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Mindful Reflection as a Process for Developing Culturally Responsive Practices

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Abstract

In this article the authors discuss the use of mindful reflection and communication as a method for developing culturally responsive practices in teachers who may not be familiar with the cultural backgrounds of some students. The topic is discussed in light of a movement within education and teacher education to reduce unnecessary special education referrals and the overrepresentation of minority students in special education programs. The authors discuss the meaning of diversity to teachers, bias in classroom interactions, and communication in the classroom. Other topics include the deficit thinking model and teacher assumptions about students regarding success or failure.
Becoming a culturally responsive edu-
cator has been at the forefront of the
movement to reduce inappropriate
referrals to special education and dis-
proportionate representation of stu-
dents of color within special education
(Fiedler, Chiang, Van Haren, Jorgensen,
Halberg, & Boreson, 2008; National
Center for Culturally Responsive Edu-
cational Systems, 2005). However, for
many educators, working with a
diverse student population can be more
difficult when the student comes from
a background that is unfamiliar to the
teacher (Harry & Klingner, 2006). As
teacher educators who prepare educa-
tors for inclusionary settings in diverse
urban areas, we have noticed that
issues often arise when a teacher or
teacher candidate attempts to make
meaning of behavior in the classroom,
particularly a behavior that concerns
student engagement, classroom man-
agement, or discipline of students with
whom the teacher has a cultural dis-
connect. Teachers are not often aware
of how diversity affects the way that
they interpret students’ actions and the
ways that they interact with their stu-
dents. Teachers may misinterpret a cul-
tural difference as a potential disability.
How does diversity influence
teachers’ perceptions of behavior?
Is there a way to use a process of
mindful reflection and communica-
tion (Langer, 1989; Langer & Moldo-
veanu, 2000a) to help support the
development of culturally respon-
sive practices?
What Does Diversity Mean
to Teachers?
Cultural diversity is a dynamic
and relational reality that exists
between persons rather than
within any single person. For this
reason, its challenge lies not so
much in different behaviors as in
the diverse meanings attributed
to those behaviors. (Barrera &
Corso, 2003, p. 3)
We agree with Barrera and Corso
(2003) that diversity is never problem-
atic in and of itself but “it is the
response of individuals and institutions
to diversity that can be problematic”
(p. 8). A teacher can understand or
misunderstand his or her diverse social
world in many ways. These under-
standings and misunderstandings are
attributable to differences in gender,
race, class, geographic location, lan-
guage, religion, family structures, abili-
ties, and family and personal history.
These myriad differences make diversi-
ty a way of life rather than a problem
to be solved or fixed by casting the
other as deficient. Instead, a teacher
should view diversity as an opportuni-
ty to expand his or her understanding
of himself or herself and the world.
Before a teacher can accept and
embrace diversity in the classroom, he
or she must reflect on the challenges
that can interfere with acceptance. For
example, educators overidentify stu-
dents of color, particularly African
Americans, in the category of emo-
tional and behavioral disorder (EBD),
although these students are underrep-
resented in the category of learning
disabilities (LD; Harry & Klingner,
2006; Neal, McCray, & Webb-Johnson,
2003). Students of color also continue
to experience higher rates of discipline
referrals, as well as lower academic
achievement (Drakeford, 2006; King,
TEACHING Exceptional Children, Vol. 44, No. 1, pp. 28-36. Copyright 2011 CEC.
Mindful Reflection
as a Process for
Developing Culturally
Responsive Practices
Barbara J. Dray and Debora Basler Wisneski
28 COUNCIL FOR EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN
Behavior Interventions
Harris-Murri, & Artiles, 2006). Some
have argued that these outcomes occur
partially because of the potential cul-
tural, racial, and economic mismatch
with the primarily White middle-class
teaching force (Cartledge, Singh, &
Gibson, 2008; Garcia & Ortiz, 2006).
This argument suggests that without
direct attention to cultural and individ-
ual differences in the classroom, some
students, including those labeled LD or
EBD, have limited opportunities to suc-
ceed. One recommendation that is cen-
tral to the process discussed in this
article is to assist teachers in develop-
ing reflective practices to gain a deeper
understanding of institutions, personal
assumptions, and common communi-
cation patterns that create tensions and
misunderstandings between teachers
and their students (e.g., Barrera &
Corso, 2003; Garcia & Guerra, 2004;
Kalyanpur & Harry, 1999).
Teacher Reflections:
Confronting Bias in
Classroom Interactions
In special education, scholars and edu-
cators have recognized the need for
teachers to be sensitive to diversity in
the classroom; this sensitivity requires
that teachers look inward and reflect
on their personal assumptions and
biases (e.g., Fiedler et al., 2008; King et
al., 2006; Wisneski & Dray, 2009).
Kendall (1996) calls for teachers to
take the “emotional risk” to examine
their deeply held beliefs that can affect
how they treat students. She suggests
that this inward reflection requires
being willing to listen and change to
respond to the student who may be
different in some way. Jacobson (2003)
asks teachers to confront their discom-
fort through self-reflection and become
aware of the prejudices and biases that
everyone may have. Ramsey (2004)
states, “we need to know ourselves—to
honestly see our reactions to other
individuals and the larger world and to
analyze our underlying assumptions”
(p. 20). In each case, there is the
TEACHING EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN SEPT/OCT 2011 29
Teachers are not often aware of how diversity affects the
way that they interpret students’ actions and the ways
that they interact with their students on a daily basis.
understanding that assumptions about
various types of diversity in society are
heavily value-laden and potentially
harmful to students.
One example of negative attitudes
toward some students and families is
the deficit thinking model (Valencia,
1997; see box, “What Is the Deficit
Thinking Model?”). Deficit thinking is
an outcome of inaccurate and often
negative attributions about students or
their families. It is an unexamined
prejudice often directed at students of
color or from low socioeconomic back-
grounds, even by teachers who may
consider themselves supportive advo-
cates of such students. Therefore,
teachers need to self-reflect to unpack
attributions that are potentially linked
to racism, power, or privilege so that
they can work more effectively and
fairly with diversity in the classroom.
Reconsidering Communication
in the Classroom
In addition to reflecting on personal
beliefs, teachers may need to reconsid-
er how they communicate with stu-
dents in the classroom. According to
Ramsey (2004, p. 56), “effective com-
munication requires paying close
attention to what others are saying
both verbally and nonverbally and
genuinely trying to see and understand
their perspectives, as we are making
oneself understood.” Effective commu-
nication requires teachers to analyze
not only students’ behaviors but also
their own behaviors and ways of
communicating.
In intercultural communication the-
ories, mindfulness is a core concept
used to help individuals reframe and
reinterpret unfamiliar behavior or
ways of communicating to understand
rather than to judge others (Gudykunst
& Kim, 2003). According to the work
of Langer (1989), mindfulness is the
ability to be conscious about commu-
nication with others. It is the process
of purposefully responding to others
by moving away from automatic-pilot
or mindless responses that are based
on a person’s own cultural frames of
reference. Automatic pilot is the
process in which a person is not con-
scious or aware of her or his responses
to others. Automatic pilot, or scripted
behavior, serves well in familiar situa-
tions but not in intercultural communi-
cation. “The problem of misinterpret-
ing strangers’ behavior is compounded
when we communicate with strangers
because we tend to interpret strangers’
behavior on the basis of our own
frames of reference” (Gudykunst &
Kim, 2003, p. 283).
Attributions are the explanations
that people may give to a behavior
(Gudykunst & Kim, 2003). They are the
way that a person attributes or gives
meaning to why people behave the
way that they do, and attributions
guide how a person responds to the
behavior of others. A person who is
aware of his or her attributions and
takes time to reflect on them can mini-
mize misattribution or misinterpreta-
tion of why someone behaves the way
that he or she does.
Additionally, a person’s cultural
frame of reference or cultural back-
ground, as well as life experiences,
guides how a person responds to oth-
ers. When a person’s cultural back-
ground and/or life experiences are
vastly different from those of people
with whom he or she is interacting,
there is a risk for a culture clash or
misunderstanding of cultures that can
lead to conflict or misattribution
(Gudykunst & Kim, 2003). Therefore,
teachers within diverse communities
should become highly aware of their
personal cultural background and lens
for understanding behavior, as well as
cultural norms or tendencies of others,
so that they can reduce attributions
that lead to prejudice, deficit thinking,
and overgeneralizations.
Gudykunst and Kim (2003) suggest
that there are three cognitive processes,
or types of attributions involved in the
perception of communicating with oth-
ers: description, interpretation, and
evaluation.
1. Description is an account of what a
person observed or experienced
that does not attribute social signifi-
cance to the behavior. It includes
what the person heard and saw.
People typically gather descriptions
by observational data, counting, or
anecdotal records. For example,
“Enrique raised his hand 10 times
during the story read-aloud” is a
description of what occurred in the
classroom.
2. Interpretation is the process of infer-
ring what the behavior meant, thus
attributing social significance to the
behavior. Educators must remember
that behaviors can have multiple
interpretations. For example, at least
three separate interpretative state-
ments are possible for the descrip-
tive example “Enrique raised his
hand 10 times during story read-
aloud”: (a) Enrique was disruptive
during story read-aloud; (b) Enrique
enjoyed the story; or (c) Enrique
wanted attention.
3. Evaluation is the process of attri-
buting positive or negative social
significance to a behavior. For
example, the interpretive statement
30 COUNCIL FOR EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN
What Is the Deficit Thinking Model?
In the deficit thinking model, teachers believe that students fail in school
because of the student’s own deficiencies, not because of unfair school poli-
cies or differential treatment from teachers. A deficit perspective situates
school failure within the student and suggests that deficiencies exist within
the student or his or her home life and that these deficiencies are the cause
of academic failure. Another common deficit perspective attributes student
failure to parents and families who do not value education. As a result,
teachers’ attributions that are rooted in a deficit perspective guide an often
ill-informed understanding that a student’s failures are attributable to the
student’s perceived lack of ability, linguistic inferiority, or family dysfunction
(Garcia & Guerra, 2004; Valencia, 1997).
“Enrique wants attention” as an
evaluative statement could vary
from “I don’t like that; Enrique
needs to learn better turn-taking
skills” to “I like that Enrique takes
initiative to participate during read-
alouds.” It is important to recog-
nize that attributions can be nega-
tive or positive and may lead to
overgeneralizations and prejudice,
which classroom teachers should
minimize.
Process for Mindful Reflection
and Communication
Reacting to students’ behavior on auto-
matic pilot by jumping to conclusions
or making assumptions about students’
behaviors is very easy to do in the con-
text of a busy school day. When teach-
ers have difficulty interacting with stu-
dents in the classroom, emotions and
assumptions can cloud perceptions;
likewise, teachers are more likely to
give a student the benefit of the doubt
when clashes occur if the student
behaves in a way that the teacher
desires. Therefore, just as teachers of
students with disabilities often take
anecdotal notes or keep running
records of students’ academic perform-
ance for assessment purposes, these
same skills are necessary when reflect-
ing on attributions about students in
the classroom. Similar to the process of
operationalizing behavior (that is,
describing behavior so that it is observ-
able and measurable) during a func-
tional behavior analysis, we invite
teachers to think about how they can
understand the deeper meaning of
behavior in daily classroom interac-
tions of students who may or may not
be labeled with a disability but who
present behavior challenges in the
classroom.
The following example of a teacher
who used the process of mindful
reflection and communication to
unpack attributions of a student whom
she perceived as having troubling
behavior draws on the work of Carol
Archer, who frames the prevention of
culture clashes as the culture bump
process (see Archer, 1990, 2003); and
Ellen Langer, who has researched the
importance of mindfulness as a tool
for prejudice reduction (see Langer,
1989; Langer & Moldoveanu, 2000b).
We developed this process and the
vignette as a result of our collective
experiences working with teachers to
help them rethink troubling behavior
in the classroom and learn to respond
differently. Teachers often have deep
concern for students who are easily
distracted or disruptive during class-
room activities, yet they often interpret
students’ perceived troubling behavior
as a dysfunction of the student instead
of examining alternative explanations
for the behavior (e.g., lack of eye con-
tact in one culture might indicate high
respect; whereas in another, it might
indicate lack of respect). We use this
common concern to walk through the
process of understanding the deeper
meaning of behavior in the classroom
by introducing and applying a process
for mindful reflection and commu-
nication. The following case study
describes and illustrates each step of
the process by using a situation in
which Ms. Marten (the classroom
teacher) is reflecting with a mentor
teacher on her attributions about a
student.
Step 1: Explain the Attributions
That You Have About the Student
When unpacking attributions about
students in the classroom, we recom-
mend taking a moment to ask yourself
the following questions:
Have I already interpreted the
behavior?
Am I making assumptions about
why the student behaves the way
that he or she does?
Have I already passed judgment on
whether the behavior was good or
bad? Stop and describe what you
and the student said and did and in
what order.
What leads you to believe that the
behavior was wrong or desirable?
What about the behavior leads to
your interpretation?
Isolated incidents rarely paint the
clearest picture of the situation, so
teachers should collect notes on at
least three incidents of student behav-
ior over an extended period of time (at
least over a 2–4 week period) and at
different times of the day (e.g., across
content areas and different instruction-
al settings). The educator must not
blame or label the student or the
behavior. The emphasis is on listening,
observing to understand, and being
willing to learn something new and dif-
ferent. The following description of Ms.
Marten’s experience demonstrates this
process:
Ms. Marten first mentioned to
her mentor teacher that Antwan
was disruptive during small-
group guided reading. When Ms.
Marten’s mentor asked her to
describe exactly how Antwan
was disruptive, Ms. Marten
restated that Antwan read along
while she conducted guided
reading and then began to tell a
story about what he had done on
the weekend.
Step 2: Write Out and Reflect
on Your Feelings and Thoughts
When Working With the Student
Take into account potential issues of
deficit thinking, prejudice, and over-
generalizations. After a teacher has
recalled the interaction, she or he may
also reflect on her or his attitudes and
feelings toward the student during
the interaction. As Jacobson (2003)
TEACHING EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN SEPT/OCT 2011 31
Just as teachers of students with disabilities often take anecdotal
notes or keep running records of students’ academic performance
for assessment purposes, these same skills are necessary when
reflecting on attributions about students in the classroom.
suggests, educators must constantly
engage in self-reflection about their
assumptions and attitudes toward stu-
dents. If they are to imagine alternative
possibilities to relating to others, they
must acknowledge the depths of their
perspectives. Teachers can ask them-
selves the following questions:
What attributes am I assigning to
the student?
Have I evaluated, interpreted, or
described the behavior?
How does this student make me
feel?
What are my worries or fears?
What are my assumptions—why
do I find the student’s behavior
problematic?
At this point, the teacher has
acknowledged his or her prejudices or
deficit thinking, despite the difficulty
and uncomfortable feelings that this
reflection may reveal. The teacher
reflects on and rewrites interpretive or
evaluative statements in descriptive
terms and begins to rethink why she or
he responded to the student in a partic-
ular way.
Ms. Marten asked herself, “Have
I already interpreted the stu-
dent’s behavior? What leads me
to believe that Antwan did not
follow directions?” She then real-
ized that she was not describing
the behavior but instead had
already interpreted Antwan’s
behavior or his actions, so she
started to rethink and describe:
“He was mimicking—no wait, he
was reading along while I read to
the group, and then he began to
tell a story about what he did on
the weekend. Why do I perceive
his behavior in a negative light?
Mimic versus read-along? Why
do I find his story inappropriate?
Antwan is classified with a dis-
ability and he is African Ameri-
can: Am I making assumptions
about his behavior? Do other stu-
dents behave in a similar man-
ner? How do I respond to other
students in the class?”
Step 3: Consider Alternative
Explanations by Reviewing Your
Documentation and Reflections
This next part of the process more
deeply examines the ways in which the
teacher communicates and perceives
the student and situation and reconsid-
ers the initial interpretations. Review
the explanations, and reflect on the
reasons that the student may be doing
what he or she does. Consider how
this student’s behavior is similar to or
different from other behavior in the
classroom. Teachers can ask them-
selves the following questions:
What are my expectations for the
situation?
How is the student not meeting my
expectations?
In what way is the behavior inter-
fering with learning?
Here Ms. Marten recognized that
she was on automatic pilot
when she became frustrated
with the guided reading lesson
because Antwan was not follow-
ing the expected script of com-
munication: the question-
response-evaluation or teacher-
student-teacher interaction in
which the teacher asks a ques-
tion, the student responds, and
then the teacher responds with
an evaluative statement relating
to the student’s response. For
example, the teacher asks, “What
was the character doing?” The
student answers, “He was eat-
ing.” The teacher then responds,
“Good job, he was eating an
apple” or “Almost, he was
preparing food.
Ms. Marten could reinterpret
Antwan’s reading along with her
while she read the story for guid-
ed reading as a clear attempt to
show involvement and demon-
strate his reading skills to indi-
cate to his peers and to her that
he could read too. Even though
the process of guided reading
includes the teacher reading
alone rather than choral reading,
Antwan could have been apply-
ing the rules from a previous les-
son that involved choral reading.
His storytelling after the read-
aloud, on deeper reflection,
showed connection with an inci-
dent in the story about spending
time with family on the week-
ends. Antwan could have been
making connections with the
content of the story by adding
how the story connected with his
personal life.
Ms. Marten began to recognize
that she was viewing Antwan’s
behavior only in negative terms
at first, but she wanted to be
more positive when responding
to his actions. Ms. Marten
remembered that when Sarah
had read along during guided
reading in another group, she
welcomed that behavior because
she saw it as an additional
opportunity for Sarah to practice
her reading; however, she
thought that Antwan’s behavior
was disruptive. Why? Was it his
tone, dialect, fluency, racial back-
ground, gender, or some other
factor? When Ms. Marten reflect-
ed further, she realized that his
classification as EBD made her
more suspicious of his behavior,
and the fact that he was African
American had positioned him (in
her mind) as more likely to mis-
behave.
Step 4: Check Your Assumptions
Ask yourself the following questions:
Does the student’s family notice the
same behavior at home?
How do family members interact
with the student at home?
Have there been any major changes
or upsets in the home?
Share your reflections with a col-
league, parents, and/or community
members. Meet with parents to learn
more about expected and observed
behaviors in the home.
After you have reflected on the
behavior and developed alternative
explanations as well as possible biases,
check your assumptions with individu-
als with specialized training on work-
ing with diversity, staff members who
are familiar with or from the local
community/culture, parents, and com-
munity members who are familiar with
32 COUNCIL FOR EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN
cultural norms of behavior. Consider
talking with other professional person-
nel who specialize in multiculturalism,
English as a second language (ESL), or
bilingual education. Be wary of col-
leagues or informants who blame the
student, community, or home life for
the student’s behavior; instead you
want someone who understands the
deeper meaning of behavior and can
offer alternative explanations (e.g., cul-
tural, linguistic, interactional) that can
help you unpack attributions and
reframe them in a way that leads to
productive solutions and positive out-
comes for students.
Ms. Marten reviewed her reflec-
tions with her mentor teacher,
who had studied multicultural
perspectives in education and
who had strong ties to the neigh-
borhood community. She dis-
cussed her discomfort with some
of the insights that she had
uncovered related to Antwan’s
disability and racial background
that may have clouded her
understanding of his behavior in
the classroom. Her mentor com-
mended Ms. Marten for taking
the risk and examining her bias-
es and reminded Ms. Marten that
she also needed to meet with
Antwan’s parents to ensure that
she was interpreting the behavior
appropriately.
Next, reach out to parents and fami-
lies to learn more about their percep-
tions and ideas. Share your interpreta-
tions in a spirit of collaboration to
learn from family members about their
expectations and norms for behavior.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Am I operating from a different set
of values or norms?
How can I reach a middle ground?
What are some alternative explana-
tions or interpretations of the stu-
dent’s behavior?
When Ms. Marten met with
Antwan’s parents, they shared
that they have a tight-knit family
and that they attend a Baptist
church regularly. On the week-
ends, the minister encourages
the congregation to participate
through call-and-response ser-
mons. Antwan’s mother was a
teacher’s aide for students who
struggle with reading, so she did
many interactive literacy activi-
ties with Antwan because she
found that he did better and was
more motivated when he could
actively participate. She had
noticed that Antwan preferred to
be interactive rather than remain
quiet during activities. However,
the mother also indicated that
she was trying to teach him dif-
ferent routines and behavioral
expectations.
Step 5: Make a Plan
Ask yourself the following questions:
How can you change or respond dif-
ferently?
What additional resources do you
need to implement the plan effec-
tively?
After teachers have considered alter-
native explanations and developed a
different interpretation of a situation,
they are able to change their behavior.
Teachers can experiment with respond-
ing differently, noting what happens
and reflecting on their reactions and
feelings, as well as on the student’s
response. The teacher should develop
and implement a plan to change the
classroom environment or his or her
actions, and he or she should reexam-
ine expectations for the student.
Ms. Marten decided to be proac-
tive by giving explicit directions
about class routines to Antwan
before he asked. Ms. Marten
decided to listen to Antwan’s
statements in class for content
and focus on understanding
what he was trying to communi-
cate, rather than whether his
immediate expression followed
the typical teacher-student-
TEACHING EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN SEPT/OCT 2011 33
teacher response pattern. For
example, instead of rejecting
Antwan’s comments if he did not
raise his hand, Ms. Marten
decided to respond to the mean-
ing of his comment before
reminding him to raise his hand,
thereby recognizing and accept-
ing his desire and attempts to
participate in class discussions
and lessons. At times she would
pair a statement such as “I want
to hear what you have to say,
Antwan,” with a statement such
as, “Will you please raise your
hand so that I can call on you?”
Ms. Marten’s intent in these
statements was to help Antwan
begin to learn the norms of the
classroom.
Ms. Marten recognized that most
of the classroom interactions
were formal and focused primari-
ly on the prescribed curriculum,
so she structured group time and
participation to include making
personal connections and sharing
opinions about material. As a
result of talking to Antwan’s
mother, Ms. Marten incorporated
more movement into her lessons.
For example, during think-pair-
share, she asked each student to
first put an index finger on his or
her temple during the individual
think, then face a peer with
knees touching and discuss a
concept during pair, and sit side-
by-side next to the peer with the
palms of their hands together
during share.
Step 6: Continuously Revisit
This Process to Reassess Your
Attributions and Your
Progress With the Student
Dealing with attributions in the class-
room can be a complex and layered—
and often uncomfortable—process, and
educators should view dealing with
attributions as an opportunity to learn
more about others and about them-
selves. Therefore, educators must con-
tinuously review their relationship with
the student and evaluate how their
instruction and communication support
the student’s success in class. Educa-
tors should view this process as contin-
uous and ongoing by revisiting each
step as needed to ensure that all stu-
dents are experiencing success in the
classroom.
After a few weeks of reflecting
on her attributions about
Antwan’s behaviors, mindfully
exploring alternative explana-
tions, and interacting with him
in more responsive ways, Ms.
Marten noticed positive changes
in his performance. Antwan
entered the classroom with a
smile. He talked more with her
about his likes and dislikes. He
participated in large-group activi-
ties, and he was more attentive
and engaged when he worked
with other students.
Ms. Marten also noticed a
change in herself. She noticed
that she was more aware when
she began to overgeneralize or
have prejudices about certain
students, and she began to con-
sider alternative views. She
found herself often asking such
questions as, “How can I under-
stand this student better? What
assumptions or values are guid-
ing my interpretations?” instead
of asking “Why won’t this stu-
dent behave?” or “Why can’t she
be more like the other students?”
Final Thoughts
Although we have described this
process of mindful communication and
reflection within a special education
context, we believe that the process
can be applied across settings to help
teachers develop a deeper understand-
ing of students’ behavior by reflecting
on the environment, cultural underpin-
nings, and biases that may be interact-
ing to create a mismatch in the class-
room. The intention is to support
teachers in a process of deep reflection
that transforms historically deficit
views and responses to students with
disabilities or from culturally and lin-
guistically diverse backgrounds, in
addition to developing practices that
are culturally responsive and ensure
that all students are well supported
and successful in the classroom.
In particular, the process of mindful
reflection and communication can help
teachers do the following:
Evaluate their own assumptions,
prejudices, and biases about race,
culture, and disability and consider
how they affect the teacher’s inter-
actions with and expectations for
their students.
Objectively describe behaviors with-
out interpretation to consider appro-
priate and consistent ways of
responding.
Interpret behaviors to support rather
than inhibit learning.
Consider the many different ways
that children demonstrate engage-
ment and attentiveness, how these
ways closely tie with culture, and
how culture influences students’
many ways of responding and inter-
acting with others in the classroom.
Recognize that children are children
first and foremost and that their
behaviors do not define them, and
consider whether or why you have
different behavioral expectations for
different children.
The end goal of this process is to
accomplish the following:
Develop mindful relationships with
children and their families to sup-
port learning through building on
the students’ strengths and assets
instead of focusing on their delays
or need.
Recognize and teach in develop-
mentally, contextually, and cultural-
ly appropriate ways of responding
to the behavior of all children.
Create a culturally and linguistically
responsive and supportive learning
community that recognizes and cel-
ebrates differences.
We hope that this process enables
teachers to become aware of and rec-
ognize their own biases when inter-
preting behavior in the classroom so
that they may use culturally and lin-
guistically responsive practices. The
concern is that when teachers act on
automatic pilot or do not take the time
to reflect, they may risk misinterpret-
ing culture and language ability as dis-
ability. Figure 1 furnishes a summary
of the steps for mindful reflection and
34 COUNCIL FOR EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN
Figure 1. Steps for Mindful Reflection and Communication
Step 1: Explain the attributions that you have about the student.
a. Describe what you and the student said and did.
b. How did the student react to your actions or comments?
c. Collect notes on multiple days and at different times of the day.
Step 2: Write out or reflect on your feelings and thoughts when working with the student. Take into
account the potential for misinterpretations resulting from deficit thinking, prejudice, and
overgeneralizations.
a. How does this student make you feel? What are your worries or fears?
b. What are your assumptions? Why do you find the student problematic?
c. Have you evaluated, interpreted, or described the behavior?
d. Try to rewrite the examples in descriptive terms.
Step 3: Consider alternative explanations by reviewing your documentation and reflections.
a. Review the explanations and reflect on why the student may be doing what he or she does. Look for
patterns in your behavior and the student’s behavior.
b. What are your expectations for the situation? How is the student not meeting your expectations? In what
way is the behavior interfering with learning?
c. List alternative explanations or interpretations of the student’s behavior.
d. What external factors and/or personal factors could be influencing the student’s behavior? What recent
changes have occurred in the student’s life, disability, acculturation, and so forth?
Step 4: Check your assumptions. Share your reflections with a colleague, parents, and/or community
members. Meet with parents to learn more about expected and observed behaviors in the home.
a. Share your list of alternative explanations or interpretations of the student’s behavior with a colleague,
parents, and/or community members.
b. Meet with the family to learn more about their perspective in understanding the behavior. Do they notice
the same behavior at home? Do they find it problematic? How do they interact with the student at home?
Have there been any major changes or upsets in the home?
c. Be open and responsive to the family’s ideas and perspectives. Seek to understand rather than to judge.
Step 5: Make a plan.
a. How will you change or respond differently?
b. Brainstorm ideas on how to change the environment, your actions, and/or expectations for this student.
c. Experiment with responding differently. Note what happens. Reflect on your feelings as well as the
student’s response.
d. Frequently communicate with the family. Ask whether family members have noticed a difference. What
have they been trying that works?
e. Consult with colleagues, parents, and/or community members while you experiment to check your
assumptions and interpretations.
Step 6: Continuously revisit this process to reassess your attributions and your progress with the student.
a. Notice when you are overgeneralizing, attributing behavior within a deficit perspective, or behaving in
prejudiced ways toward certain students.
b. Remember that this process is a continuous one, so revisit the steps periodically to continue your growth
and understanding of students.
TEACHING EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN SEPT/OCT 2011 35
communication. We hope that this
process assists teachers in understand-
ing the role of their own cultural lens
in examining student behavior to
reduce the potential for them to inter-
pret culture and language ability as
disability.
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Correspondence concerning this article
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barbara.dray@ucdenver.edu).
TEACHING Exceptional Children, Vol. 44,
No. 1, pp. 28–36.
Copyright 2011 CEC.
36 COUNCIL FOR EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN
TEC1109
GET YOUR EDITION
OF THE NASCO SPECIAL
EDUCATION CATALOG.
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Ad Index
Attainment, cover 2, 1
CEC, 38, 46, 57, 58, 59, 67, 68,
cover 3
Conover, 4, 5
Crisis Prevention Institute, 39
Landscape Structures, 27
Messiah College, 26
NASCO, 36
Walden University, cover 4
West Chester University, 7
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