Bridging the cultural divide: Catholic elementary school teachers and professional development in support of culturally responsive pedagogy

Patricia Kelly-Stiles, Fordham University


This study examined teacher practice in a Catholic school identified as effectively educating minority students and investigated how the teachers came to learn the practices. The study also examined the role of the principal in fostering teacher growth. The research questions lent themselves to qualitative methodology. Through interviews, observations, and document review in the natural setting of this urban school, this researcher captured data from the lived experience. Six teachers and the principal were interviewed. Contact summary sheets of field experiences, document summary forms, and transcribed interviews were analyzed. Triangulation of the data confirmed the accuracy of the interpretation. Four themes emerged: School as Family; Personalismo; Catholic school discipline in the context of respeto; Charismatic leadership of the principal. The findings affirmed the importance of the teacher in building caring relationships as foundational to student learning. Teachers invited learning by shaping the context of the classroom to reflect Hispanic values which prize family, personalismo, and respeto. In addition, teachers designed instruction to meet the needs of their students by focusing on the whole child and using methodologies which were compatible with the learning styles of their Hispanic students. Consistent respect and genuine acceptance demonstrated toward the students, their families, and their culture promoted a spirit of harmony. This spirit of harmony enabled the students to bridge their experiences in the home and in the school. The teachers credited their learning of effective practice to their years of experience although those who formally studied multicultural education verbalized a greater understanding of the significance of their practices. The findings also underscored the importance of the principal in shaping school culture and promoting beliefs which supported teaching and learning. The findings supported the need for ongoing professional development to encourage and guide teachers' professional growth in understanding the needs of minority students and in expanding their teaching strategies to address them appropriately. Moreover, the findings asserted the need for training to encourage the development of cross-cultural understandings to foster deeper levels of professional collegiality among the multicultural faculty and provide skills to negotiate the challenges inherent in these settings.

Subject Area

Bilingual education|Multicultural education|Elementary education|School administration|Teacher education

Recommended Citation

Kelly-Stiles, Patricia, "Bridging the cultural divide: Catholic elementary school teachers and professional development in support of culturally responsive pedagogy" (1999). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9938907.