What Can Teachers do to Promote Cultural and Social Responsiveness?

By Lisset Pickens, EdD

steel pots on a boiler

I remember hearing an explanation at church one Sunday of what it means to be empowered and to succeed with perseverance. It’s the story of a young woman who went to her mother to complain about her tough life. She struggled with overcoming her problems.

On the advice of her mother, she went to the kitchen where her mother grabbed three pots, filling them with water. The wise mother placed three pots on the fire and waited until they came to a boil. Then, she placed some carrots in the first pot, eggs in the second pot and ground coffee beans in the third pot, allowing them to continue to boil.

Twenty minutes or so later, the mother removed the items from the pots, placing them on separate plates. Then she turned to her daughter and asked her what she saw. The young woman replied, “Carrots, eggs and coffee.”

The mom asked the daughter to feel the carrots and eggs and to taste the coffee. The young lady saw that the carrots were sweet but very, very soft. The eggs were strong, but so hard to digest. The coffee was flavorful and tasty.

The mother then approached her daughter and told her that the carrots, eggs and coffee grounds had faced the same adversity, but each of them had a different reaction: the carrots, initially hard, became soft and fragile. The eggs, initially soft, became hard and strong, but difficult to digest. The coffee grounds didn’t change their consistency, but changed the taste and color of the boiling water.

You see, some of us choose to react like the carrots and become weak, fragile and easily hurt each other. Others find the strength to get back up and carry on, but they turn into tough and hardly approachable individuals. And others, they’re like coffee – they face the same adversity and can’t change it, but instead of allowing the circumstances to make them weaker or unapproachable, they influence the outcome.

Regardless of our path, one thing remains the same and that is our students see our actions and reactions. Our students see the times that we are weak, the times that we are unapproachable and even the times when we have gained strength and are able to come out on top!

How do we instill in our students the ability to face adversity and come out even stronger than before, to be change agents and impact those around them? How can we expect students to treat others with respect when we display bouts of uncontrollable anger and disgust? How will our students treat the student sitting next to them who may have torn or tattered clothes, when they’ve overheard us speaking about the child’s family in a negative light to another teacher?

Are we grooming and educating our students to be unapproachable and hard-shelled just like the boiled egg in the story, or are we making them to be change agents who will sit next to the student with the torn and tattered clothes and offer to share a book or sit together at lunch, just as the coffee beans changed the outcome?

We often hold parents accountable, but we as educators hold a significant amount of accountability as well in the social responsiveness of our students. They look to us for guidance, and we, in turn, instill specific skills and qualities in them that have a profound impact on the world around us.

Individuals that we see on the news today, whether they are accepting a Nobel Peace Prize or at the center of an investigation, more than likely sat in the classroom of a teacher and took in all that was imparted upon them. The impact may be minimal, but then again it could very well be of maximum impact! Do you really want to take the chance?

Many students today are blessed to read Maya Angelou’s works in class, but without the help of a teacher, those works might not ever have existed. It is noted that Maya Angelou’s neighbor-turned-teacher, is credited as the one who encouraged her to read, taking her to the library and telling her to read every book that she could get her hands on. With thanks to Mrs. Flowers, we are able to enjoy the works of Maya Angelou today.

So, when we speak of solutions to the world’s problems and the inability for us even in this far advanced society to embrace diversity, just know that you have more of an impact than you think. You have the power to unlock change, and the opportunity greets you each and every day in your classroom!

Quite simply, we cannot envision the implementation of a collaborative model between home and school if we have not embraced the concept of social and cultural responsiveness both in theory and practice.

Three components that impact our ability to instill and promote cultural and social responsiveness are:

  1. Facing our own bias (adversity)
  2. Emotional responsiveness (our true self: carrot, egg or coffee beans)
  3. Changing the climate (reaction)

In facing our own biases we encounter the antithesis of ourselves. What we see or come to find may not be pretty, but it is a much needed reflexive practice. Next, examine and reflect on how we are going into our roles: What impact do we hope to make? Finally, once all is said and done, how will we emerge from this transformation? Will we be the once bold and confident carrot, only to now be weak and soft in advocacy and passion? Or, will we be that one person who goes in very quiet, only to turn into someone who is mean and unapproachable?

Or, can we conclude our transformation as one who impacts those around us and one who instills the fight for what is right in our students?

Regardless of the answer, our students see the outcomes!

You hold the key to changing society and impacting the future by being the best you that you can be both in front of the classroom and behind your front door. A change in social responsiveness is ignited by the lessons that you impart on your students and by the character in you that they see exemplified before them.

The next time someone speaks of issues as it relates to tolerance, racism, social injustice or diversity, recite these words:

“The needed change begins with me!”

Grand Canyon University helps students become servant leaders by providing an education from the context of our Christian heritage. To learn more about an education at GCU, request more information from an enrollment counselor today!

More about Lisset:

Lisset Pickens, EdD, holds experience in online learning and has taught at the university level since 2006. She has taught elementary students and adult learners. Her academic background is in early childhood education, educational leadership, psychology and child and family development. She is also a licensed professional counselor, nationally certified counselor and nationally certified school counselor. She holds certifications in teaching pre-K through 12th grades, school counseling in K-12 and educational leadership in K-12.

Dr. Pickens enjoys teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. She has provided instruction in both course-based delivery and competency-based delivery systems. She has taught a wide variety of courses in child and family development, educational leadership, early childhood education and psychology across universities internationally. In 2013, Dr. Pickens published a book entitled “A Guide to Implementing a Successful Mentoring Program in a K-12 Setting,” which was then adopted as a standard of practice amongst school counselors in her local school district. Dr. Pickens also started a nonprofit organization called IGNITE (Instilling Goals Needed In Transforming Education) which is tasked with igniting a global movement to make changes in the public being able to access effective and affordable education and mental health.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.

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