School Culture and Diversity

Reflective Professionals (Agents of Change) are able to create a school culture that acknowledges the diverse needs of students; To this end, the teacher must have a meaningful understanding of how cultural differences are related to school achievement; as well as an appreciation of the need to promote an inclusive and equitable school environment for all students.

Knowledge Base

Education and diversity are intricately related. Historically, public schools have assumed the responsibility of educating an increasingly diverse population of students. In 2010, 82% of the U.S. population lived in urban centers (Central Intelligence Agency, 2012).  In 2002, there were over 37 million Latinos/Hispanics living in the United States (67% Mexican origin, 14% Central and South American, 9 % Puerto Rican, 4% Cuban).  "Nearly half of all youth (in 2012) are something other than non-Hispanic white," says Nicholas Jones of the Census Bureau's racial statistics branch. The populations of black and white children are declining. "It's clear that the growth of our nation's children will continue to be dependent on new minorities," says demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution. Minorities now make up more than 36% of the population, up from 31% in 2000. (Al Nasser, H., Census: Hispanic, Asian Populations Soar, USA Today, 3/25/2011)

How can teacher educators respond to our increasingly diverse population of students and prepare candidates to effectively instruct students from vast panoplies of racial, cultural, linguistic, sexual, ability, and economic backgrounds in a culturally responsive way that respects and honors their divergent perspectives (Price-Dennis & Souto-Manning, 2011)?

The IUN SOE vision of diversity, represented by an adaptation of the Circle of Courage from the Sioux Nation, is a medicine wheel, a sacred circle, divided into 4 quadrants. The sacred circle suggests the interconnectedness of life and represents the sacredness of the number four - the four directions, the four elements of the universe, and the four races. According to this model, all four parts of an individual's "circle" must be intact for that person to have a self-secure, pro-social approach to life. Relative weakness in any of the four areas of development results in adjustment difficulties.

Our Circle of Courage at the School of Education transposes the original four quadrants into four constructs: belonging; equity/social justice; cultural awareness/self-identity; and family/community. Belonging, within the original Circle of Courage, is maintained due to its importance in education.


Within the equity/social justice construct candidates are prepared to assume an active role in shaping the social, cultural, and political future of their communities and beyond. Teachers must know how and be able to provide students with equitable access to knowledge and an understanding of the realities of their lives. Teacher educators, therefore, help candidates to acknowledge and support the personal and individual dimensions of experiences while making connections to and illuminating the systemic dimensions of social group interaction. Teacher educators also help candidates to develop effective strategies for managing classroom situations of discrimination or cultural conflict by differentiating classroom management based on the needs of the student and ultimately leading to successful classroom community memberships.

Cultural awareness is the ability and willingness to objectively examine the values, beliefs, traditions and perceptions within our own and other cultures. At the most basic level, it is the ability to walk in someone else's shoes in terms of his or her cultural origins. In a Teacher Education Program Cultural Awareness and Self-Identity are important in that they allow the preservice teacher to reflect on, evaluate and acknowledge their own cultural identity and how that identity shapes their perceptions of and relationships to the students they serve. In addition,

As such, the unit believes that it is important for our candidates to assess how their personal background and experiences creates biases and assumptions that impact how they interact with students in creating a learning environment. Students must reflects on, evaluate and acknowledge their own cultural identity, knowledge and the experiences he or she brings to the learning environment and how their knowledge and experiences may differ from those of their students.

The final quadrant, family and community, represents an expansive literature base representative of the social sciences, education, and medicine. In order to effectively instruct all learners, teachers must understand the various ways people envision family structures, and how diverse family and community values and practices can affect educational motivation and achievement. To better teach an individual, the individual needs to understand the family context and the family within the context of the micro and macro cultures (Szapocznik & Krutines, 1993).

Poverty impacts many children and their families living in urban areas. Studies have documented the association between family poverty and children's health, achievement, and behavior. Studies have clarified how family income has substantial effects on child and adolescent well-being (Brooks-Gunn, & Duncan, 1997). Specifically, children who live in extreme poverty or who live below the poverty line for multiple years suffer the worst outcomes. Additionally, children who lived in poverty during their preschool and early school years had lower rates of school completion than children and adolescents who experienced poverty only in later years.

For teachers to effectively teach an increasingly diverse student population, they need to develop specific knowledge, skills, and dispositions related to diversity. Teachers can increase their understanding of their students’ cultures by listening to families with respect and without judgment (Pang, 2011). 

This theme is closely aligned with INTASC Principle 3: Learning Environments.
It ensures teachers to work with others to create supporting environments, to encourage positive social interaction, and to engage in learning and self-motivation.