This is an excerpt from Designing and Teaching Fitness Education Courses With HKPropel Access by Jayne D. Greenberg, Nichole D. Calkins & Lisa S. Spinosa.
According to the National Association of Social Workers (2015, p. 13), being socially aware means that you are culturally competent, which can be defined as follows:
Cultural competence refers to the process by which individuals and systems respond respectfully and effectively to people of all cultures, languages, classes, races, ethnic backgrounds, religions, spiritual traditions, immigration status, and other diversity factors in a manner that recognizes, affirms, and values the worth of individuals, families, and communities and protects and preserves the dignity of each.
We want our students to develop social awareness competencies so that they are able to appreciate diversity; exhibit empathy; understand social and ethical norms for behavior; and recognize family, school, and community supports. Social awareness can reduce the negative impacts of bullying in your classroom as well as potential communication problems. For example, empathetic students are more likely to intervene in a bullying situation and support students who are different than the social norm (Swearer and Cary, 2007). You can help develop empathy in your students by having them engage in perspective-taking learning experiences. Perspective-taking is when you consider a situation from someone else’s point of view by putting yourself in that position and imagining what you would feel, think, or do to help you determine an empathetic response. For example, you could present this scenario to students:
“Imagine if you were running on the track and you tripped and fell. How would you want your classmates to respond?” Have students think, and then solicit responses. Use their responses to formulate a class norm for how to respond empathetically in a similar situation, such as:
“Now if this happens in class, please respond in an empathetic way by not laughing, pointing, or name-calling but rather by assisting them and asking if they are okay.”
Students of various cultures may communicate quite differently than you based on their past experiences and upbringing. Teachers lacking cultural competence may subsequently interpret students’ responses as disrespectful and evoke unjustified disciplinary actions. When communicating with students from different countries, it is important to recognize that their social norms or communication styles may vastly differ from yours. For example, you may request that Tran, a Vietnamese student, look you in the eyes when you are addressing an inappropriate classroom behavior. When she refuses to make eye contact, you consider that to be a sign of disrespect and proceed to write a referral for her lack of compliance. However, Tran has been taught that direct eye contact is aggressive, confrontational, and rude, so she believes she is being respectful by listening and not making direct eye contact (Hansen, 2014).
Culture determines a person’s behavioral characteristics. Learning about your students’ culture, what they value, what their beliefs are, and how they communicate will help you to better understand why they behave in certain ways. Giri (2006) and Pratt-Johnson (2006) provide several examples of how a person’s culture can affect ways of communicating (see table 6.3). This table can be used for self-reflection and personal improvement in developing social awareness for interacting with culturally diverse students. The more that you can learn about your students’ culture and how it influences their learning experience, the more capable you will become in supporting them to achieve their learning potential.
Stokes and Schultz (2007) assert that teachers must do a self-evaluation to determine their own thoughts, language, behaviors, and attitudes regarding other cultures before they can interact with their students to bring about an understanding of cultural diversity. Some strategies and teaching tips might include the following:
- Get students to interact with each other as individuals, not as people in a particular ethnic group.
- Confront remarks made by students by telling students that you find these comments out of taste. You must send a message in the classroom that you will not tolerate words or actions that degrade anyone for any reason.
- Structure noncompetitive games or activities. Use cooperative games, trust-building activities, and teamwork.
- Provide cross-cultural experiences such as guest speakers and field trips.
- Include information about the contributions of people from different cultures, including games and sports.
- Display people from diverse cultures on bulletin boards.
- Encourage students to get to know each other better. Assign partners and have them introduce each other by telling one unique quality about their partner.
When teachers fail to consider cultural issues in their instructional design and delivery, many students feel disengaged, bored, alienated, and, at times, fearful of being embarrassed (Spencer-Cavaliere and Rintoul, 2012). A culturally relevant and sensitive learning experience helps all students to find value in the content, feel as if they belong, and experience interactions with you and their classmates as emotionally safe. Table 6.4 provides examples of how to incorporate social-awareness skills into fitness education lessons.