Continuing our look at education and the importance of diversity and the arts, we spoke with Bob Guffin who was responsible for taking H.L. Harshman Magnet Middle School from a failing school to a model program for student achievement. He shares with us the key tenants to culturally inclusive learning environments and why they matter.
Throughout 20 years of teaching and deeply impacting the lives of countless teens as an assistant principal and principal in the Indianapolis Public Schools, Bob Guffin knows a thing or two about the influence culture and a sense of place have on students’ abilities to succeed. Among his career achievements, Guffin was responsible for the transformative reversal of H.L. Harshman Magnet Middle School from a failing school to a model program for student achievement. During his time as Harshman Principal, over ninety percent of his students were living in low-income households, and eighty-two percent were minority students who frequently suffered from cultural underrepresentation. Guffin understands the achievement gap that exists for minority students and has a true gift for creating a school community where all students have the chance to achieve academically while exploring diverse creative pursuits. Here, he shares with us the key tenants to culturally inclusive learning environments and why this matters.
Respect Student Individuality. An environment that honors individuals sends an underlying message that where you come from, what you bring with you, and those who nurture you are important. A consistent message that you are valued, special, and respected must exist.
Honor Parents. Respect and appreciate the voices of those who bring the students to the school community. Teachers and school leaders need to share a common goal with parents and guardians and commit together to advance each student’s learning and development. Secondly, set the expectations of students that they also honor the voices of their parents and respect their family’s hopes and dreams for them.
Diversify Curriculum. Supplement the traditional curriculum with reading materials and assignments that reflect the cultural makeup of students.
Diversify Staff. A culturally diverse staff reflective of the diversity within the student body enhances the school community and class conversations with a multitude of viewpoints and cultural perspectives.
Create Multicultural Recognition. Celebrate important cultural events with the students and ensure community-wide awareness of significant historical and contemporary events. Small recognitions to school-wide celebrations help build multicultural recognition, but respect for a multitude of cultures needs to extend beyond “what we do” and be “who we are.”
Infuse School Culture with Diverse Expressions through the Arts.
Music and the arts support the creative expression of individuals, sustain varied cultural heritage, and provide fun and dynamic ways to engage students and further promote cultural diversity. As Guffin says, “Great arts teachers promote a disciplined effort from their students and provide positive frameworks for each to create their successful enterprise.” The teamwork and collaborative efforts required for musical performance and art exhibits allow students the chance to be part of something greater than themselves. Opportunities to attend professional musical performances in the community result in an awareness of the effort required for quality work and exposure to new, great styles of music. Students’ cultural heritages are enriched through involvement in the arts. As appreciation of the arts grows, so do the individuals’ understandings of their own cultural backgrounds and the vital role this plays in a healthy, diverse community.