Teaching Tip # 21 – Cultural Behavior

Inappropriate and Cultural Behavior

Despite preventative practices in the classroom, students will eventually misbehave, requiring a response from the teacher. Sometimes teachers can easily make a mistake and attribute student behavior as negative. Instead, it may be cultural behavior.

Cultural behavior is behavior driven by culture, rather than work avoidance, trauma, or something else.

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We All Have Cultures

There are lots of different types of cultures – religious, national, familial, and my own favorite – age (like when students love using slime or when a simple question goes nation-wide). These different cultures we belong to help make up who we are, and can dictate how we act. Sometimes cultural actions run opposite of school expectations.

For example, when a student knows an answer, they may just yell it out! At school, this is referred to as “blurting”, but at home it could be “joining the conversation.” Another example is eye contact. At school, many teachers expect eye contact, especially in a one-on-one conversation. However, at home some students are taught that meeting the eyes of another is a sign of disrespect.

Students who behave inappropriately due to cultural differences are not behaving “badly”. Rather, they lack the awareness or skill to switch behaviors. This idea of switching behaviors is an important one. It can allow students to both be themselves, but also recognize whether a behavior is appropriate or not.

Culturally Responsive Teaching

Dr. Sharroky Hollie, a leader in Culturally Responsive Teaching, refers to this tactic as “code-switching.” This is an idea that students learn to change their behavior based on their environment. It is also something, he says, that teachers should teach.

Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning

He calls his technique VABBing (which stands for Validate, Affirm, Build and Bridge). In short, the teacher first communicates to a student that the behavior they are showing is not bad behavior, just inappropriate for the setting. Then the teacher reteaches the student the expected behavior for the setting.

There is a lot to learn when it comes to cultural behavior. Understanding what different types of culture are, how to learn about them, how to respond to them, how to identify them, and how to plan lessons for them – it seems like a career’s worth of learning! Certainly teachers are not expected to know everything about every type of culture – but this journey can begin with a single step.

Next time a student is displaying inappropriate behavior, consider to yourself – is this cultural behavior? Have I tried to teach this student situational appropriateness? This may help your classroom management in the long run, and save the student a trip to the principal’s office.

Additional Resources on Cultural Behavior in the Classroom

I’ve included a few books that discuss different strategies you can use to better engage your students through classroom culture, or understand better how to instruct students through the many different lenses of culture they participate. You can check them out below.

Influencing High Student Achievement through School Culture and Climate
The Courageous Classroom: Creating a Culture of Safety for Students to Learn and Thrive
Belonging Through a Culture of Dignity: The Keys to Successful Equity Implementation
Behavior Solutions: Teaching Academic and Social Skills Through RTI at Work
Be Their Warrior: Helping All Students Succeed Through Culture, Community, & Being STRONG
Restorative Justice in Education: Transforming Teaching and Learning Through the Disciplines

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