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Learning About a Child's Family Culture

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While most teachers agree that children's cultural differences should be respected or even celebrated, it's not always clear what steps teachers should take to ensure that all children and families feel welcome and understood in the classroom and school or center. In this video, Dr. Tanya Moorehead explains that one important way teaching professionals can demonstrate their commitment to supporting children from all backgrounds is to take the time to get to know something about the unique family culture of each child in their classroom. Sometimes, learning more about a child's family culture can help teachers think differently about their expectations for children's behavior.
  • Learning About a Child’s Family Culture

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    Download a printable version of this transcript in English or Spanish.

    Dr. Tanya Moorehead, Professor of Special Education, Eastern Connecticut State University: I would encourage educators to not only ask parents about their children or their own personal family culture, but be willing and open to hear from them. Develop an environment, foster an environment where parents feel comfortable enough to share with you, because our children come from backgrounds that may or may not look like your own.

    Let’s say the children in your classroom are from a different side of town from where you are, but you haven’t exposed yourself to that environment or that culture. I encourage teachers to go to the restaurants in that neighborhood, to go to the movie theatre or whatever it is in that area so that they can immerse themselves in someone else’s culture. And not always expecting the parents or the students to be immersed into our own culture, but just take the time to look to see what are the differences, what are the special things that make that child who he or she is.

    I had a young child in my classroom, and she never made eye contact with me. And as a young teacher, I thought, “Wow, she’s not being very respectful. Look at me!” But I took a step back, and I looked at who she was, where did she come from, and what were the cultural practices within her family. And then I invited her mother in. It was at that point that I realized that she didn’t give her mother eye contact, and that was a cultural piece, because it was a sign of respect that she didn’t look her mother eye-to-eye. And here I am as the teacher, forcing her, “Look me in my eyes when you talk to me.”

    So we need to find that balance between what are the expectations in the household, and what are the greater expectations within our school and in our society, and not try to change our students to have them belittle their own culture, but value both of them at the same time.

  • Producer: Julia DeLapp
    Editor: Sean Leser
    Videography: Ken Measimer and Sean Leser

    The Center wishes to thank the following Connecticut centers and families who made this video possible:

    • Child and Family Development Resource Center, Willimantic
    • Darcey School, Cheshire
    • EASTCONN Killingly Head Start, Killingly
    • Windham Early Childhood Center, Willimantic
    • Windham Early Head Start, Windham
    • Women's League Child Development Center, Hartford