Archived Information

Tools for Schools - April 1998


What Is It?

CULTURES is a university-based in-service professional development model that prepares experienced elementary and middle school teachers to be successful teachers in urban schools. This model is built on the assumption that well-trained, reflective, culturally responsive teachers can make a significant difference in the lives of urban public school children. The CULTURES model provides a supportive, and challenging environment in which experienced teachers can learn to transform their classrooms and schools into effective learning communities for urban poor, immigrant and students of color who have heretofore experienced only school failure.

Why Did It Get Started?

Founded in October 1994, CULTURES was developed as a partnership between the Emory University Division of Educational Studies and several school systems in and around metropolitan Atlanta, Georgia : Atlanta Public Schools, Decatur City Schools, Fulton County Schools, Clayton County Schools, and Dekalb County Schools. CULTURES is a response to the dramatic increase in the number of urban, culturally diverse students many of whom are poor and the attendant need to provide their teachers with opportunities for professional growth focusing on the development of knowledge regarding effective instructional strategies and curricula that are pedagogically and culturally responsive to the abilities, experiences, and challenges faced by these children.

How Does It Work?

The professional development activities in CULTURES, focus around cohorts of 15 teachers who work together during 40 hours of intensive inservice training. The professional development activities involve a combination of theory, practices and strategies such as those described below.

Practices such as classroom discussions, readings, demonstrations, cultural autobiographies, simulations, role-playing, micro-teaching, reflective journal writing, lesson planning, and visits to classrooms of schools that are acknowledged as successful in educating students from diverse backgrounds.
Cultural immersion strategies including presentations by guest lecturers from the local African-American, Hispanic, and Vietnamese communities; interviews with various residents of students' communities; research into the history of the students' communities; and visits to students' homes, churches, neighborhoods, and cultural centers.
Development of instructional strategies using cooperative learning, classroom action research projects, learning centers and other instructional methods found to be effective with students with a variety of learning styles and backgrounds.

What Are The Costs?

CULTURES is currently funded through a number of grants and initiatives. Costs vary according to the amount of the stipend that teachers receive.

How Is The Model Implemented In A School?

Teachers are selected through a screening process that includes applications, interviews, and recommendations from staff development administrators, principals, teachers who have previously participated in the program, and community members. Participating teachers are required to enter into a contractual agreement with the university that specifies expectations, requirements, and conditions for participation in the program. The teachers receive a stipend and four staff development credits, and may also enroll for university graduate credit hours.

After completion of an initial 40-hour experience, teachers are encouraged to continue to meet on an on going basis with CULTURES' staff members and their 15 member cohort group. All of the teachers receive a manual to assist them in training other teachers in their school. They are also provided materials and additional assistance from CULTURES upon request.

University schools of education interested in implementing the CULTURES model must consider the need for release time for faculty to provide courses to trainees, space and instructional materials, transportation for school visits and cultural immersion trips, and honoraria for ambassadors and consultants from the various ethnic communities who are invited to make presentations and meet with trainees.

Although this is a professional development program for experienced teachers, most of the components are applicable to preservice teacher education programs.

What Is The Evidence That The Model Is Successful?

An evaluation of the effectiveness of CULTURES was built into the program from its inception. The results of the evaluation which include self report data from a survey administered to participants following program completion as well as the collection of follow up information after participants returned to their schools, suggest that the program has been very successful in meeting the teachers' professional development needs. The data indicate that on a 5-point scale, 94 percent of participants thought that the program was very positive and 6 percent indicated that it was positive. Regarding specific components, the results reveal that teachers were most positive about the cultural immersion trips, the in-class presentations and discussions, and the guest speakers from the different ethnic communities.

All of the teachers indicate that they plan to use what they learned in their classrooms (greater tolerance and sensitivity toward diverse students, better understanding of diverse learning styles, and some of the instructional methods that can address effectively the different learning styles, such as cooperative learning). Most indicated that they plan to conduct workshops and in service programs for fellow teachers when they return to their schools.

The recommendations most frequently cited were to extend the course over a longer period of time and even develop a CULTURES II course that would extend the work begun in CULTURES I, and also to incorporate more cultural immersions field trips. Clearly, the teachers want to learn more about issues related to teaching diverse students.

Another related indicator of CULTURES' success is the finding that many of the CULTURES' teachers returned to their schools and began to work on school-wide reforms to make their schools more responsive to urban poor and minority students. Over half of the teachers who completed the program, have already presented staff development workshops at their schools, sharing materials and knowledge acquired in CULTURES. Other have developed multicultural resource guides to assist teachers in their schools identify curriculum materials and teaching resources, as well as resources in their local school community that can make the learning experience more relevant and appropriate for urban minority students.

Where Can I See It?

Contact Jacqueline Jordan Irvine at Emory University for dates of upcoming CULTURES' sessions.

Whom Do I Contact?

Jacqueline Jordan Irvine
Emory University, Division of Educational Studies
North Decatur Building, Suite 240
Atlanta, Georgia 30322
Telephone: 404-727-0605; Fax: 404-727-2799

The Research Base

The CULTURES' curriculum connects teachers' classroom experiences with current research and knowledge on culturally, racially, and ethnically diverse learners. CULTURES provides teachers with experiences and training related to five roles that are part of the teaching and instructional work of a teacher of diverse student groups: culturally responsive pedagogy, systemic school reform, study of the diverse communities from which their students come, reflective teaching, and development of content expertise. Each of these roles is grounded in the core principles of The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and on research on school reform as it relates to urban poor and minority students.

CULTURES incorporates the research base on culturally responsive pedagogy and teaching effectiveness by recognizing that in order to maximize learning opportunities, teachers must gain knowledge of the cultures represented in their classrooms, and then be able to incorporate this knowledge in their instructional practices. CULTURES builds upon the research indicating that in order to develop teachers who can succeed in urban school environments, they must be provided with knowledge of the school change literature, have the opportunity to become part of a professional learning community, and be provided with supports for handling the unique stresses that accompany teaching in urban schools. The critical role teachers play in being able to create caring communities in which all students are valued and believe they can learn, has been demonstrated through research. CULTURES assists teachers change their classrooms into more personalized and caring learning environments.

The research base indicates that teachers must be reflective practitioners with attitudes of open- mindedness and the observational, communication, analytical, and problem-solving skills necessary to continually monitor, evaluate, and revisit their own teaching practices. CULTURES assists teachers examine their actions, instructional practices, and materials against the background of their students' cultural roots and experiences and preferred learning styles.

The curriculum focus of CULTURES attends to the presentation of content in culturally responsive ways, and also emphasizes discipline-specific standards such as the standards outlined by National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Standards Project for English Language Arts, Geography Standards Project, and the content-specific standards developed by The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

[Comprehensive School Reform Professional Development Model] [Table of Contents] [Appendix A]