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Silver Lake College's Teaching collaborative fosters culturally responsive classrooms

Posted On January 13, 2017

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Valerie Grissom and Christine Rettler are co-chairs of the Faculty Teaching Collaborative.

Photo by Suzanne Weiss

By Suzanne Weiss/Director of Public Relations

MANITOWOC, Wis. — Serbian, Creole and Spanish are just a few of the languages that can be heard spoken in the halls of Silver Lake College.

The small private college attracts students from as nearby as the Manitowoc-Two Rivers area and from as far away as Kenya, Vietnam and Spain.

Within this diverse student body are students representing various cultural, religious and socio-economic groups. How does a college interweave these threads into an educational tapestry that works? 

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The Faculty Teaching Collaborative — designed to foster culturally responsive classrooms that honor the experiences and backgrounds of its students — is an important tool. 

“The collaborative serves as a vehicle for an exchange of information between faculty members and for the development of best practices related to teaching and learning,” said Dr. Jim Begotka, who attends regularly. He is assistant professor and director of the Master of Science in management and organizational development program.

“Just understanding who our population is from an ethnic, racial, socio- economic and religious point of view is the first step in examining our own teaching practices,” Begotka said. “Through the teaching collaborative, we are looking for different patterns that are common to us and ways we can improve teaching in relation to our particular student population.”

These might include seeking professional development opportunities for faculty, bringing in speakers, and offering training and other resources, he said.

For example, the collaborative identified a challenge among non-English-speaking students who required extra help with writing in English, which spurred the college to enrich its Academic Resource Center tutoring program, Begotka said.

Spearheaded by faculty, the collaborative was formed in 2015 and has chosen to address the theme of diversity this academic year, said Chris Rettler, assistant professor of education and co-chair of the collaborative. 

As part of the diversity theme, a guest recently spoke to the group about issues surrounding sexual orientation, she said.

“The purpose of the collaborative is to teach us, as faculty, strategies and ideas we can use to address issues that may come up,” Rettler said.

This involved research and discussion about topics that can be as varied as brain-based learning, gender and age issues, or meeting the challenges of student participation in class, she said.

“It’s important to promote best practices among faculty. We are not stagnant, we are moving forward,” Rettler said.

“The collaborative also has helped foster camaraderie between faculty members who attend,” said Valerie Grissom, co-chair of the collaborative. She is chair of the psychology and family services department. “We support each other in finding solutions to our challenges.”