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Walden Magazine // Jul 01, 2009

How to Overcome Cultural Obstacles

The recipient of the Frank Dilley Award for Outstanding Dissertation shares key takeaways from her research.

Keenjal Pattni ShahIn her award-winning dissertation, Bridging the Gap: Home-School Partnerships in Kindergarten, Dr. Keenjal Pattni-Shah '09, PhD in Education, explored how immigrant parents in Toronto interact with their children's teachers. Toronto is considered to be an international city, says Pattni-Shah. It's becoming more and more diverse. The challenge becomes how teachers can connect with immigrant parents and help students succeed.

Pattni-Shah encountered innovative teachers who developed methods that bridge the cultural gap. Here, she shares a few problems—and solutions—she learned while working with resourceful Toronto teachers.

Bring on the Questions

Barrier: In some cultures, you don't approach a teacher, says Pattni-Shah. You can't ask questions. It's considered disrespectful.

Solution: Teachers take the first step to break down that barrier. They immediately tell parents it is expected that they ask questions and become involved in the learning process.

Speak to Your Audience

Barrier: Often a student's parents do not speak English, so they feel timid when speaking to the teacher about their child's education.

Solution: The teacher studies the list of student names at the beginning of each year. She identifies the language each student speaks and learns a few phrases in that language. The teacher then greets the parents in their own language. By acknowledging the teacher is not fluent in the parents' language, but is willing to try, she encourages the parents to do the same with English.

Be Flexible

Barrier: Many immigrant parents work two shifts to support their families, and they have trouble finding the hours to come in and speak to the teachers.

Solution: The teachers give up their own time, such as lunch hours, to meet with the parents.

Read more about Dr. Pattni-Shah.