Academic journal article Journal of New Approaches in Educational Research

Teachers' Beliefs about Diversity: An Analysis from a Personal and Professional Perspective

Academic journal article Journal of New Approaches in Educational Research

Teachers' Beliefs about Diversity: An Analysis from a Personal and Professional Perspective

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The purpose of this study was to examine the beliefs that teachers have about diversity and their level of sensitivity towards some topics related to it. Moreover, beliefs were compared according to teachers' personal and professional views and teaching experience. The Personal and Professional Beliefs about Diversity Scales (Pohan and Aguilar, 1999) were administered to a sample of 233 teachers. Results showed highly positive beliefs towards diversity in all its dimensions (cultural, linguistic and social diversity, ability, gender, sexual orientation and religion), especially regarding its personal implications compared to the professional ones. Likewise, it was observed a significant relationship between years of teaching experience and professional beliefs about diversity, so teachers with no school experience showed a higher tolerance than those with teaching experience, mainly in aspects related to cultural, linguistic and social differences, ability and gender. The implications that these results have for educational practice and the need for the development of multicultural education courses that favour an effective teaching are discussed.

KEYWORDS: DIVERSITY, TEACHER BELIEFS, MULTICULTURAL EDUCATION

1 INTRODUCTION

In the 21st century, diversity has clearly become recognised as an inherent treat of our socio-cultural and educational environment. Borders dissolve and cultural, social and linguistic differences, among other differences, become obvious in our daily life. Schools do not stay out of this phenomenon to the point that the educational system had to adapt itself to these new values and demands. Diversity is a concept that was not always understood as valuable (Cardona, Jiménez, & Chiner, 2007). However, nowadays it is one of the mainstays of contemporary societies and current educational system. In general terms, we can define diversity as individual differences produced in and between different groups because of race, ethnicity, religion, language, gender and social class (Banks & Banks, 2007). In this regard, and according to Fernández Batanero (2003), attention to diversity in schools will try to avoid that differences become inequalities, adapting themselves to students' characteristics and building a curriculum addressed to everybody.

In this new context, teachers must be prepared to teach all the students they have in their classrooms in an effective way. With this purpose, they must acquire not only the necessary knowledge and skills to teach students from different cultural, linguistic, religious and gender backgrounds, but a belief system that values difference and supports all learners (Pohan, Ward, Kouzekanani, & Boatright, 2009). Beliefs are representative bits of information that a person has about an object, person or group of individuals based on certain facts or personal opinions (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980). Dealing with diversity is a challenge for teachers whose beliefs, attitudes and perceptions will determine their educational response. In this regard, Bandura (1982) states that beliefs guide both knowledge and action and therefore they act like filters affecting instructional practices and interactions. Beliefs, attitudes and expectations lead and guide teachers' responses towards diverse learners (Giambo & Szecsi, 2007; Nespor, 1987; Pajares, 1992). Thus, Brookhart and Freeman (1992) talk about the domino effect to refer to the impact that teachers' beliefs have on student's learning. According to these authors, beliefs lead to certain ideas and decisions that impact on teachers' actions which, at the same time, influence students' achievement. Understanding this process can help teachers to improve their knowledge about students' diversity and their educational practices (Brookhart & Freeman, 1992).

Richardson (1996) suggests that teachers' belief system is well established by the time they enter college. Their cultural and social background, previous experiences and personal features impact on their actions, even when they are no aware of it. …

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