Six Elements of Diversity: Teacher Candidate Perceptions after Engaging Native American Students

Article excerpt

Introduction

As teachers across the country take roll this school year, they are likely to find more diversity in their classrooms than ever before. U.S. Census Bureau (2010) data reveal the changing demographics of schools and the predicted increases of minority school-age populations. This demographic trend requires teachers to understand and communicate effectively with students from a variety of backgrounds. However, according to Howard (2007), most teachers are white, female, and middle class, and they may not be comfortable working with students from diverse cultures and ethnic groups.

This difference in ethnicity and culture can translate into different classroom expectations, values, and priorities between teachers and students and can create barriers to student success (Banks, 2006; Dudley-Marling, 2007). For example, a teacher might emphasize competitive learning practices as a way to promote engagement from students. Students with cultural backgrounds that value collaborative rather than competitive approaches, such as Native American students, might find this classroom strategy marginalizing (Lomawaima, & McCarty 2006). At the school level, policies for excused/unexcused absences might not take into account family priorities or employment needs of some cultures (Horowitz, Darling-Hammond, & Bransford, 2005). Such practices and policies that create barriers to student success could be labeled "unintentionally disinviting" in terms of invitational theory and practice (ITP) (Purkey & Schmidt, 1996).

To eliminate or reduce these barriers and sensitize school personnel to cultural differences, teacher preparation programs and accrediting bodies emphasize the critical importance of understanding and meeting the needs of all students. As an example of expectations from The National Council on the Accreditation of Teacher Education, NCATE Standard 4 focuses on diversity, stating, "The unit designs, implements, and evaluates curriculum and experiences for candidates to acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to help all students learn " (NCATE, 2008, p. 34). This requirement applies to teachers of all racial and cultural backgrounds as they strive to educate all students (Howard, 2007).

Giving teacher candidates experiences working with diverse students fosters the development of these competencies (Cushner & Mahon, 2002; Banks, Cochran-Smith, Moll, Richert, Zeichner, LePage, Darling-Hammond, & Duffy, 2005).

Just as teacher education programs need to assess candidates for multicultural competencies, programs also assess candidates' experiences to work in multicultural settings and the effectiveness of those experiences in helping candidates engage with diverse students.

One such assessment tool is the Six E's, or "elements of diversity" (Schmidt, 2007, p. 17), as described in a call for research that applies ITP to diverse settings. The Six E's are empowerment, encouragement, enlistment, enjoyment, equity, and expectation. Schmidt's schema was designed as a lens through which practitioners might look more carefully at places, people, policies, processes, and programs in terms of diverse cultures (2007).

This study used the Six E's as a tool to assess the perceptions of teacher candidates regarding their interactions with Native American high school students.

University/Indian School Collaboration

Native Americans constitute the largest minority population in the state where this university is located; therefore, it is especially important for our university graduates from all majors to work effectively with this group. Recognizing needs for mutual support and cross-cultural interactions, the university and school administrators entered into a memorandum of agreement to create the Success Academy. Now entering its 12th year of operation, the Academy operates as a cross-cultural program that builds a sense of community between diverse populations by honoring their differences and encourages the university at large to adopt a respectful perspective of Native American cultures (Lee, 2007). …