Building bridges across class differences at the institutional and cultural levels: Part 2

You can create more inclusive and equitable classrooms for students living in poverty by reflecting on change at four levels.

Educators who want to make a difference in the lives of their students can draw from the experiences of several scholars, teachers and writers who provide ways to create classrooms that are more respectful, accessible and equitable for all students—including those who are living in limited resource families and communities.

One approach to building bridges across class differences includes examining these complex issues at multiple levels. Drawing from the work of Richard Milner, Donna Beegle and Michigan State University Extension, here are reflection questions focused at the personal, interpersonal, institutional and cultural levels that can help educators and others working in community settings build important bridges across class differences: 

See Personal and Interpersonal Levels: Part 1 

Institutional: Policies, rules, procedures, practices

  • Do our organizational systems support the involvement and success of students who are poor/working class? How does race play into this? What about gender and other differences?
  • Do staff members see that teachers usually know students better than anyone else and support teachers in not placing students’ destiny in other’s hands (for example, the principal or other school disciplinarian when there are concerns about a student’s behavior)?
  • Are staff members encouraged to cultivate cultural and racial awareness and understanding with their students? How is this happening?
  • Do we hire staff members who have experiences working with students and families from limited resource situations and then honor their wisdom and learn from them?
  • Do we allow access to resources to be a barrier to involvement and engagement at our school? Do we have many varied opportunities available for students and families that cost little or no money?
  • Does our administrative team and board of education include people with experiences related to students and families who are poor and working class?
  • Are our rules and policies flexible enough to accommodate unforeseen challenges and barriers that may arise? Are we willing to work to change policies, rules and procedures that present barriers to the involvement of students and adults living in poverty?
  • Are staff members encouraged to reach out and build relationships with parents and develop community partnerships to deepen their understanding of the lived experiences of their students so that they can better prepare them to succeed?
  • In what ways do our supervisors value and support our work with students and families who are in high risk situations due to poverty and other issues? Are there incentives and are staff rewarded for taking risks and working in new ways? 

Cultural: Truth, beauty, right, “normal”

  • Does leadership at all levels truly value the involvement of children, youth and families who are poor, working class or have limited resources? What if those students and families are people of color? What is the climate related to class and race in our building and in the district?
  • Who is pictured and what efforts are featured in brochures, newsletters, web sites and other information that represent our organization? How are students/families depicted?
  • Do we have a “culture of power” that presents barriers to the sustained engagement of students and families living in low-income situations? How does race also play into this?
  • Does the organization value the voices of youth/adults from low-income families as advocates to speak on the organization’s behalf with stakeholders, decision makers and other community members?
  • Does the organization push to focus on class issues independent of race, gender and other differences as a way of avoiding difficult conversations that address the intersections between these critically important areas—and that may ultimately lead to change?
  • Is change valued in the organization/district?
  • Does the overall climate support the creation of welcoming and inclusive environments

These reflection questions can help you begin to see issues to be addressed and the changes needed in order to create classrooms and schools that are more respectful, inclusive and equitable for all students. You can learn more about these issues by reading Beegle’s book titled See Poverty…Be the Difference or Milner’s book titled Rac(e)ing to Class: Confronting Poverty and Race in Schools and Classrooms. 

To learn more about creating welcoming and inclusive environments, visit Be SAFE: Safe, Affirming and Fair Environments, which is designed to help adults and young people work in partnership to create positive relationships and settings that address bullying, bias and harassment. 

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