A Librarian Introduces Diversity Training in New Teacher Induction

Introduction

Many school districts have an educator induction plan in place for all new teachers entering their districts. My district in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has a formal plan focusing on eight areas for new teachers, such as data-driven instruction, inclusive practices and educational support services, and student information services. However, addressing the unique needs of students from diverse backgrounds is not part of the current induction program. As part of my graduate studies in leadership and administration and in cooperation with the Fox Chapel Area School District, where I work as high school librarian, I created a new component focusing on the rich cultural backgrounds and diverse student population found in our school district. This component was designed to meet two specific areas of the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching upon which our state's teacher effectiveness model is based: 1) Planning and Preparation–Demonstrating Knowledge of Students and 2) Communicating with Families and Demonstrating Professionalism (Danielson 1996).

Articulating the Program Rationale

When surveying first-year teachers, teachers in their first five years in the district, and veteran teachers, one common theme surfaced. "I think there's a cultural piece that could be addressed through the induction program that would ultimately be really helpful in integrating into the school," said Sarah Stewart, who is in her fourth year of teaching at the high school (personal communication to author, February 12, 2018). Ms. Stewart is referencing the 221 students of 1404 currently enrolled at the high school who are not White or Caucasian. Adding an induction session on the diverse student body in place of an existing journal reflection exercise during induction (unrelated to topics of diversity) would begin to meet the needs of the new teachers entering the district.

Reiter and Davis (2011) found that one of the most common strategies for accommodating the growing diversity in American public schools is implementing a teacher diversity training program. Teachers, both veterans and those at the beginning of their careers, need to remember that they are teaching in intercultural classrooms even if they are not aware of it, want to, or think it's their responsibility or area of discipline (Lee 2017). Adding this component to the induction program will remind and guide teachers to be attentive to the diverse classroom settings in which they teach.

Since 2011, school districts across the country have implemented teacher training programs with the intent of eliminating the issues that arise with cultural biases in teachers (Davis and Reiter 2011). By infusing a multicultural piece into the established educator induction program, our district aims to ensure that all new teachers are aware of the demographics within their new district. Elhoweris, Parameswaran and Alsheikh (2004) remind us to break down the myth of cultures being static and having unchanging core characteristics. By looking at a culture as a fixed institution, new teachers often place values on cultures. When this happens, new teachers are looking for a "one-size fits all" method of teaching for specific groups. By implementing a dynamic component to the induction plan, teachers will be able to learn and grow as the demographics of the district continue to change.

Why should school librarians be involved in new teacher induction? It's not uncommon for librarians to have their fingers on the pulse of the school community. In order to develop a rich collection of materials for the students, librarians need to know who the students are. If a new librarian enters the district, participating in the diversity training program will help build this important background. Giving students the opportunity to learn about cultures other than their own and the chance to see themselves in the pages of books can be life-changing. For librarians who are veteran members of the school community, participation in the planning and delivery of new teacher induction can be a way to offer expertise and a channel for introducing the library to new teachers.

Planning the Instruction

Table 1 outlines the agenda for a one-day diversity awareness component of the formal educator induction plan. The first step in implanting this new component to the program is to enlist veteran teachers—including school librarians— to lead the instruction. Recruiting teachers with a strong background in serving all of our students is a great way to pass along positive classroom strategies and understandings of teaching. Reiter and Davis (2011) state that pre-service educators often do not receive the proper cultural and diversity awareness training they need due to the homogeneity and backgrounds of the teachers conducting the trainings. This is an important factor to keep in mind when enlisting teachers to participate and facilitate the modules for the diversity component.

Table 1: Example Schedule for Diversity Awareness Training

Topic

Time

Participants

Family Engagement / School > Home Communication

8:30 am - 9:30 am

ESL teachers

Break

9:30am - 9:45am

"Privilege Exercise"

Diversity in the Classroom – Role Play and Scenarios

9:45am -10:30am

ESL and social studies teachers

We Need Diverse Books

10:30am - 11:30am

District librarians

Lunch on your own

11:30am -12:45pm

TEDx Talk video and Implicit Association Test. Discussion on results and how participants will apply results in the classroom.

12:45pm -- 1:45pm

High school teachers

Break

1:45pm - 2:00pm

Panel Presentation

2:00pm - 3:30pm

Alumni, current students, and teachers

To begin the day, the district's English as a second language (ESL) teachers facilitate a one-hour segment focused on home and school connections. Often teachers are unaware of the family and home lives of their students, and this session aims to build understanding, meaningful engagement and effective communication. The "Family Engagement" resource from Teaching Tolerance Professional Development resources will be used as a guide, in addition to one-page guide on Talking Points, a communication and translation platform that is free for teachers and parents (http://talkingpts.org/). After a fifteen-minute break, the ESL teachers will engage the participants in a "privilege exercise" adapted from clinical and community psychologist Kumea Shorter-Gooden's work. Teachers will discuss the results of the exercise with a partner.

Before breaking for lunch, the district library team will discuss the We Need Diverse Books movement and how they incorporate window books and mirror books in their collections (https://diversebooks.org/). Starting at a young age, all children should have the opportunity to read books with characters who look and sound like themselves. In addition to these "mirror books," students should also be afforded the opportunity to read books that teach them about people of cultures and backgrounds different from their own.

After an hour-long lunch break, the afternoon session begins with the TEDx Talk "Implicit Bias: How It Affects Us and How We Push Through" by Melanie Funchess (2016) from TEDx Flour City. After discussing the talk, teachers will independently complete the Implicit Association Test (or IAT, https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/) from Harvard University. Once the IAT is completed, the teachers will do a turn and talk with a partner to discuss the results. Both the TEDx Talk and IAT activities are created to allow teachers to take a closer look at their own implicit biases and think of ways they can view and adjust their practice to have less bias.

The afternoon concludes with a panel discussion comprised of current students, alumni, and current district teachers who were born in and have lived in countries other than the United States. These panel members will discuss obstacles they have faced in the classroom and strategies they developed through their experiences. This session will culminate with a question and answer period for the new teachers.

Assessing and Reflecting Upon Our Program

Often college students in teacher education programs take on common myths found in media and popular culture as their own, leaving it up to the college or university to dispel these myths (Parameswaran 2007). One of these myths is that cultures are static. As my district continues to change and grow to be more diverse, it needs to implement an induction program to prepare new educators to be the best teachers they can be for every student who walks into their classrooms.

The Fox Chapel Area School District's formal educator induction program uses reflections as a tool to measure new teachers' growth. Reflections also help assess effectiveness of the induction program components. Both new teachers participating in the induction program and the veteran teachers facilitating the sessions will be surveyed after each session. These surveys will ask questions on how well the time was managed, how valuable the session components are (or are not), as well as the topics' relevance to today's classrooms. The surveys and the reflection journals will be used to refine the educator induction program and make any changes necessary from year to year. Reiter and Davis (2011) found that "diversity training programs have been implemented with the intent of diminishing the problems of cultural biases in teachers, but few programs have been systematically studied to determine whether they are actually accomplishing their goals (41). The Fox Chapel Area School District will be able to assess if their program is working by seeking feedback from the teachers.

In designing this instruction, the main idea was respecting cultures and finding meaningful ways to share about the diverse student body. A 2001 white paper by Bennett and Bennett discusses the strategies and pitfalls in creating a diversity awareness training program. These authors describe what they call the "Capital C" culture approach which builds on the familiar "heroes and holidays" of a culture. This often includes what the authors described as "ethnic" food, artwork, and music, and though they explain that "there is a place for this sort of activity" there are also limitations. These types of events can be seen as inauthentic by the non-dominant populations of the school (Bennett and Bennett 2001, 30). As educators, we need to be aware of these feelings as we strive to develop authentic, effective cultural awareness activities for our faculties.

Works Cited

American Psychological Association, Inclusion of Social Class in Psychology Curricula Resources for Educators https://www.apa.org/pi/ses/resources/publications/social-class-curricula.aspx

Class Privilege Exercise https://www.apa.org/pi/ses/resources/publications/class-privilege-shorter-gooden.pdf

Privilege Exercise https://www.apa.org/pi/ses/resources/publications/privilege-exercise-kahn.pdf

Bennett, Janet M. and Milton J. Bennett. "Developing Intercultural Sensitivity: An Integrative Approach to Global and Domestic Diversity." The Diversity Symposium, 2001. http://www.diversitycollegium.org/pdf2001/2001Bennettspaper.pdf

Danielson, Charlotte. Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1996.

Elhoweris, Hala, Gowri Paramewaran, and Negmeldin Alsheikh. "College Students' Myths about Diversity and What College Faculty Can Do." Multicultural Education 12, no. 2 (2004): 13-18.

Lee, Amy, with Robert K. Poch, Mary Katherine O'Brien, and Catherine Solheim. Teaching Interculturally. Stylus Publishing, 2017.

Parameswaran, Gowri. "Enhancing Diversity Education." Multicultural Education 14, no. 3 (2007): 51.

Reiter, Abigail B. and Shannon N. Davis. "Factors Influencing Pre-Service Teachers' Beliefs about Student Achievement: Evaluation of a Pre-Service Teacher Diversity Awareness Program." Multicultural Education 19, no. 3 (2011): 41-46.

Teaching Tolerance. "Family Engagement." Teaching Tolerance Professional Development. www.tolerance.org/professional-development/family-engagement. Accessed February 20, 2018.

About the Author

Laura C. Ward, MLIS, is a high school librarian at Fox Chapel Area High School, Pittsburgh, PA. Laura holds a bachelor's degree from Robert Morris University and a master's degree in library and information sciences from the University of Pittsburgh. As an active member of the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association, she is serving at the Communications Committee Co-Chairperson for a second year.

MLA Citation Ward, Laura. "A Librarian Introduces Diversity Training in New Teacher Induction." School Library Connection, February 2019, schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2181816.

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