Teachers are perhaps most apt to see changing demographics in Pennsylvania communities through the different faces and languages in their classrooms. Joseph Roy, assistant superintendent for the Springfield Township School District in Montgomery County, finds that now it's more important than ever for teachers to work on understanding the different cultural backgrounds of their students. "Our district has been very proactive to insure that we embrace diversity and focus on equity," said Roy.
In a new partnership, the district has been working with Carla Chamberlin-Quinlisk, associate professor of communication arts and sciences at Penn State Abington and coordinator of the campus' Center for Intercultural Leadership and Communication (CILC), on a new professional development workshop for the district's teachers that aims to break cultural barriers.
The Teachers as Intercultural Leaders program, offered through Continuing Education, looks at cultural identity and how stereotypes and prejudices are formed and maintained -- focusing on how individuals see the world and why they see it that way, said Quinlisk. With three full days of training in the fall, followed by five two-hour sessions over the winter and spring, "the participants learn over time," explained Quinlisk. "The program is focused on building effective relationships. You don't just unlearn your prejudices and stereotypes in one afternoon; this really is a developmental process."
The workshops take participants through an interactive and reflective process of learning about communication, language and culture in school settings, allowing teachers to share their experiences.
One exercise required participants to meet with their students' parents to learn about their cultural backgrounds. "Our teachers need to understand not only that where they come from impacts how they see others -- but that they also need to communicate to make sure they understand where students and parents are coming from," said Roy, adding that he hopes to extend the program to more teachers in the future.