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Resource: The Cultural Iceberg Model

A major component of the Ivy Rose method is to provide administrators, teachers, parents, and students with resources to help in the development and implementation of culturally relevant and sustaining practices. I'll give a brief description of what the resource is and some examples/suggestions on how to incorporate it into your teaching practices.


The first resource that I'll be sharing is the Iceberg Model. This model looks to the formation of an iceberg, in which the majority of the large structure remains below the surface, leaving only a small portion visible above the surface.

Culturally Relevant theories of pedagogy/education ask schools and teachers to flip the lens, looking to the actions, beliefs and structures of the school/classroom/teacher that perpetuate a culture in which students feel unmotivated, unengaged, unwelcome, etc. Essentially, Culturally Relevant Education shifts the question from, how can students adapt and assimilate to meet our expectations to how can schools/educators adapt and facilitate the development of more welcoming, inclusive, relevant, and sustaining educational spaces and meet the unique needs of the students?

This is where the Cultural Iceberg comes into play. Developed by anthropologist, Edward T. Hall in 1976, the cultural iceberg calls for a deeper, more comprehensive understanding and exploration of culture that moves beyond the observable cultural characteristics/behaviors/interactions, which only account for 10% (food, clothing, rituals/traditions, dance/music, etc) of culture while the other 90% remain below the surface. Solely focusing on the top 10%, often leads to the unintended consequence of making assumptions and overgeneralizing cultural characteristics based on surface-level understandings of the cultural practices. Gaining a deeper understanding of a cultural community's internal or deep culture (the 90% below the surface), one can increase their understanding of how to more effectively engage with said community group.

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Below are a few examples of how to apply the iceberg model to facilitate a more comprehensive critical reflection of your school/classroom climate and practices and identify the more effective solutions, and the best part: most of them require collaboration with students, families and/or community member

Individual Cultural Icebergs: One potential practice is to complete a cultural iceberg for yourself and have your students complete individual ones for themselves (encourage them to talk with family and community members to gain deeper understandings of the histories of their own culture and community if they want). This will simultaneously provide the teacher with deeper insight into the nuances of their students' cultural backgrounds while also expanding students' understanding of culture as a concept. It also sets the tone in the classroom to discuss culture in a way that shifts away from traditional "culture as tourism" models that focus primarily on sharing foods and traditions to focusing on the underlying systems of values and beliefs that shape cultural interactions and engagement, which are all extremely useful in developing relationships among all members in the space as well as identifying effective practices to enhance learning experiences.

Culture of the Classroom/School Icebergs: A second potential practice is a slight variation on the cultural iceberg in which students can create cultural icebergs focusing on the classroom and school community cultures. The teacher should also complete an iceberg. As a class you can compare the teacher's iceberg to the students' and discuss areas where the teacher's perception of the classroom culture does not align with the students' experience of it. This will open a dialogue where the teacher can hear directly from the students about how to make the classroom a more effective learning environment from their vantage point. A suggestion might also be to allow students to work in groups creating two separate icebergs, one for the current classroom culture/climate and one for their vision of a more effective or desired classroom culture/climate. Starting with observable teacher/student behaviors (top 10%), and moving down into the underlying practices, procedures (just below the surface) and ultimately the philosophies of teaching and learning and beliefs about the purpose of schools and education (bottom of the iceberg deep below the surface), the students and teacher can interrogate the intended vs. experienced messages embodied in the current and desired classroom cultures on each iceberg and co-construct a new class-berg. This is a great beginning of the year activity that privileges student voice right from the start, or at any point after if teachers notice that the culture needs a shift. In engaging in this type of collaborative analysis and restructuring, teachers gain deeper insight into students' unique needs and students' voices are welcomed, privileged and prioritized in the construction of the learning environment and pedagogical practices.

Culture of Schooling Icebergs: I recommend this variation of the cultural iceberg as a means of helping teachers facilitate a dialogue and critical reflection of dominant messages, practices and ideologies in education/society that impact and shape the educational experiences. For example, given the continued emphasis on testing culture, teachers can use the iceberg model to lead students through an analysis of the dominant practices, policies and messages about testing. The goal would be to encourage the interrogation of the explicit (top 10%) and implicit (bottom 90%) messages and analysis of explicit (top 10%) and hidden (bottom 90%) agenda/curriculum inherent within the debate on the purposes and effectiveness of testing culture and its manifestation within the American school system. A key component of culturally relevant/responsive and social justice oriented education is to increase social awareness and encourage action. If students have a deeper understanding of the realities of the culture of schooling and its practices (such as testing), they can learn how to navigate and move within them with a greater social awareness and critical consciousness, and hopefully how to take action toward change. Additionally, in applying this model students learn a technique that is applicable in interrogating almost any system they are currently navigating or will navigate in the future.

These are just a few samples of how to incorporate the practice of the cultural iceberg into the classroom to shift practices toward a more humanizing and student-driven model, while also explicitly addressing issues of culture, diversity, social justice, equity and activism. The cultural iceberg is a commonly used activity in many diversity and equity-based professional development workshops and there are tons of other activities on the web where you can find how to incorporate the iceberg into other aspects of the curriculum, and you can find a blank copy of an iceberg diagram here. I would love to hear how others have used or engaged with the practice in their own classrooms or other PD opportunities. Comment below with any insights you gained, questions you still have or even cautionary tales, pictures are always a bonus, especially if you try any of the cultural iceberg variations here!

If you have a resource/practice you'd like to share email them to with the subject title Resource/Practice: Name of Resource/Practice (use the title of this blog as an example). Then, include a brief description of the resource/practice, who it is for (teachers, students, administrators, parents, or all of the above) any necessary links or information to cite where you found it or heard about it, and how it is useful in developing more culturally relevant/responsive, humanizing and equitable educational spaces.

Let's continue to build and grow towards change.


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