Developing Accomplished Instructional Support Specialists


Teachers play an important role in instilling knowledge and education among students. The increasingly diverse student populations not only in the United States but also in other parts of the world require that teachers should be competent both personally and professionally. Shulman’s model of teacher understanding shows that teachers “develop along with six domains: vision, motivation, knowledge, reflection, practice and context” (Walqui, 2006, p.3). Vision refers to the beliefs, goals, and dreams of teachers all of which provide the students with a sense of bearing during their learning process. Motivation on the other hand refers to the rewards, inducement, and feelings that give the teacher a reason to continue with the teaching profession. Knowledge refers to the cognitive ability of the teacher not just in the subject he is teaching but also of oneself and his students irrespective of their cultural differences. Practice is the transmission of teachers’ knowledge and skills to the students in a manner that will enable the students to comprehend what is being taught. Reflection is the effort made by teachers to derive meaning from their actions during the teaching process through assessment and meditation which provide the teacher with a deeper understanding. Context refers to the educational setting in which the teachers find themselves. These settings affect not only the teachers’ ability to teach but also the students’ ability to learn, depending on whether or not they are supportive (Walqui, 2006). The development of these domains does not occur in a linearly or organized order. It varies from one individual to another depending on the relations one has with oneself, peers, students, and the educational institution one is in. Many scholars have used Shulman’s model to study the learning and teaching process of different teachers and students in different educational settings.

The Diversity Pedagogy Theory

Hernandez (2009) used the Diversity Pedagogy Theory (DPT) to discuss how culture plays an important role in the teaching and learning processes. Competent teachers pay close attention to their students’ cultural differences and observe how such differences are reflected in the classroom. They then adapt and change their teaching strategies to accommodate their students and ensure that none of the students is left behind. Hernandez (2009) argues that the majority of children have a desire to learn something new. However, it is common in classrooms to find many students not interested in what the teacher is teaching. Such disinterest can be commonly identified through disruptive behaviors. On the other hand, some classes do not seem disruptive, and in which students seem quiet and attentive and it is easy for the teacher to assume that the students are learning. This may however not be the case. It is therefore the responsibility of the teacher to develop effective pedagogical skills which will enable him to know when and whether his students are learning or not.

One of the pedagogical skills required of teachers is the ability to identify student cultural displays (SCD) which show who the students are and how much they know. While some teachers are competent and observant enough to identify students’ cultural displays, others are not. The ability to identify SCD enables the teacher to respond appropriately to and assist the students. Hernandez (2009) states that “teachers who consistently recognize, interpret, and respond to SCD have more opportunities to respond to students’ academic, social, ethnic and cultural needs,” (p.13). Competent teachers recognize the fact that their cultural backgrounds greatly affect their thought patterns and behaviors in the classrooms. They, therefore, take the responsibility for their students’ learning capabilities and efforts. They are driven by the belief that they should equip their students with academic and social skills that would help them achieve their goals not just in school but also later in life.

Beliefs of teachers

Buehl and Fives (2009) conducted a study that examined the beliefs that teachers hold concerning the origin and permanence of teaching knowledge. The authors discovered six themes from the study which include: “formal preparation, a formal body of knowledge, observational and vicarious experiences, interactive and collaborative experiences with others, enactive experiences and self-reflection,” (Buehl and Fives, 2009, p.371). The first two themes – formal preparation and formal bodies of knowledge – refer to the formal schooling and training that teachers go through as well as the different sources of literature such as books, journals, and the internet. The third theme – observational and vicarious experiences – refers to the observations made by student teachers when other teachers teach. These experiences, whether poor or excellent, instill in the teacher different knowledge and skills which they can use for personal and professional development.

Teachers also acquire knowledge from interactions with peers, mentors, fellow teachers, family, and friends. This can be done through sharing, partnership, dialogues, and supportive interactions. Enactive experiences refer to the lived experiences of the student teachers either on a personal or professional basis. Knowledge gained from personal experiences includes that which a person learned while growing up and while being taught. Professional experiences develop when teachers engage in the actual teaching practice. Much knowledge is acquired by working with and interacting with one’s students, particularly those from different cultural and social backgrounds. Reflection is one of the most important sources of knowledge for teachers. Teachers learn a lot from self-reflection and meditation about what they have taught in the past and what they are teaching now and establishing connections between the past, present, and potential teaching experiences (Buehl and Fives, 2009). The knowledge gained by teachers is however not static but it keeps on changing depending on various factors such as a change in curriculum and change in technology. As a result, the source and stability of knowledge have a great impact on the teaching practice and context.

The beliefs held by pre-service and practicing teachers can influence their actions in the classrooms in different ways. On the one hand, teachers who acknowledge the changing nature of knowledge will be more open and receptive to new learning opportunities such as the internet and other technological devices. In addition, these teachers will experiment with different teaching strategies to find out the most effective strategy for teaching new knowledge. On the other hand, teachers who believe that knowledge is static will be reluctant to try out new and advanced learning opportunities. As a result, they will continue to use traditional teaching strategies. These behaviors have a great impact (either positive or negative) on students and their abilities to grasp the knowledge (Buehl and Fives, 2009). For instance, a teacher who acknowledges the importance of cultural competence will be more willing to learn about different aspects of different cultures that he is likely to come across in his teaching experience. Such a teacher will therefore be in a better position to develop effective communication skills between him and his students. Culp, Chepyator-Thomson, and Hsu (2009) state that, “intercultural communication serves as an effective means of explaining many of the conflicts and misunderstandings that often occur between ethnic groups,” (p.29).

Intercultural communication between teachers and students

Teachers can enhance communication with their students from different cultural backgrounds by making efforts to learn the basic symbols, signs, and motions and their accurate meanings and use them when applicable. This will make the students feel appreciated and will in turn motivate them to take an active part in the learning process and classroom activities. As Yoon (2008) argues, “the main reason for students’ anxiety, silence, and different positioning has much to do with being outsiders in the regular classroom context,” (p.500). Competent teachers will however recognize this fact and will make efforts to include their culturally diverse students in the daily classroom activities. Such efforts however require the willingness of the teacher to engage in interactive communication with the students in which the students learn from the teacher and the teacher learns from the students as well.


Shulman’s model of teacher understanding is a crucial model that can help teachers to develop cultural competence which is a growing need in increasingly culturally diverse societies. The problem of high rates of school drop-out among ethnic minority students can be solved when teachers recognize the importance of learning numerous aspects of the different cultures of their students. Gaining knowledge from different sources as well as engaging in reflective activities can indeed help teachers to utilize the most effective teaching strategies to accommodate all of their students. This will enable teachers to develop and maximize students’ potential and capabilities and will ultimately lead to highly successful students and motivated teachers.


  1. Buehl, M.M. and Fives, H. (2009). Exploring teachers’ beliefs about teaching knowledge: Where does it come from? Does it change? The Journal of Experimental Education, 77(4), 367-408.
  2. Culp, B.O., Chepyator-Thomson, J.R. and Hsu, S. (2009). Pre-service teachers’ experiential perspectives based on a multicultural learning service. Physical Education, 66(1), 23-36.
  3. Hernandez, R.S. (2009). What is diversity pedagogy? Multicultural Education, 16(3), 11-17.
  4. Walqui, A. (2006). Developing accomplished instructional support specialists: Applying Shulman’s model to ELL education. Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, 2006, San Francisco. WestEd, 1-21.
  5. Yoon, B. (2008). Uninvited guests: The influence of teachers’ roles and pedagogies on the positioning of English language learners in the regular classroom. American Educational Research Journal, 45(2), 498-523.