the process of identifying teachers for this study, I came with certain
assumptions; these pre-conceived notions were not necessarily supported by the data.
In a previous study, in which I conducted interviews, the data revealed that
participating teachers, all of whom but one were White, identified themselves as
having no culture or as American (White, 2005). I came to the present study
with the assumption that teachers who are culturally competent know about their own
cultural backgrounds and realize the complexities of cultural constructs. I assumed
that high performing teachers would also be culturally competent, or, in other words,
that cultural competence is necessary to be a highly effective teacher. :
Furthermore, because of current statistics on the teacher population in urban
schools (Capella-Santana, 2003; Thomas, 1994), I anticipated identifying White
females as the critical cases; half of the cases for this study, however, were not White
femalesone teacher was male (White), and two teachers were females from
Mexico. The accuracy of these assumptions will be discussed in Chapter Seven;
however, to limit researcher bias, I collected nominations from multiple sources in
order to identify the critical cases before collecting data in the context of the studys
focus questions. A rigorous process in both identification of cases and in data
11


collection allowed me to address the focus questions as independent from
assumptions and biases as possible.
Results and Conclusions
The data from this study demonstrated the complexities of lived experiences
from which teachers drew as they developed as teachers. The results revealed six
critical casesteachers who I determined to be highly effective and culturally
competent. I learned about these teachers lives through classroom observations and
semi-structured interviews; these teachers demonstrated knowledge about their
backgrounds and articulated connections between their values and beliefs, shaped
since childhood, and their success with diverse students. The teachers in this study
were highly effective in different ways and demonstrated a range of culturally
competent classroom behaviors and attitudes towards teaching and their students.
Based on my analysis of the data, I found that teachers who are highly
effective are not necessarily culturally competent. Strong teacher identities, stable
backgrounds, flexibility in teaching, and focus on learning rather than achievement
were all characteristics of these teachers. Furthermore, these teachers perceived that
their success with diverse students developed more from their personal values,
beliefs, and attitudes than from exposure to or preparation for working with diversity.
12


Organization of the Dissertation
In Chapter Two, I review the literature on the challenges of teaching in urban
schools, characteristics of effective teachers who work with diverse students,
attributes of cultural competence, and ways to support the development of successful
teachers who are effective in working with diverse students. In developing my
conceptual framework, I discuss the literature on teachers lived experiences and
teacher identity. In Chapter Three, I provide the detailed methodology for this
qualitative study, including the development of the research toolsthe teacher
nomination and consent forms, the classroom observation tool, and the interview
protocoland the processes for data collection and analysis.
In Chapter Four, I provide details of teachers classroom environments,
teaching practices, and interactions with students through the within-case results of
the classroom observations. Teachers demonstrated a variety of highly effective
teaching practices, as well as a range of culturally competent behaviors; overall, these
teachers had clear expectations and were flexible with students. In Chapter Five, I
present in-depth biographical data from the semi-structured interviewsteachers
family backgrounds, values, and perceptions of their success with diverse students
in a within-case presentation of the results. Teachers shared their lives and discussed
their values and beliefs; they demonstrated stable backgrounds and were articulate
about the impact of their experiences on their teaching.
13


The details of Chapter Six include a cross-case analysis of interview and
classroom observation data by presenting themes that emerged from analysis of the
compiled data. Finally, in Chapter Seven, I discuss the studys overall conclusions
and lessons learned. The findings of this study revealed strong connections
between lived experience, teacher identity, and classroom effectiveness.
The teachers success with diverse students developed more from personal values,
beliefs, and attitudes than from exposure to or preparation for working with diversity.
14


CHAPTER2
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
Teachers face particular challenges in working in urban schools, including
discontinuities between their own backgrounds and values, those of their students,
and between schools and communities (Delpit, 1995; Howard, 1999; Kozol, 1991;
Nieto, 1996). Current research details the ways in which teachers can be effective
with students from diverse backgrounds (Clark, 2003; Sobel & Taylor, 2003; Villegas
& Lucas, 2002), including teachers abilities to be culturally competent (Gay, 2002;
Ladson-Billings, 2000). Lived experiences could offer details for the ways in which
teachers who are highly effective and who are culturally competent develop as
teachers (Goodson, 1992; Kohl, 1984; Powell, 1996).
In this chapter, I review the literature on the challenges of teaching in urban
schools in order to provide a context for this study. Next, I detail what researchers
know about the characteristics of effective teachers who are working with diverse
students and the attributes of cultural competence. Finally, I provide my conceptual
framework for this study in order to explore teachers backgrounds, identities, and
lived experiences. This framework lays the groundwork for my examination of the
15


relationships these experiences play in developing highly effective teachers who are
successful with diverse students.
In this review of the literature, I found that the definitions of what it means to
be highly effective and culturally competent are often subjective or based on
personal experience rather than defined through research-based methods. While
some scholars identify lived experience as an important factor in urban teacher
development, research-based studies are sparse. Few studies examine the impact of
these experiences in shaping urban teacher identities, in developing positive teacher
attitudes about their work with diverse students, and in integrating effective and
culturally competent teaching practices in the classroom.
Challenges ih Urban Schools
Teachers, school administrators, students, families, and communities face
numerous challenges in improving urban schools. The Pew Charitable Trusts (1998),
in their comprehensive analysis of 74 large city districts, found that two thirds of
students living in poverty, most of whom attend urban schools, fail to reach basic
achievement levels. Voltz (1998), in her study of 340 urban educators perceptions of
the challenges of teaching in urban schools, found academic underachievement, high
dropout and low attendance rates, issues with discipline, substance abuse, violence,
and depressed motivation for school success (p. 212) as vital areas of concern.
16


Urban schools present additional challenges such as diverse cultural and
socio-economic student populations, large classes, high teacher burnout, and lack of
resources (Bowers, 2000; Nieto, 2003b). In her monograph on educating African-
American students, Ladson-Billings (1994) found that poor economic and social
conditions negatively impact student achievement and success in schools; and Kozol
(1991), in his landmark book Savage Inequities, argued that heavy teaching loads and
low salaries contribute to high teacher burnout.
Further challenges include teacher shortages, particularly in urban schools, as
Hussar (1999) found in his quantitative study projecting the need for teachers in the
next three years, and high numbers of teachers leaving the profession within the first
five years of their careers (Boser, 2000; Ingersoll, 2000). In his Quality Counts 2000
report, Boser (2000) found that one in five novice teachers leave the profession within
three years. Ingersoll (2000), in his policy report on teacher shortages, discovered
that despite large teacher turnover in urban schools, few researchers have sought
research-based explanations.
Issues around diversity continue to be a major challenge to teachers in urban
schools (Delpit, 1995; Kozol, 1991; Powell, Sobel, Hess, & Verdi, 2001). Most
scholars writing about the state of urban schools point to changes in school
demographics as a key challenge for teachers. Numerous researchers found that
students with backgrounds that differ from the dominant culture in the United States
make up more than 80% of students in urban schools, yet most of the teaching force
17


remains homogenous (Gay, 2000; Howard, 1999; Ladson-Billings, 1994; Nieto,
2003a; Powell, Sobel, Hess, & Verdi, 2001; Taylor & Sobel, 2001). The National
Center for Education Statistics (NES) (2000) found that more than one in every three
public school students comes from a non-White background. Furthermore, the NES
projected that students who come from diverse ethnic backgrounds will make up the
majority of students in all schools by the year 2035.
Nieto (2005), however, pointed out that in 1996, 90.7% of the teaching
population was White, and most teachers entering the field are White, English-
speaking females. White pre-service teachers as a whole ... bring very little cross-
cultural background, knowledge, and experience (Sleeter, 2001, p. 95). Sleeter
(2001), in her review of 80 research-based studies on pre-service teacher preparation,
found that the overwhelming presence of Whiteness can be silencing (p. 101).
These teachers often lack role models in addressing diversity (Delpit & Dowdy,
2002). Taylor and Sobel (2001) surveyed pre-service teachers regarding their beliefs
about diversity and acknowledged that many pre-service teachers have limited
interactions with persons whose backgrounds and needs differ from their own (p.
497).
Furthermore, Nieto (2003a), based on a year-long study of an inquiry group of
urban teachers, argued that many teachers working in urban schools have the least
amount of professional experience and are among the least prepared in teaching
subject matter. Students attending urban schools are likely to encounter the least
18


qualified teachers (David & Shields, 2001). In their final report of a four-year grant
on standards-based reform in urban districts, David and Shields (2001) identified role
models as an important teacher support; the authors stated that a key finding was that
improvements in teaching practice do result when teachers have a clear idea of
what effective instruction looks like, together with sufficient professional
development and support to learn new ideas and put new practices in place.
(ii)
Finally, increased diversity within classrooms, particularly in urban schools,
makes it. likely that teachers will encounter different students with various beliefs,
attitudes, and worldviews (Banks, 2001; Pettman, 1996; Taylor & Sobel, 2003).
Howard (1999) in his lifelong work supporting White teachers development as
multicultural educators, argued that White teachers are often placed in settings with
students from diverse backgrounds and are expected to behave in ways that are not
consistent with their own life experiences, socialization patterns, [or] worldviews (p.
4). In other words, many teachers enter classrooms to work with students with whom
they are largely unfamiliar.
Discontinuity between School and Home Cultures
Based on personal experience and stories in relation to culturally
responsiveness, Gay (2000) and Pang (2001) argued that teachers behaviors and
attitudes greatly influence the academic success of children from diverse
backgrounds. These behaviors and attitudes are an integral part of teachers
19


identities; when teachers and children interact, the possibility arises for incongruent
cultural perspectives. In her ground breaking monograph on minority and White
teachers who teach minority students, Delpit (1995) argued that cultural
disconnections can occur when individuals from two or more different cultures
interact and encounter miscommunications or gaps in understanding other
perspectives and experiences.
Schools in which the cultural backgrounds of teachers differ significantly
from those of their students because of ethnic, social, religious, or economic reasons
are especially vulnerable to cultural disconnect or cultural incongruence
(Grossman, 1995; Kozleski, Sands, & French, 1993). Taylor and Sobel (2001), based
on their survey of pre-service teachers beliefs about diversity, argued that chances
are high for there to be a discontinuity of culture, language, experiential backgrounds,
expectations, values, and patterns of communication and interaction (p. 497) among
both new and experienced teachers who work with students from diverse
backgrounds. Irvine (2003) analyzed the conditions and reforms in urban schools and
found that many teachers lack knowledge and understanding of their students lives
and experiences. McIntyres (1997) action research study of racism and White
teacher education students, and Olsens (1997) personal experience as a school
reform advocate and her in-depth study of one urban school both identified a similar
problem.
20


Tatums (1997) life work as a teacher on racial identity and racism, found that
White teachers with cultural and social backgrounds from the dominant culture often
identify themselves as free from any sort of cultural identity. He shared one young
White teachers response when she was asked about her ethnicity; she responded,
Im just normal (p. 93). Similarly, in my study of teachers cultural self-
knowledge, most of the White teachers in the focus groups described themselves as
American, just White, or as having no culture (White, 2005). These responses
demonstrated examples of the dichotomy between children from diverse backgrounds
and people from White cultural groupsteachers views that they lack culture
implies that one group has culture while another group (i.e. those from the
dominant White culture) does not.
These differences in cultural perceptions can lead to divisions between
teachers and their students. Delpit (1995) identified two ways in which this clash
affects classrooms. First, cultural disconnect can impact teachers interpretations of
students aptitudes, intent, or abilities as a result of the difference in styles of
language use and interactional patterns (p. 167). A second major impact emerges in
the ways teachers instruct children from diverse backgrounds, as teachers may
incorporate teaching and discipline styles that are at odds with community norms
(p. 167). Gutierrez and Rogoff (2003) associated ideas of cultural hegemony with
deficit syndrome in which teachers attribute school failure to what students of
color dont have and cant do (p. 23). But perhaps it is many teachers, and not
21


students, who are culturally deprived as they often fail to understand and value the
backgrounds of diverse students.
Nieto (1996), in her argument for the value of multicultural education,
described an example of cultural disconnect when a new teacher, who was White,
began her career in a school with students who were primarily Puerto Rican. While
this teacher was committed to her students and a well-prepared teacher, she was
struggling to communicate with her students. When she explained a particular lesson,
the students were silent but wrinkled their noses; she did not understand that this body
language signified that the students did not understand the lesson. An opportunity
was lost for connecting with her students. Nieto (1996) argued further that
Students whose culture, verbal or nonverbal, is
unacknowledged or misunderstood in their classrooms are
likely to feel alienated, unwelcome, and out of place.
(p. 146)
Teachers benefit from understanding the backgrounds of their students.
Failing to do so, warned Gay (2000), breeds negative attitudes, anxiety, [and] fears
(p. 23). Gay (2000), drawing from her lifes work, further asserted that the greatest
obstacle to effective culturally responsive teaching is mainstream ethnocentrism and
hegemony (p. 208). When teachers believe the dominant cultural background is
right or better than other backgrounds (i.e. hegemony), chances of discontinuity
between teachers and students, schools and communities substantially increase.
22


Teachers who make assumptions about the homes, communities, and lives of their
students further increase the risk of discontinuity.
Characteristics of Effective Teachers in Urban Settings
Evidence is growing that schools with higher numbers of teachers from
diverse backgrounds positively impact student achievement. Dee (2000) conducted
an empirical study of teachers and students randomly placed together in schools
participating in the study. He then analyzed test score data and found that student
assignment to a teacher of their own ethnicity significantly raised math and reading
scores. Similarly, Irvine (2003) argued that students with teachers from diverse
backgrounds not only benefited from these teachers ability to be role models but also
because these teachers bring diverse perspectives and strengths to their teaching. In
Star Teachers of Children of Poverty, renowned teacher, policymaker, and scholar
Haberman (1995) identified several attributes of teachers who are successful with
diverse students, based on his personal experience: they are often older, have
children, bring a variety of other work experiences, and are themselves from diverse
backgrounds.
Powell (1996), in his review of research on teacher effectiveness, found that
teachers do not necessarily have to share ethnicity or culture with their students in
order to be effective. Rather than identifying specific attributes that make teachers
likely candidates for success in urban schools, much of the literature focuses on
23


teachers innate personality traits, and teachers abilities to be sensitive to students
from diverse backgrounds. In his study of four teachers identified via informal
nominations as successful with diverse students, Powell (1996) examined their
teaching strategies, as well as their personal backgrounds, and found that none of
them had training around issues of cultural diversity; much of their success was due
to personal attributes and a care and concern for students that went beyond
achievement scores. According to Kozol (1991), teachers who are successful with
diverse students are often warm, energetic, and bring humor to the classroom. Other
traits of effective teachers include empathy, caring, responsiveness to students
(McAllister & Irvine, 2002; Powell, 1996), and the ability to develop positive self
esteem among students (Delpit & Dowdy, 2002).
In an award-winning dissertation study of 34 teachers beliefs about the role
of empathy and its effectiveness with diverse students, McAllister & Irvine (2002)
conducted a content analysis of more than 125 documents from teachers in a
professional development course on multiculturalism. They found three themes about
these teachers practices: increased positive interactions with culturally diverse
students, supportive classroom climates, and increased student-centered teaching
practices. The researchers concluded that teacher dispositions for empathy can be
developed and nurtured through professional development.
Teachers who are effective in supporting student achievement take a personal
interest in the lives of their children, are flexible and open in learning about students
24


families, and work to develop positive relationships with students (Clarke, 2003;
Nieto, 2005). Honoring variety in home languages and dialects, religious and
spiritual beliefs, and childrens family life allows teachers to positively connect with
their students (Watkins-Goffman, 2001). Furthermore, teachers who learn about the
history and experiences of diverse peoples more readily acknowledge different
experiences in their classrooms as having value (Powell, 1996).
Richards, Brown, and Forde (2004), in their research brief for the National
Institute for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems, recommended eight
activities to support teachers abilities to be culturally responsive to diversity:
engage in reflective thinking and writing; explore personal
and family histories; acknowledge membership in different
groups; learn about the history and experiences of diverse
groups; visit students families and communities; visit or
read about successful teachers in diverse settings; develop
an appreciation of diversity; participate in reforming the
institution. (4-6)
Teachers preparing to work with students from diverse backgrounds must be willing
to learn about students and families (Cochran-Smith, Davis, & Fries, 2004; Wink &
Putney, 2002).
Delpit (2002) related her own experience with learning about her students
interests and integrating them into the classroom. She worked in a particular school
that was struggling with a group of African American girls who insisted on combing
each others hair rather than completing their school work. Delpit described how she
awoke one night, and thought, Okay, if those kids want to do hair, were going to do
25


hair! (p. 43). She proceeded to work with the other teachers in the building to
develop science, math, history, and business lessons around the topic, of hair
something in which the students were interestedand argued that the object [was]
not to lower standards or just teach what is interesting to the students, but to find the
students interests and build an academic program around them (p. 45).
Delpits experiment provided a specific example of integrating a culturally
relevant teaching approach into her curriculum in order to positively connect with
students. Teachers can create culturally congruent classrooms when they make
instruction and classroom materials personally meaningful to their students (whose
identities extend beyond cultural and ethnic contexts) (Gay, 2000). Students are able
to scaffold their learning more easily when instruction is personally meaningful
(Vygotsky, 1978).
Growing evidence suggests teacher quality as the key to promoting'student
success. An issue paper from ETS (2004) defined teacher quality as based on
teachers knowledge of content and how to teach it. The National Commission on
Teaching and Americas Future (1996) argued that what teachers know and can do is
one of the most important influences on what students learn (p. 1), and Haycock
(1998) posited that half of the achievement gap would be eliminated if only students
in urban schools had access to highly qualified teachers. Components of teacher
quality relate to those of cultural competence, but do not necessarily take into account
the role of students cultural, linguistic, and socio-economic backgrounds.
26


Attributes of Teachers Cultural Competence
In order to become culturally competent, teachers must develop cultural
responsiveness and integrate culturally relevant skills in the classroom. Culturally
responsive refers to the ability to recognize, acknowledge, and understand that
people come from different cultural backgrounds with varied norms, values, beliefs,
and practices (Gay, 2000; Delpit, 1995; Ladson-Billings, 1994; Villegas & Lucas,
2002). Additionally, teachers who practice culturally relevant teaching strategies
consider and integrate their students cultures and backgrounds into their classroom
practices and curriculum.
Ladson-Billings (2001) based her theoretical framework for culturally
competent pedagogy (p. 144) on three propositions: successful teachers focus on
students academic achievement, successful teachers develop students cultural
competence, and successful teachers foster students sense of sociopolitical
consciousness (p. 144). Furthermore, she articulated four specific areas that indicate
a teachers cultural competence:
The teacher understands culture and its role in education; the teacher takes
responsibility for learning about students culture and community; the teacher
uses student culture as a basis for learning, and the teacher promotes a flexible
use of students local and global cultures, (p. 98)
Teachers who are culturally competent view cultural differences as strengths; they
empathize with people whose experiences may be challenging; and they integrate
27


knowledge of their students cultures into the curriculum and their teaching practices,
including classroom management.
Cultural Responsiveness
Gay (2000) defined what she calls culturally responsive teaching as
using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of
reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse
students to make learning encounters more relevant to and
effective for them. (p. 29)
Furthermore, she identified four critical attributes of culturally responsive instruction
as caring, communication, curriculum, and instruction (p. xiv). Based on her
synthesis of research findings, theoretical claims, practical experiences, and personal
stories (p. 106) of educators working with students from diverse backgrounds, Gay
(2002) argued further that diverse students need culturally responsive teachers who
can significantly improve their students educational outcomes. Similarly, Villegas
and Lucas (2002) identified six characteristics of culturally responsive teachers: a)
they understand that their behavior and thinking is influenced by socio-cultural
contexts; b) they have positive attitudes towards students from diverse backgrounds;
c) they are committed to change; d) they hold constructivist views of learning and
understand learning as an interactive process; d) they take the time to learn about the
lives of their students; and e) they integrate culturally responsive teaching strategies
into their classrooms.
28


Weinstein, Tomlinson-Clarke, and Curran (2004) and Brown (2004) both
argued that cultural responsiveness extends beyond curriculum and teaching
strategies; effective teachers who are culturally competent must also integrate
classroom management practices that are culturally responsive. Weinstein, et. al
(2004), based on the authors body of work, proposed five components of culturally
responsive classroom management: recognition of ones own ethnocentrism;
knowledge of students cultural backgrounds; understanding of the broader social,
economic, and political context; ability and willingness to use culturally appropriate
management strategies; and commitment to building caring classrooms (p. 1).
Furthermore, in Browns (2004) interviews on the classroom management
practices of 13 teachers in urban schools, he found that culturally responsive
classroom management practices include: development of personal relationships with
students; creation of caring communities; establishment of business-like learning
environments; use of culturally and ethnically congruent communication processes;
and demonstrations of assertiveness to be key characteristics in effective culturally
responsive practice. Brown argued that adequately preparing teachers to implement
effective culturally responsive classroom management strategies is essential to their
success with diverse students.
Successful classroom management strategies allow students to self-regulate
their behavior (Freiberg, 1999) and are not based on fear of punishment or reward but
on personal responsibility (McCaslin & Good, 1998; Weinstein, et. al, 2004). But
29


further studies are necessary to fully understand ways in which teachers can develop
culturally responsive classroom management practices. Powell, McLaughlin, Savage,
and Zehm (2001) argued that there is a pressing, unprecedented need for a kind of
management that could be described as culturally responsive. What the shape of this
management might be, however, is illusive and clearly difficult to define (p. 254).
Teachers who are culturally responsive in their interactions with students, teaching
practices, and classroom management have the opportunity to positively and
significantly impact student achievement.
Cultural Relevance
Based on my review of the literature, teachers abilities to be successful with
children from diverse backgrounds closely connect to the tenets of cultural relevance.
Culturally relevant teaching is that which honors, supports, and integrates students
culture (and in the context of the present study, students socio-economic, family
background, language, and individual interests in addition to culture) into classroom
activities (Bennett, 1995; Ladson-Billings, 1994). Teachers who use culturally
relevant practices integrate a variety of instructional strategies and activities into their
classrooms based on students socio-cultural and personal backgrounds (Burnette,
1999). Culturally relevant practices require that teachers provide rationales for school
work and feedback to ensure student understanding of learning objectives and clearly
communicate classroom expectations (Burnette, 1999).
30


Ladson-Billings (1994), in her ethnographic study of teaching African
American students.found that culturally relevant teaching strategies improved the
academic success of diverse student populations; Howard (2001) argued that
culturally sensitive teaching styles improved African-American student performance
on achievement tests. Furthermore, Powell (1996) pointed out that teachers intuitive
strategies enhanced diverse student success, and Bowers (2000) found that
collaborative teaching that honors background differences also positively helped to
transform urban schools from pedagogy of poverty to pedagogy of success.
Furthermore, Ladson-Billings (1994) noted that educators who engage in
culturally relevant teaching practices see teaching as an art rather than as a technical
skill (p. 25). They believe all students can succeed, and they view themselves as
being part of a community. In their research brief on culturally responsive educators,
Kea, Campbell-Whatley," and Richards (2004) found that teachers who integrate
cultural relevance into their practices have more confidence in their abilities to work
with students from diverse backgrounds.
Reflective Teachers
Based on their work with diverse students in which they argued that students
develop a cultural critical consciousness, Gay and Kirkland (2003) identified one
essential element in developing cultural competence as a teacher is the ability to be
reflective of ones teaching identity and practices. Jalongo and Isenberg (1995)
31


defined reflective teachers as those who actively think about their behaviors in the
classroom, those who are open to analyzing themselves, and those who take
responsibility for their teaching and its impact on children. Reflective teachers
explore their own personal and family backgrounds, analyze their own classroom
behaviors, and actively integrate their findings into changing their practice in
classrooms and further developing relationships with their students (Richards, Brown,
& Forde, 2004).
Through their personal ethnographies, Delpit (2002) and Paley (2000)
provided exemplars of reflective practice. For example, in The Skin That We Speak,
Delpit considered the ways in which her past experiences with professionals formed
her beliefs about authority. Paley, in White Teacher, described her discomfort as a
White teacher working with students from diverse backgrounds and how she used
those experiences to positively change her pedagogical and emotional approaches to
teaching. In both works, the authors strive to make meaning of their experiences to
further develop their identities as teachers and scholars.
Gay and Kirkland (2003) argued that a key component to developing cultural
competence is that teachers develop not only the ability to be reflective but to have a
cultural critical consciousness about diversity (p. 181). Coupled with self-
reflection, teachers who are conscious of their own backgrounds, beliefs, biases, and
cultural identities are more likely to positively influence their work with diverse
students. Scholars support the view that culturally responsive teachers are analytical
32


about their teaching and professional identities and have knowledge about their
students and the best ways to teach them (Danielwicz, 2001; Gay, 2000; Ladson-
Billings, 2001). Gay and Kirkland advised that
teachers knowing who they are as people, understanding
the contexts in which they teach, and questioning their
knowledge and assumptions are as important as the mastery
of techniques for instructional effectiveness, (p. 181)
In a study of three effective teachers (Clarke, Davis, Rhodes, & DeLott Baker,
1996), Clarke (2003) articulated what he called coherence as an ideal state in which
teachers take reflection a step further and align their intentions with classroom
practices. A key finding in the study is that successful teachers can look very
different from one another. They can bring to teaching a multitude of experiences
and ideas as well as various teaching styles, methods, and practices and still be
effective with all students. Clarke (2003) described this revelation:
We were amazed at the similarities of their success despite
dramatic differences in their methods and materials. We
concluded that what mattered was the relationships they
established with their students and their ability to work
from a set of core values as they responded to different
situations and events. (p. 7)
Finally, teachers should think reflexively about their own experiences [as] a valid
source of some knowledge and insight (Segal, 1990, p. 122).
Through the literature review, I identified challenges in urban schools,
disconnections between school and home cultures, and characteristics of effective
teachers. These characteristics include teachers abilities to be culturally
33


competentteachers who are culturally responsive with students and who integrate
culturally relevant teaching strategiesand reflective in their teaching practice. The
literature discusses some characteristics of teachers who are highly effective in
working with diverse students-their demographics, their dispositions, their teaching
strategies, and their interactions with students. But how do these characteristics
develop? Do lived experiences impact teachers abilities to be successful? How do
their values and beliefs develop? And in what ways do these lived experiences
impact their work in classrooms? The following conceptual framework considers the
lived experiences of highly effective teachers in order to understand the role these
experiences play in their success with diverse students.
Conceptual Framework
Over time, teachers build identities that involve complex intersections of
family, ethnicity, religion, and economic and socio-cultural backgrounds as well as
personal values and beliefs (Clare & Hamilton, 2003; St. Pierre & Pillow, 2000;
Tatum, 1997)or, in other words, the compilation of their ever-changing life
experiences. Figure 1.1 shows how these experiences intertwine and are inextricably
linked, similar to the complex weaving of a Celtic knot. The knot has no linear
beginning or end; instead strands of experiences are woven in and continually build
on each other in layers upon layers.
34


At the center of an individuals inner core are lived experiences that arise
from these intersections and include a multitude of characteristics including gender,
sexual orientation, nationality, age, and wellness (St. Pierre & Pillow, 2000, p. 7).
These intersections of lived experience make up a persons personality and identity
and are based on individuals interactions with others, situations that arise in their
lives, and the choices they make and are, therefore, constantly altered.
Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, and Cain (1998), drawing on the work of
Vygotsky, Bakhtin, and Bourdieu, argued that identities are constructed within an
individuals social and cultural background and are then further shaped through
interactions in socio-cultural worlds and lived experiences. The authors argued that
identity is one way of naming the dense interconnections between the intimate and
public venues of social practice (p. 270). In addition to elements that contribute to
individual identity development, teachers continually develop professional identities
as educators within the subcultures of their profession and schools (Oring, 1986).
Professional identities, too, are constantly changing based on experiences within the
field and development and reflection of self as an educator (Watkins-Goffman, 2001).
Furthermore, teacher identities are influenced by interactions with other
teachers and teacher role models (Knowles, 1992). Cooper and Olson (1996) argued
that teacher identity is constructed and reconstructed through historical, sociological,
psychological and cultural influences (p. 78). A vital component in teacher identity
is the recognition and development of teachers cultural and ethnic identities (Banks
35


et al., 2001; Carson & Johnston, 2001; Clark & Flores, 2001; Gallavan, 2002; Genor
& Schulte, 2002; Williams & Okintunde, 2002) since the ways in which teachers
view themselves has a ripple effect on the pedagogies which they will incorporate
into their classrooms (McDermott, 2002, p. 54).
Some scholars pointed to the importance of developing professional identities
prior to teachers full time work in the classroom. Clark and Flores (2001) argued
that pre-service teachers need to understand the importance of identity in the
classroom, since the social construction of identity is at the core of how teachers will
come to understand the role of culture (p. 70) in shaping relationships with students.
Successful teachers must have a strong identity-they must know who they are and
what they believein which they are confident, knowledgeable, and committed to
improving the profession (Walling & Lewis, 2000, p. 63). Knowles (1992) found
that teachers with positive school experiences had strong identities and were better
able to deal with the rigours of teaching (p. 136). Teachers identities are shaped by
their lived experiences.
36


Economic
Learning
FIGURE 1.1: Celtic knot demonstrating the human experience
Students, too, bring their lived experiences with them every time they enter,
leave, and re-enter the classroom, and those experiences continually change. When
researchers, teachers, and schools talk about ethnically, culturally, and linguistically
diverse students, they are considering only a portion of the constructs that make up
identity, or a persons sense of self. Cultural differences can contribute to
disconnections between schools and families and teachers and students (Banks, et al.,
2001; Delpit, 1995). But the concept of culture is in itself problematic.
Culture is an enormous concept; Levinson (2000) pointed out that scholars
have debated its definition for decades. In the old anthropological model, culture was
viewed as static elements about a particular group of people that are merely
37


transmitted from one generation to the next. In reality, cultural groups are no longer
easy to identify and define (Eisenhart, 2000). Scholars from a variety of fields still
disagree over specific definitions; most would concur that culture is a continual
process of creating meaning in social and material contexts (Levinson & Holland,
1996, p. 13).
While scholars recognize that culture is intrinsic in creating individual
identity, supporting community values and structures, and in building both formal and
informal schooling models, the term culture still remains elusive, subjective, and
problematic, resulting in a concept that has no absolute categories for individuals or
groups (Clare & Hamilton, 2003). Nieto (1996) pointed out that even within cultures,
there are countless differences among people from the same cultural group (p. 147).
Gutierrez and Rogoff s (2003) work considered culture within a cultural-
historical construct rather than culture as static regularities. This theoretical approach
offered a way to get beyond a widespread assumption that characteristics of cultural
groups are located within individuals as carriers of culture (p. 19). Furthermore,
they argued that
equating culture with race, ethnicity, language preference, or
national origin results in overly deterministic, static, weak, and
uncomplicated understandings of both individuals and the
community practices in which they participate (p. 21).
Instead, Gutierrez and Rogoff suggested a cultural-historical approach that accounts
for individual past experiences as key factors in teaching and learning. This approach
38


shifted thinking to individuals experiences participating in cultural practices, rather
than treating culture as a static trait within an individual. They argued that the
structure and development of human psychological processes emerge through
participation in culturally mediated, historically developing, practical activity
involving cultural practices and tools (p. 21). Lived experiences are the result of
participation in socio-cultural contexts.
When researchers study teachers lived experiences, the data provides only
snapshots of particular moments in time. Furthermore, the details that teachers
provide about their lives are from their immediate perspective. These perceptions and
insights are provided within the context of the constant change of human experience
(Clark, 2003). In the present study, I delved into the lived experiences of highly
effective teachers, and thus examined attributes of their personal and professional .
identities, in order to develop a model that illuminates the role of teachers lived
experiences in promoting culturally relevant practices in the classroom and success
with diverse students. The present framework for this study considers a more
complete picture of individual identity as a woven mesh of (a) socio-cultural and
economic contexts such as cultural background, social status, or economic class; (b)
family background and heritage; (c) personal beliefs and values; and (d) physical,
psychological, and cognitive attributes (Cooper & Olson, 1996; Goodson 1992;
Gutierrez & Rogoff, 2003; Holland, Lachiotte, Skinner, & Cain, 1998; Kohl, 1984;
Kozol, 1991; Powell 1996; Tatum, 1997).
39


CHAPTER 3
METHODOLOGY
In this qualitative study, I investigated relationships between the lived
experiences (including family, social, and cultural backgrounds and personal
experiences with diversity) of highly effective teachers who were perceived by
their principals, school learning staff, and families of children attending the school as
culturally competent (i.e., they exhibit both culturally relevant and culturally
responsive teaching practices). In the context of this study, I defined culturally
competent teachers as those who:
o Know students families and communities;
o Value and honor students cultures and backgrounds;
o Have positive attitudes towards all children;
o Challenge students with high expectations for learning; and
o Provide schoolwork that reflects the diverse backgrounds of students.
Specifically, I sought to identify various characteristics of highly effective teachers
lived experiences that contribute to their cultural competence in working with diverse
students; and uncover teachers attitudes about the relationship between those
40


experiences and their success with diverse students. The focus questions to further
this study were:
(a) What do highly effective teachers who exhibit cultural competence
know about their own family, social, and cultural backgrounds?
(b) What are their experiences with diversity?
(c) What are teachers perceptions of the relationships between their lived
experiences and their success with diverse students?
As I identified teachers for this study and launched into the data collection,
my research focus changed. Based on teachers self-reporting and interpretations of
their own lived experiences, I altered the focus questions to clarify that understanding
relationships between lived experience and student success came from teachers own
perceptions. Furthermore, I assumed that highly effective teachers would also be
culturally competent. Although principals, school staff, and families identified
teachers who were both highly effective and culturally competent, I discovered from
the classroom observation and interview data that these six teachers demonstrated a
range of culturally competent behaviors. Based on my observations of teachers
behaviors in their classrooms and multiple examples from the interviews, I
determined that three of the teachers consistently met all five of the criteria that
define cultural competence in the context of this study, while two teachers
consistently met three of the criteria and one teacher consistently met only two of the
criteria.
41


The nature of the focus questions in this study required in-depth information
about the participating teachers lived experiences; furthermore, this study focused on
particular individuals and their unique qualities. Therefore, the goals of this study
were met through case studies (Yin, 2003). Yin (1992) described case studies as an
empirical inquiry in which the researcher explores a phenomenon within its real-
life context (p. 123) via multiple sources of data. Creswell (1998) identified a case
study as an exploration of a bounded system or a case (multiple cases) over time
through detailed, in-depth data collection involving multiple sources of information
rich in context (p. 61). I gathered data about participating teachers through two
major sources and within the context of purposefully selected sites (Strauss & Corbin,
1990); the components of data collection included classroom observations and semi-
structured interviews.
Research Design: Qualitative Case Studies
As outlined in the conceptual framework for this study, teachers bring to the
classroom a lifetime of experiences, as well as a collection of beliefs, values, and
attitudes that are constantly changing. This project investigated six critical case
studies (Yin, 2003) of highly effective teachers who are successful with diverse
students. Onwuegbuzie and Leech (in press) identified critical cases as those
selected individuals who bring to the fore the phenomenon of interest such that the
researcher can learn more about the phenomenon than would have been learned
42


without including these critical cases (p. 12). Case studies allowed me the
opportunity to collect, examine, and analyze in-depth information about critical cases
and the contexts in which they work (Clare & Hamilton, 2003; Creswell, 2002; Yin,
2003). v
The processes of qualitative research are recursive and interpretive in nature
as researcher and participants undertake a learning process and work together to make
sense of the data (Goodson, 1992; Knowles & Holt-Reynolds, 1991). In the context
of this study, the critical cases were related to teachers in the two buildings who were
nominated by the principals, learning-support staff, and families at the school as
being highly effectiveteachers who have high performing classrooms, according
to district standards, and teachers who exhibit cultural competence (teachers who
have cultural responsive behaviors and who engage in culturally relevant teaching
practices).
The success of this study depended on identifying critical cases of individuals
who met the criteria for the studys focushighly effective teachers who exhibit
culturally competent behaviors in-schools that are low performing overall and yet
have high performing classrooms. After careful selection of these critical cases, my
purpose in this study was to explore their lived experiences to understand the possible
relationships between the experiences of these teachers and their success with diverse
students.
43


In order to adequately and appropriately explore the studys focus area,
sampling was particularly important. Onwuegbuzie and Leech (in press) contended
that qualitative power analysis represents an analysis of the ability or capacity to
perform or act effectively with respect to sampling (p. 18). This power analysis
was particularly useful in the present study as I undertook a multi-staged purposeful
sampling approach to identifying critical cases (Onwuegbuzie & Leech, in press, p.
15). My first step was to identify particular schools that fit the criteria of the study
through purposeful sampling (Miles & Huberman, 1994); then, within those identified
buildings, I sought nominations of critical cases from the principal, the learning-
support staff, and families at the school, and thus identified critical cases via a
funneling sampling sequence (Erickson, 1986). Onwuegbuzie and Leech (in press)
suggested that
if the goal is not to generalize to a population but to obtain
insights into a phenomenon, individuals, or events. .then
the researcher purposefully selects individuals, groups, and
settings that maximize understanding of the phenomenon.
(p. 11)
I worked one-on-one with principals to examine the nomination data to
identify critical casesin this instance, teachers in the school who were considered
highly effective. In the context of this study, highly effective teachers were those
who met the following criteria: (a) their classes were consistently high performing
according to state-level, student achievement data; (b) they had been teaching in the
school for at least three years (and therefore, would be more likely to understand
44


and/or participate in the culture of the school and community); (c) they were
nominated by the schools principal and instructional support staff as being
particularly successful in their work with diverse students; and (d) they were
nominated by the families at the school.
The goal here was to identify highly effective teachers in high performing
classrooms within schools that are low performing overall. I worked with the
principal to obtain details about each of the top nominees. Together, we talked about
each person to confirm nominations as well as eliminate nominees who didnt fit the
criteria. Nominees were eliminated for three reasons: they did not have high
performing classrooms according to state achievement goals; they had not taught in
the building for three years; or they were not classroom teachers.
The teachers identified as critical cases uniquely possess characteristics that
contribute to understanding the focus of the study (Clare & Hamilton, 2003). In order
to identify these characteristics, I collected data about their classrooms and work as
teachers from the principal. For example, principals provided me with demographic
information about the number of years the teachers had been in the building, the
students and classes they teach, and their classroom achievement data. Next, I
collected data about teachers culturally competent teaching practices through
classroom observations. Finally, semi-structured interviews allowed me to collect
specific data about lived experiences. Creswell, Plano, Gutmann, and Hanson (2003)
argued that semi-structured interviews allows researchers to give voice to diverse
45


perspectives, to better advocate for participants, or to better understand a
phenomenon or .process that is changing as a result of being studied (p. 228).
In this study, I delved into the lived experiences of participating teachers to
explore, learn, and understand their development as highly effective teachers and
the ways in which their experiences connect to success with children. Clare and
Hamilton (2003) argued that life history and biographical research inextricably link
data collection, interpretation, and writing in ways that support the authenticity of
the personal insights and experiences of the narrator (p. 103). Investigating the
lived experiences of critical cases can help me, participants, and readers recognize a
multiplicity of perspectives (Jalongo & Isenberg, 1995, p. 14).
Prior to data collection, I secured human subjects clearance from both the
university and the school district in which the research took place. This process
included an examination of the studys potential benefits and risks. Although the
study presented no direct benefits, teachers participating in this study may better
understand the relationships between their lived experiences and their work with
diverse students. Furthermore, this knowledge and understanding may positively
impact their classroom work. Overall, the studys findings have implications for
preparing pre-service teachers, particularly around working with diverse students;
supporting the professional development of teachers; and understanding the
relationships between home and school cultures.
46


The study presented no physical risks to participants. Teachers identified for
this study were asked questions about their life experiences that may have been
difficult to answer or caused discomfort and anxiety. Furthermore, participants
relationships with their peers may have been altered, and other teachers may treat
them differently if they know participants have been identified as highly effective.
In order to reduce the chances of this happening, I indicated to teachers that their
participation was not communicated to others in the building, and I asked the schools
principal to refrain from sharing the information about the study or participants with
others. Additionally, I made every effort to ensure that the data from the interviews,
as well as participant demographic information, were kept confidential. The data
presented here do not include identifying information; participants are referred to
only by pseudonyms, and the interviews took place at non-school locations..
Site Selection
One of the key components of this study was to examine teachers who are
highly effective with children from diverse backgrounds (i.e. cultural, ethnic,
linguistic, socio-economic, religious, or other), the majority of whom are schooled in
urban areas. The critical cases in this study were those teachers who were identified
as being particularly successful with diverse populations of students; the rationale
was to examine critical cases (Miles & Huberman, 1994) of teachers who work within
struggling schools but who were also successful with diverse student populations. I
47


first sought out area school districts that had schools that are rated as low
performing in their achievement scores, according to state report cards; and schools
that have a high percentage of diverse students and/or high poverty students.
Creswell (1998) advised researchers to gain access to study sites and build
rapport with cases via gatekeepers who are members of or have insider status with
a cultural group (p. 117). The school of education in which I am a doctoral student
houses a teacher education program based on partnerships with area urban schools; as
an instructor in the teacher education program, I had an established relationship with
the director of the program and other site professors. The district included in this
study was one in which the schools met the studys criteria, and the schools shared
similar demographics. I narrowed the field of schools even further to include only
elementary schools to increase the chances of identifying critical cases who worked
within similar contexts.
The schools in this selected district were situated in urban areas, defined by
my doctoral lab (a group of professors and doctoral students who conduct research on
urban education) as large cities that have a core business district, diverse ethnic
populations, a majority of the population who are low income (with some of the
population at high income levels and very little middle income), and transportation
issues. Urban schools within these areas are defined as those that exist in urban
areas and have a majority of students (60% or more) who qualify for free and reduced
48


lunches and/or have populations that are made of up a majority of students from
diverse socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds (Urban Schools Research Lab).
After securing human subjects clearance from both the university and the
district, I determined individual elementary schools within one district that fit the
established criteria for this study. This selected school district included seven
elementary schools; Table 3.1 provides specific data for each building. These schools
each enrolled an average of450 students. Of these students, an average of 84%
qualified for free and reduced lunch. Ethnically, 78% were identified as Hispanic,
17% as White, and 5% as Other, a category that includes, according to state
reports cards, American Indian, Alaskan Native, Asian or Pacific Islander, and Black.
Of this number, all but two of these schools were rated as low performing
according to state school accountability reports. The two schools rated as average
performing no longer fit the criteria and were eliminated from consideration.
Next, I contacted the remaining five schools by sending the principal (via
email and postal mail) a brief letter describing the study, the type of contacts I would
make, the time involved, and the necessary consent forms; I also included the tools
that would be used for the classroom observations and interviews. In the week
following initial contact, I followed up with phone calls to each principal. Three
principals did not respond, and two principals committed to participating in the study;
both were willing to help identify critical cases for the study and were interested in
learning about the nomination data I would be gathering from families of students in
49


the school. These two schools, Valley Elementary and Mountain Elementary,
(identified by pseudonym) became the two sites in which I identified critical cases for
this study.
Table 3.1
School demographics according to State Department of Education data fall 2004
School Student Population (n) Free and Reduced Lunch (% of n) Hispanic Students (% of n) White Students (% of n) Non-White/Non- Hispanic Students (% of n)
*Valley Elementary 550 81% 74% 22% 4%
*Mountain Elementary 440 83% 77% 17% 6%
Participant Selection
The next sampling step was to identify highly effective teachers who are
culturally competentd.e., teachers who are culturally responsive to their students
and who engage in culturally relevant teaching practiceswithin the two selected
schools-Valley Elementary and Mountain Elementary. This involved a two stage
process; first, I requested nominations of teachers who were high performing and
culturally competent from the principal and learning-support staff at each school. In
the second stage, I surveyed families and asked them to nominate teachers who they
considered to be culturally competent. I drew from non-random sampling to identify
50


participants (Onwuegbuzie & Leech, in press) for both stages of the nomination
process.
The teachers participating in these case studies were selected according to
criterion sampling (Miles & Huberman, 1994) that allowed me to identify critical
case (Onwuegbuzie & Leech, in press) teachers as being highly effective with
students from diverse backgrounds. In the context of this study, critical cases were
teachers in the two buildings who were nominated by the principals, learning-support
staff, and families at the school as being highly effectiveteachers who have high
performing classrooms, according to district standards, and teachers who exhibit
cultural competence.
Development of Cultural Competence Nomination Form. I identified highly
effective teachers who exhibit culturally competent by asking for nominations from
the families of students in the buildings. The voices of the families were crucial in
determining highly effective teachers in each building. Families are part of the
larger community and the ones who spend time with their children; they communicate
with the school and develop perceptions of teachers from their children and from their
interactions with teachers (Barrera & Warner, 2006; Protheroe, Shellard, & Turner,
2003).
In order to develop the nomination form (Appendix A), I reviewed the
literature on teacher attributes that contribute to their being culturally competent with
51


diverse students (Clark 2003; Gay, 2000; Gay, 2002; Kea, Campbell-Whatley, &
Richards, 2004; Ladson-Billings, 1992; Montgomery, 2001; Nieto, 2005; Richards,
Brown, & Forde, 2004; Sobel, Taylor, & Anderson, 2003; Villegas & Lucas, 2002). I
entered these key attributes into Nvivo (QSR, 1998-2002), organized them into
categories, and developed open codes; then, I combined similar attributes into axial
codes or categories (Creswell, 1998).
These categories, including culturally responsive classroom practices, cultural
sensitivity, and family connections, were narrowed into five statements for the family
nomination form. Table 3.2 shows examples of these themes and the ways in which
they correlate to the nomination criteria provided to families. The nomination form
asked family members to help identify teachers in their school who know students
families and communities; value and honor students cultures and backgrounds; have
positive attitudes towards all children; challenge students with high expectations for
learning; and provide schoolwork that reflects the diverse backgrounds of students.
These criteria were included in the nomination process with the schools principals
and learning staff as well.
52


Table 3.2
Themes of cultural competence developed from the literature on culturally competent
teacher attributes and the subsequent criteria for the family nominations
Themes and examples of attributes of teachers who are culturally competent Family nomination criteriateachers in the school who are highly effective and who:
Culturally responsive classroom practices Fosters a student-centered classroom Facilitates constructivist views of learning Builds on cultural strengths of students Adapts lessons to students cultures Challenges students with high expectations Teaches about and celebrates diversity Challenge students with high expectations for learning Provide schoolwork that reflects the diverse backgrounds of students
Cultural sensitivity Acknowledges differences Values diversity Positive attitudes that all students can learn Treats students with equity and respect Value and honor students cultures and backgrounds Have positive attitudes towards all children
Family connections Committed to building caring relationships with students Knows about students families and backgrounds Home environments are values and honored Know students families and communities
53


Process of Critical Case Nominations. In the first stage of identifying critical
cases, I verbally asked for nominations of highly effective teachers from the two
schools principals and learning-support staff (that included coaches who worked
with teachers and students and a coach who supported English language learners).
Specifically, I asked them to nominate the teachers in the building who: a) have
consistently high performing classrooms according to state achievement data; b) have
been teaching in the school for at least three years; and c) are culturally competent
teachers according to the criteria that I identified for the Family Nomination Form. I
developed these nomination criteria under the assumption that the schools principal
and learning-support staff would have access to performance data on teachers in the
building and would have firsthand knowledge of their teaching abilities. At Valley
Elementary, the principal and five learning-support staff clearly nominated three
teachers. In the other building, Mountain Elementary, the principal and four learning-
support staff members nominated eight different teachers.
The families nominations were also an important contribution to identifying
critical cases. In the second stage of the process, I surveyed families in each school
and asked for nominations of teachers who are culturally competent. I compared the
school staffs nominations of highly effective and culturally competent teachers
with the families nominations of teachers who were culturally competent as part of
the critical case identification process. I created the nomination forms with the list of
criteria in English on one side and Spanish on the other and then placed them into
54


envelopes. Because Spanish is the predominant language in both schools, I placed
the Spanish side to the front so families would see it when the envelope was opened.
The school secretaries provided me with the number of students in each classroom; I
then placed enough envelopes for each class in the teachers mailboxes along with a
brief note notifying teachers that envelopes were being sent home as part of a
dissertation and asked that teachers return them to the office unopened. I stamped
each envelope with a request that it be returned to the office.
Several issues arose that were beyond my control. First, families with
multiple children at the school may have completed more than one survey since
classroom teachers sent a nomination form with each student. Second, the number of
nominations sent out reflected the number of students in those buildings rather than
the number offamilies; the schools could not provide a definitive number of families.
Third, the nominations may have included the views of parents, extended family
members, and/or their student(s) attending the school. In other words, I was unaware
of the elements influencing the nomination choices (i.e. to what degree the family felt
a teacher was culturally competent); furthermore, families may only know some of
the teachers in a building, thus limiting their choices of nominations. Finally, the
nomination forms did not come from the school administration; the results may have
changed if the principal authored the request.
55


Table 3.3
Family nominations for each of the schools participating in the study
School Total nomination forms sent Nomination forms returned English (n) Spanish (n) Percentage two names per form (% of n)
Valley Elementary 550 130 72 58 69%
Mountain Elementary 440 70 36 34 81%
The families at Valley Elementary submitted 130 nomination forms out of 550
that were sent home, and at Mountain Elementary, 70 nomination forms were
returned out of 440 forms that were sent home; of this number, slightly more than half
of the families returned the forms in English and slightly less than half in Spanish.
The forms provided two lines so that families could write down more than one
teachers name; the specific instructions asked them to write down the names of
teachers (plural) who they think are highly effective. Although many families wrote
in only one name and several wrote in three, four, or even five names, the majority of
respondents in both buildings wrote in two names (see Table 3.3). At both schools,
families nominated classroom teachers, learning-support staff, and paraprofessionals.
The nomination form specified teacher, but not specifically classroom teacher.
The nominations varied for each school. At Valley Elementary, with nearly
twice as many nomination forms submitted than Mountain Elementary, a total of 40
different names were written down, eight of them securing only a single nomination.
The Mountain Elementary nominations also revealed 40 individuals nominated with
56


more than half gamering a single nomination. For the purposes of this qualitative
study, I narrowed down the field to include only those individuals with the highest
number of nominations down to the last nomination by the principal and the support
staff (see Table 3.4); for Valley Elementary, the top individuals had anywhere from
10 to 19 nominations, and for Mountain Elementary, the nomination numbers were
from 6 to 16. Table 3.4 provides details of the top nominations; I included all
nominations within the range even if they were not nominated by the principal and
support staff so that readers could get a sense of the nomination data. I identified a
sample size of three teachers in each building for a total of six critical cases.
The sampling was not arbitrary (Onwuegbuzie & Leech, in press); on the
contrary, the data reached saturation when I identified teachers who met all of the
criteriathey were nominated by the principal and learning-support staff; they were
nominated by families; and they had high performing classrooms according to the
principals verification that these teachers students demonstrated satisfactory and
advanced achievement levels. I asked these top nominated teachersor six critical
casesto participate in the study.
57


Table 3.4
Nominated teachers: Individuals nominated by family and staff nomination
Valley Elementary Top nominations Number of family nominations (n) Nominations by principal and learning- support staff (5) Inclusion in study
Ramirez (Kindergarten All Day) 19 Nominated by all five staff; principal supported Included
Teacher One 19 Not nominated Not high perform
Miller (5lh grade math) 16 Nominated by two staff; principal supported Included
Non-Teacher One 15 Not nominated ELA coach; not a classroom teacher
Teacher Two 13 Not nominated Not in the building three years
Teacher Three 13 Not nominated Not high perform
Teacher Four 12 Nominated by principal Not high perform
Teacher Five 11 Not nominated Not in building three years
Teacher Six 11 Not nominated Not high perform
Casadas (1st grade bilingual) 10 Nominated by two staff; principal supported Included
Mountain Elementary Top nominations Number of family nominations (n) Nominations by principal and learning- support staff (4) Inclusion in study
Teacher One 16 Not nominated Not high performing
Kendall (1st grade) 11 Nominated by principal; supported by one staff Included
Non-Teacher One 11 Nominated by principal and two staff ESL specialist; not classroom teacher
Snider (2nd grade) 9 Nominated by four staff; principal supported Included
Teacher Two 9 Not nominated Not high performing
Non-Teacher Two 7 Not nominated Not classroom teacher
Teacher Three 7 Not nominated Not high performing
Non-Teacher Three 6 Not nominated Not classroom teacher
Platte (3rd grade) 6 Nominated by four staff; principal supported Included
58


Participation in this study was voluntary for identified teachers. To ensure
confidentiality, I assigned a pseudonym to each participant known only by me. Prior
to data collection, I gave teachers consent forms to read and sign in which they agreed
to participate in this study. Teachers signed consent letters for both the classroom
observations (Appendix B) and the semi-structured interviews (Appendix D); each
teacher received a gift certificate for their participation. All materials for this study
will be kept on my personal computer for at least three years. Furthermore, data was
saved on a memory key that will be kept in a safety deposit box. Table 3.5 provides
demographic information of the teachers who were asked to participate in this study.
Table 3.5
Teacher demographic data
Age/Gender Ethnicity Original Home Marital Status Children Religion Class
Mountain
Ramirez 38 Female Hispanic Mexico M 2 Catholic Middle
Miller 40 Male White Local M 3 Catholic Middle
Casadas 33 Female Hispanic Mexico M 0 Catholic Middle
Valley
Kendall 60+ Female White East Coast M 2 Protestant Middle
Snider 33 Female White Local M 0 Catholic Middle
Platte 28 Female White Local M 0 Catholic Middle
59


Data Collection
Following identification of the critical cases for this study, I embarked on
classroom observations and semi-structured interviews. In qualitative studies, the
data collection and data analysis often occur simultaneously (Creswell, 1998); the
classroom observations, therefore, influenced the semi-structured interviewsI asked
some of the interview questions in the context of the teachers classroom practices as
well as from information that I had gathered in the nomination process.
Classroom Observations
Again, the purpose of this qualitative study was to explore relationships
between the lived experiences of highly effective teachers who are culturally
competent and their success with diverse students. Through the classroom
observations, I sought to examine the teaching practices of nominated individuals in
order to identify the use of culturally relevant and responsive behaviors in the
classroom and to explore teachers attitudes towards their students and the ways in
which they connect to diversity in the classroom.
Sobel, Taylor, and Anderson (2003) developed a Diversity-Responsive
Teaching Observation Tool (Appendix C) based on their research in urban schools,
their work with teacher candidates, and their review of the literature on dissonance
between home and school cultures and culturally relevant instruction. Taylor and
Sobel (2001) contended that in order to be successful in todays classroom, teachers
60


must develop positive attitudes about their students, develop the ability to
differentiate instruction, and learn about various cultural perspectives and
developmental needs. Furthermore, teachers should celebrate diversity, and promote
equity for all and well as leam to apply these kinds of understandings to
classrooms (Sobel, Taylor, & Anderson, 2003, p. 47).
The authors developed the tool in collaboration with faculty who represented
the fields of special education and bilingual education (p. 46); these faculty
members formed a critical friends group who reviewed and critiqued the initial draft
of the observation tool. The authors also developed the tool in conjunction with their
work in an urban district; the observation criteria met district standards and supported
teachers development in diversity-responsive teaching. The goal of the tool was to
foster an articulate discussion between supervisor and teacher regarding the
teachers effectiveness in diversity-responsive teaching (p. 47).
The authors then tested the tools effectiveness by piloting the observation
tool with general and special education teachers, pre-service teachers, principals, and
teacher supervisors and mentors. The authors did not test the validity and reliability
of the measure, instead they obtained critical feedback from teachers who piloted the
observation tool and conducted focus groups with pre-service teachers to get their
feedback on the contents of the tool. Finally, the authors asked principals,
supervisors, and mentors who were implementing the pilot tool with staff members to
record their responses about the usefulness of the tool. The components of the
61


diversity-responsive classroom observation tool are supported by the literature on
cultural competence. Furthermore, the tool supports a broad definition of diversity to
include culture, language, ethnicity ... ability, gender, socioeconomic level,-
religion, age, and sexual orientation (Sobel, Taylor, & Anderson, 2003, p. 47).
I adapted this tool in order to observe the classroom in two major areas: the
overall tone of the classroom, including environmental print and the groupings and
interactions with students; and the level of teacher cultural competence, including
delivery of culturally relevant instruction and demonstrated understanding and
knowledge of diversity and equity issues. I also used the tool to determine to what
degree a teacher was or was not culturally competent. Some of the questions in the
observation tool provided a rating scale to determine the competency of the teacher
observed (1little to no competency observed; 2fair to adequate competency
observed; 3strong competency observed), while other parts of the tool provided
areas of inquiry in which the researcher described and tallied interactions. Table 3.5
shows the components of the classroom observation tool that correlate with the
characteristics of culturally competent teachers.
62


Table 3.6
Characteristics of cultural competence and the classroom observation tool
Characteristics of Cultural Competence Classroom Observation Tool
Know students families and communities Teachers grouping strategies value diversity Teacher adapts lessons for individual students Teachers distribution of attention to students demonstrates respect for students diverse abilities
Value and honor students cultures and backgrounds Environmental print values diversity Instructional materials value and promote diversity Teacher makes physical and psychological environment safe and conducive for learning
Have positive attitudes towards all children Teachers interactions with student demonstrate respect for all individuals regardless of race, ethnicity, ability, language, gender, sexual orientation, age, or religion Teacher demonstrates consistent positive standards for classroom behavior
Challenge students with high expectations for learning Teacher implements differentiated instructional methods Teacher encourages social and intellectual interactions and promotes meaningful relationships across diverse groups
Provide schoolwork that reflects the diverse backgrounds of students Instructional content is relevant to students experiences and learning styles
The classroom observations of the six critical cases took place over the course
of a month. I first contacted each teacher via phone and when possible, by email
(four out of six of the teachers had a functioning email address) to explain that they
were nominated as highly effective teachers and to ask if they were interested in
participating in the study. After finalizing a convenient schedule for each teacher, I
obtained consent forms for each individual involved (Appendix B). I then observed
each teacher three times in one-hour increments for a total of three hours; to cover as
63


much of the school week as possible, I scheduled observations to see teachers on
different days of the week and varied times for each observation.
For example, I observed one teacher on a Tuesday morning and a Thursday
late afternoon one week and a Tuesday mid-morning the following week. I recorded
observations and descriptive notes on the protocol and wrote reflective notes on the
back of the form (Creswell, 1998). During the first round of observations, I sketched
the layout of the classroom and environmental print, including the number of children
and their seating arrangements. I then continued with the classroom observations,
tallying teacher interactions with students and recording the events and impressions
of the classroom activities. I analyzed the classroom observation data prior to
conducting the semi-structured interviews.
Semi-Structured Interviews
The final phase of the data collection process involved semi-structured
interviews with each of the critical cases. In order to delve into and understand the
relationships between highly effective teachers lived experiences (Creswell,
1998, p. 51) and their success with diverse students, I gathered personal information
about individual participants life experiences, as well as participants reflections on
the meanings of these experiences. Life experience work through the telling of
personal narratives allows researchers to locate the teachers own life story
alongside a broader contextual analysis (Goodson, 1992, p. 6).
64


The protocol for the semi-structured interviews (Appendix E) stemmed from
and was organized around the studys focus questions. Prompts within each major
question allowed participants to identify and discuss their lived experiences in the
context of these focus questions (Carter, 1993; Connelly & Clandinin, 1999;
Goodson, 1992). I generated the interview prompts and areas of inquiry from
multiple sources. Various studies identified early teacher role models, prior teaching
experience, family background, personal experiences, and self-reflection about beliefs
and values as sites of narrative investigation (Carter, 1993; Delpit & Dowdy, 2002;
Goodson, 1992; King & Goodwin, 2002; Knowles & Holt-Reynolds, 1991; Powell,
1996; Watkins-Goffman, 2001). Other researchers identified particular teacher traits
that indicate culturally relevant (Kea, Campbell-Whatley, & Richards, 2004;
Richards, Brown, & Forde, 2004) and reflective and effective teachers with students
from diverse backgrounds (Powell, 1992; Sobel & Taylor, 2003; Taylor & Sobel,
2001).
First, I obtained informed consent from each of the six critical cases
(Appendix D); following the completion of the interviews, I gave each participant a
gift certificate. Interview prompts were organized into the following categories: (a)
family, social, and cultural background; (b) experiences with diversity; and (c) beliefs
about the impact of these experiences on work with diverse students; these categories'
correlate to the studys focus questions.
65


Each interview lasted an hour to an hour and a half with brief follow up
questions either via phone or email. To accommodate the busy schedules of teachers
and to interview outside of the school day (which in half the cases, took place on the
weekend), I conducted the interviews by phone. Using a tape recorder specifically
designed for use with the telephone, I recorded the interviews on cassette tapes,
transcribed them onto Microsoft Word, and then loaded the data into NVivo (QSR,
1998-2002).
Data Analysis
The data analysis occurred simultaneously with data collection as a means of
developing a complete picture of the case studies (Merriam, 1988; Stake, 1995; Yin,
1989). For example, I gathered data about teachers during and after the nomination
process; I gathered classroom observation data, and the classroom observation data
informed the interview prompts. Data collection focused on individual experiences;
therefore, I inductively coded and analyzed data through constant comparative
analysis (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Strauss & Corbin, 1990). Following the
nomination process of critical cases, I conducted classroom observations and semi-
structured interviews; these data provided both the within-case results and cross-case
analysis (Creswell, 1998) necessary to understand these critical cases.
The purpose of the classroom observations was to gather data about the
classroom practices and student interactions of these critical cases to further
66


understand highly effective teachers. Using a classroom observation tool, based on
a tool developed by Sobel, Taylor, & Anderson (2003), I collected data about the
classroom environment, interactions with students, and teaching practices. During
and after the classroom observations, I took field notes and recorded impressions and
reflections. Following the classroom observations and data analysis, I conducted
semi-structured interviews. The purpose of the interviews was to understand the
lived experiences of highly effective teachers including biographical information,
beliefs and values, and teaching experiences. I first asked participating teachers about
their own family background and life experiences that brought them to teaching. 1
then asked teachers to articulate their beliefs about diversity and to describe their
interactions with students from diverse backgrounds. Finally, I asked them to talk
about their perceptions of why they were selected as highly effective teachers and
the ways in which their background impacts their success with diverse students. I
tape recorded, transcribed, and entered the interview data into Nvivo (QSR, 1998-
2002).
Within-Case Data Analysis
In order to present the within-case results, I analyzed individual teacher
classroom observation data and semi-structured interview. First, I organized material
into the categories from the observation tool: classroom environment, teaching
practices, and interactions with students. Next, I read through each category of data
67


to identify words and phrases that captured the main themes and characteristics of
that category. For example, in the classroom environment category, I found several
codes in the analysis of each case: environmental print, classroom materials, and
classroom organization. In the teaching practices category, I found information
around attention to multiple intelligences; and in the interactions with students
category, I found examples of classroom and behavioral management and teachers
attitudes towards students.
Similarly, I organized the interview data of individual teachers into categories
developed from the studys focus questions:' family background and success with
diverse students. Again, I read through each category and identified words and
phrases that captured the experiences of that individual. For example, key
components within the family background category included description of
families beliefs, values, and attitudes and key events that shaped teachers sense of
self and their own attitudes and beliefs. Key components within the success with
diverse students category included teachers attitudes and beliefs about their
students, their knowledge of students lives and families, and their self perceptions as
highly effective teachers: From these data, I wrote narratives for the within-in case
results that provided a composite picture about the classrooms and lived experiences
of individual critical cases. These narratives included key pieces and examples that
highlight the codes developed from analysis of individual teachers classrooms and
lived experiences.
68


Cross-Case Data Analysis
For the cross-case analysis, I compiled the data of all six critical cases into the '
three categories of the classroom observation tool: classroom environment, teaching
practices, and interactions with students. Then, I read through each category in order
to identify patterns and themes through categorical aggregation in which I sought
a collection of instances from the data, hoping that issue-relevant meanings will
emerge (Stake, 1995, p. 45).
From the categories of the classroom observation tool and initial readings, I
identified three codes: classroom environment, teaching practices, and student
interactions. Within each code, I identified themeskey words or phrases that
demonstrated examples within each code. I found two themes within the classroom
environment codeenvironmental print and student choice; four themes in the
teaching practices codeteachers acknowledging multiple intelligences, teachers
acknowledging and attending to differentiated instruction, teachers employing various
instructional delivery methods, and teachers incorporating workshop models; and
three themes in the interactions with students codeteachers had positive attitudes
about students, teachers had clear and high expectations for behavior, and teachers
used positive reinforcements to support students behavior. I then coded all of the
data for that categoryby word, phrase, or paragraph. I continued this work until I
reached saturation and all of the data could be placed into these codes.
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Following the classroom observations and data analysis, I conducted semi-
structured interviews. I developed the protocol for the semi-structured interviews
from the studys focus questions and the literature on lived experience. (Carter, 1993;
Connelly & Clandinin, 1999; Goodson, 1992). In order to address the studys
goalsidentifying characteristics of highly effective teachers lived experiences
and uncovering teachers attitudes about the relationship between those experiences
and their success with diverse studentsI developed and analyzed themes across the
cases via categorical aggregation (Strauss & Corbin, 1990).
First, I created a category for each set of interview questions that correlated to
the studys three focus questions: teachers lived experiences, experiences with
diversity, and perceptions of the relationships of these lived experiences and success
with diverse students. Then, I compiled all responses from the six interviews by
moving the textwords, phrases, and paragraphsinto one of the three categories in
order to organize responses from critical cases. Following this process, all of the
interview data was separated into these three broad categories. Then, within each
category, I read through the data to identify codeswords and phrases that stood out
as particular components within each category. My analysis yielded seven codes,
including childhood experiences, family beliefs and values, experiences with
diversity, educator core beliefs, role as an educator, evidence of cultural competence,
and perceptions of self as a highly effective teacher. I coded all of the data for that
category by compiling all of the words, phrases, or paragraphs from the data into one
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of these seven codes. I continued this work until I. reached saturation and all of the
data could be placed into a code.
I continued my analysis to identify themes within the seven codes by reading
through the data within each code. I identified overall themesor repeated ideas
across the cases. For example, one focus question asked about teachers family
backgrounds. Two codes for this category emerged including childhood experiences
and family beliefs and values. Two themes emerged from my analysis of the
childhood experiences code: teachers described families as stable and caring, and
teachers identified their families as middle class. Four themes emerged from the
family beliefs and values code: teachers strong work ethic as a key value;
discipline in teachers homes was based on respect and responsibility; teachers
families valued their children earning a college education; and teachers held positive
views of diverse peoples. I provided details of all seven codes and emerging themes
in Table 6.2 in Chapter Six.
Conclusion
In order to explore the focus questions for this study, I sought to identify
highly effective teachers in high performing classrooms within schools that are low
performing overall. I gathered nominations from within the school and the
community; first, I compared the nomination data from the principal and learning-
support staff with the nomination data from families. I worked with the principals to
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examine this data and identify the critical cases. Yin (2003) defined case studies as
requiring multiple data sources. A limitation of this study, however, was that I
gathered information about critical cases from only two sources. Data collection
involved classroom observations and semi-structured interviews.
In the process of analyzing the discrete details of the data, I took an
interpretive approach to analysis through coding and theme development according to
Miles and Hubermans (1994) data reduction, data display, and conclusion drawing
and verification model. This approach allowed me to engage in concurrent activity
(Miles & Huberman, 1994, p. 10) throughout the study, thus providing a more
complete exploration and understanding of the recursive and varied processes in
which these highly effective teachers developed.
Figure 3.1 demonstrates the process of identifying critical cases for this study.
I present the results of the classroom observation data in Chapter Four and the
interview data in Chapter Five. In Chapter Six, I provide cross-case analyses of the
classroom observation and interview data. As Stake (1995) suggested, I provide
extensive descriptions of each case and detail the results of data collection. Finally,
in Chapter Seven, I present my interpretations, the studys implications, and the
lessons learned (Lincoln & Guba, 1985).
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Figure 3.1: Critical Case Data Collection
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i
CHAPTER 4
WITHIN-CASE RESULTS:
CLASSROOM OBSERVATIONS OF TEACHERS
Urban District sits in the middle of interstate highways and major rail lines,
borders an international airport, and is the heart of industry for the metropolitan area.
At the same time, this urban/industrial city has experienced significant increases in
residential growth and is located next to a major metropolitan city. In the midst of
this hustle and bustle sit Valley Elementary and Mountain Elementary, two of seven
elementary schools in the district and home to nearly 1000 students. More than 80%
of the schools populations qualify for free or reduced lunch; around 75% of the
students are Latino (students whose primary language is Spanish) and 20% are White;
another 5% are identified as African American or Asian American. State report cards
rate both schools as low performing.
But appearances can be deceiving. Underneath the ratings and statistics are
vibrant school communitiesand effective teachers who are committed to the
success of all students. I investigated teachers perceptions of the relationships
between their lived experiences and their success with diverse students. Following
the nomination process, I gathered demographic data about the teaching careers,
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students, and classrooms of the critical cases. Classroom observations followed in
which I spent three hours with each of the six critical cases. In this chapter, I provide
the within-case results (Creswell, 1998; Miles & Huberman, 1994) of the classroom
observations; the teachers are arranged by school and then by the highest number of
nominations.
Information for this chapter came from the classroom observations. The
classroom observation tool allowed me to examine three major aspects of these
teachers classroomstheir classroom environment, including the physical layout and
tone of the classroom; their teaching practices, including their established classroom
processes and activities in which students engaged; and their interactions with
students, including the ways in which they respond to students and promote and
reinforce learning. The within-case results of the classrooms of these six teachers
provide snapshots of these teachers and their practices.
Valley Elementary
Valley Elementary is home to more than 550 students. Eighty one percent of
the schools children qualify for free and reduced lunch. The students at Valley
Elementary are ethnically and linguistically diverse; according to district-provided
data, nearly 75% of these students are Hispanic, another 20% are classified as White,
and 5% are identified as African American and Asian American. First, I requested
nominations of teachers who are highly effective and culturally competent from the
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principal and learning-support staff (five individuals who support teachers and
student learning; one of these members is responsible for supporting English
language learners). Next, I distributed 550 nomination forms to the families at the
school asking them to nominate teachers who they considered to be culturally
competent.
Families returned 130 nomination forms72 were completed in English, and
58 were completed in Spanish. The principal and learning-support staff members
each nominated one teacher whom they believed to be the best teacher in the school;
all members supported the nomination of the three top choices. The nominations from
principals, learning-support staff, and families at the school revealed three strong
teachers: Ms. Ramirez, a full-day bilingual kindergarten teacher; Mr. Miller, a 5th
grade math teacher; and Ms. Casadas, a 1st grade bilingual teacher. All three of these
teachers provided students with stimulating learning experiences without the
disruption of behavioral problems. Each teacher brought his or her own style to the
classroom and demonstrated effective teaching practices and warm and caring
interactions with students.
Ms. Ramirez
Anyone walking into Ms. Ramirezs kindergarten class would immediately
sense a bubbling over of energy and activity. An excited buzz of little voices fill the
room as the children move around in groups from center to center engaging in hands-
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on activities and games. The kindergarten class is smalleight girls and seven boys;
they work together in groups of three or four children. Ms. Ramirez, a para-
professional, and another classroom helper work with each group of students.
Classroom Environment. Ms. Ramirezs classroom is clearly bilingual;
letters, numbers, colors, months of the years, and sight words are written in both
English and Spanish and posted throughout the room. Books in both languages line
the shelves, and a Celebrate Diversity banner graces the top of the main
chalkboard. When I first walked into her classroom, Ms. Ramirez immediately
noticed the comfortable, group-oriented classroom atmosphere.
Tables, rather than individual desks, are placed around the room; two circular,
one rectangular, a triangular art table, and a half moon desk around which the
teachers chair is surrounded by several student chairs. The teachers desk is placed
in a back comer; a large bookshelf divides the room with books and materials filling
each side. Tubs on the walls organize her classroom materials. For individual
reading time, children can relax on the couch or choose one of the many pillows. The
classroom exudes the air of organized chaos; the room is colorful, and the children
constantly move around but in a purposeful manner.
Teaching Practices. Ms. Ramirez uses a variety of kinesthetic, tactile, aural,
and visual materials to teach concepts to her students. For example, at one table
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during literacy time, Ms. Ramirez approaches each student and draws a letter on
their back with her finger. The children have to figure out what letter she is drawing
and then create it. They giggle with delight as they work to make their secret letter
out of clay. Centers* in which small groups of students rotate around three or more
activities, are the main vehicle by which children learn particular subjects in Ms.
Ramirezs classroom.
On one particular day in Ms. Ramirezs classroom, the children are working
on their math in number centers. In one group, she supervises as the children play
bingo. One student reaches into a bag, pulls out a number tile, and calls it out in
Spanish. The other students in the group look over their cards carefully for the
number and then cover it with a bean. In another group, one child at a time stands at
the blackboard on which eight numbers are written. As the para-professional calls out
a number in English, the child at the board finds it and slaps the number with a
flyswatter. In a third group, the children have piles of colored disks; they organize
them by color into a tray and then count each group.
Although her full-day kindergarten includes students who face the greatest
challenges, based on a checklist of various needs and situations that may hinder their
success in school, observers of her classroom would be unable to identify childrens
specific needs on the surface. Ms. Ramirez treats each student respectfully and as
individuals. For example, she makes plans for a centers activity, and the para-
professional asks, Would you like me to take the Tow ones? Ms. Ramirez says
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that she will group the students and asks each student by name to form a group.
While she is purposeful in forming these groups of students, she does not indicate to
students that they are being divided by ability.
In the flyswatter number activity, she writes down eight numbers for one
group of students. When the students rotate to the next center, she erases the numbers
and writes in more difficult ones for the next group. At each center, and with each
group of children, Ms. Ramirez alters the activity slightly to accommodate the
learning process for each group of students without indicating which children are
low or high in a particular subject. She gives directions clearly and repeats them
to ensure that each student hears her and understands the expectations.
After the children go to lunch one day, Ms. Ramirez and I sit down to talk.
Ms. Ramirez indicates that she does have some frustration with a new district-
mandated reading program; she feels that some of these materials are inappropriate
for English Language Learners and for children with learning difficulties. She says
she believes children should learn their native languages in addition to English and
tries to help them develop fluency in both. Furthermore, she works hard to support
the learning needs of children who are advanced and ready for the next challenge and
those children who struggle with learning. For example, in reference to her four
students with identified speech difficulties, she says, The best way is to let them play
and interactand talk! That is what will make them more comfortable and willing to
learn.
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Interactions with Students. Ms. Ramirez is comfortable, relaxed, and patient
with her students. She relies on organized class activities and positive reinforcements
to help students stay on task; occasionally, she redirects a student who needs
reminding of what they are supposed to be doing. Her students move about the
classroom in an organized manner. They are clear about the rules and confidently
move to each center to complete their work.
Behavioral disruptions appear to be minimal. In one particular situation, one
boy bothers two other boys as they work in the centers. Ms. Ramirez tells him, You
are having a difficult time today. Come over here and be with me. The boy stays
with her for a time and continues to work on his activity. He seems happy to stay
with her; Ms. Ramirez cuddles and nurtures the child like a mother until he is ready to
rejoin the group: Ok, can you write it by yourself now? Are you ready to learn the
next one? When he returns to his group, the other children turn their attention to
him. Ms. Ramirez tells the students, Lets not talk to him. He is working. Lets
help him by letting him work alone. All together, we can do it! When there is a
problem such as this one, Ms. Ramirez handles it quickly and with minimal
disruption.
She points out positive role models for what students should be doingLook
at Miguel; he is sitting in crisscross applesauce and is ready to learn. To another
student who is wandering over to another center, she says, You need to finish the
activity before you can come to this station. You need to try so hard; I know you can
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do it! And still to another student who is playing around with his materials, she
points out, If you dont take care of your tray, you will not be able to play at recess.
Do you understand? Come on, are you ready to learn?
She encourages the entire class to stay on task with positive reinforcements.
Frequently, she praises the class with applause and tells them, Great job! Give
yourselves a pat on the back! or everyone is special! and I know you can do it!
Verbal interactions with students may be in English or in Spanish. She moves easily
from one language to the next, and the activities in which students participate are also
bilingual. For example, two centers might be run in English, while the third may be
in Spanish. Rather than mixing the languages too much within an individual center,
the directions and activity are in one consistent language.
Ms. Ramirez treats all of her students with respect. For the center work, she
smoothly alters the materials to accommodate the ability of various groups of
students. She spends time working with and supporting each student. Overall, her
classroom exudes a feeling of a caring community; no shouting, raised voices,
frustration, or threatsinstead, kind words, positive feedback, and a sense of support
in helping children to be their best.
Mr. Miller
When students walk into Mr. Millers 5th grade classroom, they enter into the
orderly world of math. Students are surrounded by numbersplace values, charts,
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measurements, and figuresand a supportive and nurturing environment. In Mr.
Millers class, students have the opportunity to question, explore, and calculate math
in a fun and engaging way.
Classroom Environment. Unlike most classrooms that are situated in a
building, Mr. Millers classroom is in one of the four modular trailers that allow
Valley Elementary to have the room they need to teach all students. After leaving the
confines of the main school building, I walk over to the trailer, up the stairs, and into
Math World.
In addition to the math-related environmental print hanging around the room,
students are greeted with signs of encouragement and reminders about the rules and
class expectations. One sign urges students to Reach for the Stars! and another
says, Welcome to Our School Where no Child is Left Behind with a visual of
childrens hands from multi-ethnic backgrounds. The Pledge of Allegiance is posted
in both English and Spanish next to a class code of conduct and grading scale. In the
back comer of the small classroom sits Mr. Millers desk, covered with papers.
Posted on the wall are the districts calendar, meeting dates, and other notes. Framed
in the center of the wall is Mr. Millers teaching statement:
My mission as a teacher is to be a catalyst in building a
life-long learner. I will maintain high expectations of my
students while instilling a sense of self-worth, respect, and
academic pride. I will provide students with critical
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thinking skills and social skills which will enhance their
lives.
All 5th grade students spend time in Mr. Millers class, and since I observed
during varied times, the students are different each time I visit. Students enter the
classroom and sit at two long tables with both girls and boys mixed together;
typically, Mr. Miller has 20-25 students for each class period. The first thing students
do is to place their caddy under their seats and take out a notebook and pencil. The
caddy is basically their personal desk and contains their notebooks, books, pens,
pencils, and any other needed items. Students settle in and chat quietly until its time
for Mr. Miller to take the helm and begin class.
Teaching Practices. At the start of each class, Mr. Miller provides large group
instruction. He talks about where they left off from the previous class and introduces
the concepts and exercises for the day. He clearly articulates ideas and specific ways
to solve problems; the numbers and concepts are clear. Students indicate that they
understand the task and then work for a time on the assignments. They are allowed to
quietly work together and talk in a comfortable and relaxed manner. Students seem
to be enjoying working on their problems and are visibly excited when they figure out
solutions.
While students work, he walks around and checks in with each student. He
suggests that they talk with your partner to figure out the next one. Frequently, he
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reminds students that if they have a question to raise their hand, and he quickly
responds. No question is silly or unreasonable. For example, one student is reading a
story problem and asks, What is snail mail? Mr. Miller takes the opportunity to
open the question to the class, and they talk about the difference between snail mail
and email. When moving around and helping students, he gives his attention to each
students problem, and rather than just giving them the answer, helps them to think of
ways they can find answers.
Mr. Miller supports a student-centered environment by encouraging them to
find various ways to solve problems. In one instance, he asks the class for examples
of divisibility. One student suggests the Pledge of Allegiance, You know; the part
about one nation, under God, indivisible. He responds saying, Youre right, thats
one answer. Whats another example? He also looks to his students to provide
ideas. After working on an activity one day, student volunteers come up to the board
to write down their solutions. He asks them to explain what they did and why; he
then asks the class at large for other ways. His concern is that students not only come
to a correct solution, but that they understand how and why it works and makes sense.
As a class community, he often polls them and asks for their opinion: Who liked
this way of solving it the best? Which way was easiest? What about the other way?
Mr. Miller is conscientious of the different needs, styles, and abilities of his
students. He provides enough time for students to complete tasks and offers
additional challenges for those who are ready to move on: I know some of you
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know this, and thats great; you can be our experts to help! Students do not sit
dormant in their chairs. Although they remain seated, they work across from each
other and next to each other at a shared table. Sometimes the students work with
hands-on manipulativessuch as tiles, puzzles, or number wheels. He gives clear
and specific directions verbally and then writes relevant information on the board,
repeats it, and then asks for questions or clarifications.
One day, Mr. Miller has two volunteers come up to the board to work out the
problems as hes teaching about them. Kids work on the same problems at their
desks. He tells them, Be doing it on your own paper, too. If youre having trouble,
look up here to see how theyre doing it or work with your partner. One boy starts to
shout out the answer, but Mr. Miller redirects him: GoodIm glad you already
know it, but lets wait for our friends to figure it out. As he walks around, he notices
one student who is close to the solution: Good, Myra, youre using what we learned
last week. At the end of the exercise, Mr. Miller asks, How many of you feel you
can do it? Most of the class raises their hands. He then asks, How many can try to
do it? All the students raise their hands. Ok, lets try some on your own; compare
your answer with the person next to you. If your answers dont agree, see which one
is right. At the end of the exercise, they talk about possible answers and why some
are better than others.
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Interactions with Students. Student behavior in Mr. Millers class is excellent.
Students are alert, on-task, and follow the rules. These students are working the
entire class period and have little time for idle chatter. When Mr. Miller needs to
speak to the entire class, he first asks them to give him their attention. The second
time, he asks them to please quiet down. By the third time, all eyes are on him, and
students are listening. A formal system of behavior management is not apparent.
When students are not on task, he nonchalantly reminds them about what they
should be doing: Are you looking up there? To me, it looks like youre looking off
in space. Watch what I am doing here, and then work to solve the first few problems
in your notebook. If students are talking rather than working, which is minimal in
Mr. Millers class, he just needs to give the eye and the students return to their
work. One way that students stay focused is that they are engaged with the problems
most of the timethey watch what he does on the board, they look to their peers for
support, and they work on the problems in their own math notebook. Sometimes, Mr.
Miller reminds students what he wants to see: I hope you are writing down the
answers in your notebook. I know a few of you arent.
Mr. Miller talks comfortably with his students. During class period changes,
students talk with Mr. Miller about their homework, the days assignments, things
going on their lives, or the local football team. He acknowledges each student by
name and if necessary, gets down on his knees by their chairs to work with them on
their level. Both teacher and student are respectful of each other. Mr. Millers style
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is to encourage critical thinking and successful completion of work through positive
feedback. To one student, he says, I know you can do it, girl; I want you to show
me! As he walks around examining student work, he frequently says, Youre right
on track or Excellent day today, guys! He recognizes that another student is
having trouble with the assignment: Its ok if its hard; it can be, and its ok. Well
get it together.
Overall, Mr. Miller provides a classroom that is caring and has a relaxed
atmosphere. Students genuinely enjoy working on the math problems and are
motivated to do well. He is concerned that students understand what they are
learning and how it connects to larger concepts rather then just getting the right
answers; he teaches them how to articulate and explain their ideas and is gentle with
students, but commands respect.
Ms. Casadas
Unlike all the other teachers for this study, Ms. Casadass classroom is
uniqueshe teaches entirely in Spanish. Students spend part of their day with
another teacher learning in English. I have limited understanding of Spanishyet
anyone visiting Ms. Casadass 1st grade classroom would unmistakably find an
organized and well-run class; the children are happy, engaged, well-behaved, and
appear to be enjoying their teacher and their studies. The body language of both
87