Culture of Care

CSU Alliance Partnership Introduces "Culture of Care" Initiative

At its Fall Meeting in September 2009, Colorado State University’s Alliance Partnership Program introduced the concept of creating a“Culture of Care” at Alliance Partner Schools. This initiative was further explored at the Spring Meeting in April 2010 in a presentation by Dr. Tom Cavanagh, Dr. Angus Hikairo Macfarlane, and Dr. Ted Glynn.

"The Culture of Care" theory is based on the research of Dr. Cavanagh while he was working in New Zealand on a Fulbright Fellowship. Focused on raising Maori (indigenous people of New Zealand)student achievement, Dr. Cavanagh’s theory combines the two important areas of concern in education -- teacher pedagogy and student behavior -- based on a continuity of relationships. Dr. Cavanagh believes we can create peaceful and caring relationships and use restorative justice practices in schools to respond to student wrongdoing and conflict in conjunction with a culturally appropriate pedagogy of relations in the classroom, under the umbrella of a"culture of care."

In the realm of teacher pedagogy, Dr. Cavanagh learned from his experiences working alongside Maori scholars in a project called TeKotahitanga, how to deal with the problems of educational disparities. Students‘voices’ were used to inform the development of the project, including creation of an Effective Teaching Profile. This Profile recognized that culturally appropriate and responsive teachers positively reject deficit theorizing and are committed to and know how to bring about change in educational achievement.In short, teacher practices become focused on relationships and interactions –a pedagogy of relationships.

Related to student behavior, Dr. Cavanagh’s research shows that creating a new discourse of peace in schools offers educators a choice in how they think, believe, and act in response to student wrong doing and conflict. As one of the leaders in the field of restorative justice, Dr.Cavanagh applies the principles of restorative justice in education as a way of supporting a school-wide culture of care, where building and maintaining healthy relationships are fundamental principles. Student behavior based on restorative practices builds healthy relationships as well as healing the harm to those relationships broken by wrongdoing and conflict. This new discourse offers an alternative to the traditional discipline practices in schools, which focus on rules and consequences.

Using restorative methodology, behavior problems become learning opportunities. Focused on healing, restorative practice requires inclusion and participation of affected persons. Taking a student out of the classroom as a response to problems is exclusionary and does not address the harm done to relationships, resulting in further problems when the student returns to the classroom. Dr. Cavanagh’s research shows that adoption of these restorative practices resulted in Maori students staying in school longer,being far less aggressive, less truant, and much more peaceful.

Not unlike their Maori counterparts, Latino and Hispanic students in Colorado, face disparity in terms of achievement and graduation rates when compared with White students. Creating a “Culture of Care” through a continuity of relationships, Latino/Hispanic students will be cared for as individuals as well as for their learning. Applied to the whole school, creating a “Culture of Care” emphasizes solidarity, community, and caring about relationships. Based on the research in New Zealand, using these practices can create learning environments where students feel they belong and can achieve.