Creating Positive School Climates in multi-ethnic Chilean elementary schools: Staff Perspectives


 Presenter (s) Andrew Webb, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile

This paper draws on qualitative interviews conducted with school staff in eight multi-ethnic urban public schools in Santiago, Chile, to provide a sociological analysis of common-sense constructs surrounding victimisation and positive school climates. Two questions guide the study: firstly to what extent school staff share similar perspectives toward victimisation and how this impacts the capacity to generate positive school climates in multi-ethnic elementary urban schools in Santiago. Secondly, in contexts where indigenous students have historically been victims of discrimination, I question how recently-arrived migrant populations from other Latin American countries are changing staff expectations of these environments and interpersonal relationships.

Drawing on theories of school culture and organizational/institutional habitus, I propose that staff members’ abilities and willingness to identify and implement preventive measures in schools are collectively defined and legitimated. Existing studies show that teachers’ perceptions of victimisation affect their ability to identify and implement preventive measures in schools (Craig, Henderson, and Murphy 2000; Smith et al. 2009), but this remains an under-researched topic (TroopGordon and Ladd 2015). Most studies focus primarily on teachers’ perceptions of student aggression, but other staff members are usually involved in protocols for dealing with victimisation (Waasdorp et al. 2011). In Chilean schools, for example, head teachers, classroom assistants, school monitors, heads of school climate, and school psychologists all participate in these processes. Given that values about victimisation are negotiated among a number of hierarchically positioned staff, it is vital to listen to multiple narratives in order to ascertain how victimisation is normalised and dealt with in specific school contexts.

School staff expectations are shaped by perceptual biases (stereotypes, for example) that alter their judgment of students or lead to misinterpretations or inaccurate evaluations of student behaviour, attitudes, or other outcomes (Jussim and Harber 2005). Beyond the
impact that individual- level expectations might have on specific instances of victimisation, the school culture perspective argues that group-level expectations are formed among colleagues (Brault, Janosz, and Archambault 2014, 149). In particular, the notion of organisational habitus, put forward by Diamond, Randolph, and Spillane (2004) argues that teachers’ collective beliefs about students (denominated ‘school micropolitical contexts’) and the composition of the schools (socioeconomic and ethnic) where they work are intertwined. Pre-dispositional ideas about the types of students who attend their schools may result in deficit theories or notions of limited capacities for learning, which form what they call a ‘common organisational culture’ (2004, 76). Vang (2006) argues that schools located in multi-ethnic settings are incapable of producing positive school climates precisely because the school’s culture does not consider heterogenous norms and values, but rather reproduces a (whitened) hegemonic order. Hence, the concern of this paper is to address how ideas about intercultural/interethnic school climate are constructed in these spaces.

I demonstrate that this has important repercussions in contexts of higher-than-average ethnic compositions where assimilation is encouraged, and victimisation is denied or attributed to other causes. Symbolic and superficial celebrations of multiculturalism are common, but cultural discourses of difference maintain ethnic youth in marginalised positions and prevent more inclusive educational practices. Some staff perspectives adhere to colour-blind liberal forms of racism in these contexts, and these are most common in school cultures where victimisation is downplayed or thought to be an issue cultivated in the home.

Inclusive education requires leadership and organisational cultures capable of creating more sustained community practices oriented toward the eradication of social exclusion (Ainscow and Sandill 2010). Any focus that is exclusively oriented toward teachers, excluding other staff, will limit the capacity to create these inclusive organisational cultures. In order to avoid superficial and overly-celebratory forms of multiculturalism or minimising difference as a form of exclusion, a recommendation of this paper would be to ensure school climate committees, and teachers in general, give greater attention to ways culturally-sensitive pedagogies might be incorporated into classrooms (see Hopkins et al. 2013 on pedagogy of caring). Additionally, Ministry of Education guidelines (2018) suggest the need for cultural mediators in schools with ethnic diversity to incorporate diverse knowledges, practices and worldvisions. This would seem an urgent addition for these schools in order to generate more inclusive education in Chile. In these cases, difference would not be reduced to a problem to be managed, or as a structural issue of integration, and those facing victimisation would be better supported rather than labelled as culturally standing out from a national norm.

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