Working in a multicultural school certainly brings with it a rich flavour of outlooks, pride and experiences. Within the school there is also the culture that we all share – the culture or climate that we establish over time which is unique to our school and context.
It is well documented that school culture has a large effect on the outcomes of the school – be they positive or negative. Two completely different schools can have very strong cultures, but very different outcomes – the thriving, positive, tolerant school and the toxic school. Jimmy Casas in his book ‘Culturize’ emotively discusses how culture effects learning. He defines ‘culturize’: To cultivate a community of learners by behaving in a kind, caring, honest and compassionate manner in order to challenge and inspire each member of the school community to become more than they ever thought possible.
A strong and positive school culture based on tolerance, respect and knowledge is what I have found to be an absolute must in celebrating different pupil cultures with the school. I have worked in a school where different cultures were celebrated – but instead of having the intended positive outcome, it resulted in bullying for the minority culture. The school had a strong definable culture – but one that was intolerant.
By way of contrast, we have just celebrated Fiji Independence Day at my current school which has a small but significant Fijian population. This resulted in greater respect, support and congratulations from their peers. Children were keen to ask questions, applaud and congratulate the dancing and singing and taste the foods. So, from my observations and experience in order to successfully celebrate diverse cultures you first need to create a school culture which will allow it – otherwise you risk marginalising the very culture you are trying to celebrate.
To have the privilege of being involved in such a wonderful ceremony and celebration is one which is humbling and unforgettable – the ability of the Fijian community to transport us from school to the beauty of a South Pacific island was incredible. The pride of the nation was truly shared with the whole school community. Better still was the fact we were joined by the neighbouring secondary school. Their Fijian students involved in the demonstrations and their non-Fijian students responding in the same positive way as their primary counterparts.
However, what made me equally as proud was the group of children who approached my Assistant Head the day after to see if they could organise a whole school African Day to celebrate African culture. I was proud of their passion, confidence, resolve and empathy – not all were African pupils. Of course – it was over to them, and we look forward to our next cultural day; this time celebrating our African population.
Together we are stronger.