Participants: Dree-el, Yaneth, Nathalie, Offer
In order to inform culturally responsive and sustaining practices in the classroom, educators benefit from understanding the myriad ways in which their students experience the world. In this manner, they can better serve their students and ensure an equitable, responsive education for all. To understand culture and its intersection with learning we felt that it was important to start by connecting with our own culture. Because looking at the self can bring up vulnerabilities, it is important to create a safe and inviting space; this can be achieved via mindfulness.
This class presentation was broken into three parts: mindfulness practice, a memory based share-out on a cultural artifact (in this case, food and its relation to one’s identity), and finally with three self-reflections/writing prompts that connect that culture to values and practices, or conflict, incoherence and personal experience.
The first presenter began with an invitation to connect with our inner child and to allow for our silly,curious, or playful self to immerge. This breathing exercise connects the mind and body and allows us to connect with the here and now and to begin to let go of concerns and agendas.
The following instructions were given:
Close your eyes and place your hands on your abdomen. As you inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth, feel the breath inflating and deflating your lungs and your stomach rising and falling… similar to a balloon that you are blowing up and then emptying. As you inhale, imagine inhaling love, feel it fill your lungs and expand throughout your body, and as you exhale release stress with your breath. Inhale peace, release worry, now inhale and exhale whatever emotion you choose.
As the class was breathing, the presenter counted down each step, cycling through several rounds of focused breathing to calm the mind. After allowing the breath to return to its own rhythm, the class was directed to release remaining tension by participating in muscle relaxation which is done by tightening and releasing muscles from our face to our toes. To help attain this, the guidance was to imagine the body as spaghetti that softens from raw to cooked, rigid to supple. Next, a body scan meditation guided the class to visualize and connect with the body.
The last part of the mindfulness exercise invited us to imagine ourselves as a tree either from our childhood, or a tree that we see often or that we one day want to visit. See your core as your trunk, growing up from the ground, supporting your whole being. Your legs become the roots anchoring the trunk, grounding it, nourishing it from the soil. In your mind, see your arms as branches, reaching into the sky, extending you the tree up and out. See all the features of your tree, how it reaches up or out, the smaller branches, and bends, the colors and smells, the animals it houses, the breeze that it feels. Bring your attention from your roots feeling the energy moving up to your trunk, your branches, your leaves take a big deep breath and when you are ready slowly open our eyes.
The first session ended with a share out. One classmate searched for a tree and recalled a childhood tree, one they climbed when young, memorial because they didn’t consider themselves a climber. Another classmate saw the sheltering trees on the edges of a clearing, tall redwoods they recalled from a camping trip. Strong and protective. A third classmate shared the image a pine in snow and tall and striking against the cold white. Each tree was personal while being iconic, its attributes resonating through the visualization: nurturing, sheltering, persevering.
The second part of the presentation was an extension of an earlier group activity. Before the class, classmates were asked to contribute a recipe (from ingredients to preparation) and a food related memory. This cultural artifact was aggregated in a shared Google doc. Several themes emerged from this collection, as the second presenter, shared. Grandmothers were most prominent; either as the teachers, as a keeper of familial histories (the roots in the family tree), and as living connecters to origins/lands/cultures.
Another interesting subtheme was the art of cooking versus the science. Measurements were personal, eyeballed and adjusted. Ingredients reflected what was available, sacred, medicinal, cultural. Some classmates connected cooking with adventure and education, sourcing ingredients from different enclaves in the city, from Coney Island to the Bronx. Prompting exploration in markets, or even in new restaurants. Several class members confessed to not cooking either because of economic privilege or inexperience.
The third and final session returned to the self-reflective stance, tying these experiences and identities to values and practices in the classroom. The class was instructed to respond to three prompts: Think about the culture you grew up in – the entire messy stew of it – how did teaching things work in this culture? How did you learn things? How did school fit into teaching and learning?
What parts of this culture do you want to maintain? What parts of this culture do you think should be laid to rest?
Describe the culture you want to dominate in your classroom? What are its values? What are its practices?
In conclusion, students are more likely to engage in an educational environment where they are felt, understood, and heard -- where learning is applicable to their daily lives, successes, and struggles. It is essential for educators and stakeholders to understand the cultural and social implications, such that they understand the whole life needs of their students, and work to create learning environments where all students feel understood and valued—where all students want to engage in learning.
All reading is only suggested:
- Calderón, Olga (2017) Chapter Four, “Awakening Mindfulness in Science Education” in Weaving complementary knowledge systems and mindfulness to educate a literate citizenry for sustainable and healthy lives. (Powietrzynska, M. & Tobin, K. (eds.))
- Furman, Nate and Sibhtorp, Jim, (2013) Chapter Two, “Leveraging Experiential Learning Techniques for Transfer” in New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, no. 137, Spring 2013
- Ginsberg, Margery & Wlodkowski, Raymond, (2019) “Intrinsic Motivation as the Foundation for Culturally Responsive Social-Emotional and Academic Learning in Teacher Education” Teacher Education Quarterly, p53-66
- “Black Parents Take Control, Teachers Strike Back” (Feb. 5, 2020 - Code Switch Podcast)
- Feyerabend, Paul, (1993) “Introduction to the Chinese Edition” in Against Method (3rd Edition, Verso Books, originally published in 1975) p1-4
- “How Inuit Parents Teach Kids to Control Their Anger” (NPR article - Michaeleen Doucleff & Jane Greenhalgh)