Culturally Responsive Educator

Early in my career I established non-negotiables for my praxis. Today I walk the talk of a culturally responsive educator endeavoring daily to create space in schools to support the positive identity development of children in grades Prek-12. I am focused on eliminating disproportion in high rates of discipline referrals for black and brown students and the underrepresentation of black and brown students in advanced academics and college preparation courses in schools. I consider it a personal challenge to help educators understand what it means to respond to the social and cultural needs of every student in their care. I take a learner’s stance and expect those who do this important race #equity work in our world, and especially our schools to do the same.

Recently I was honored for my service to the education field at a national Ed Week Magazine event honoring 2019 #LeadersToLearnFrom . Listen to me speak at the event as I share my perspective on culturally responsive teaching and what that means for the success of the students in my daily care as an educator. As an equity-centered educator I recognize that educators cannot educate our future without the support of the business community, the community around our physical school buildings, nor the municipalities that govern the cities in which our schools are located. I offer these ideas for you as you reflect on what it means to be a culturally responsive educator.

A Culturally Responsive Educator Understands:

1 Who they are

Your worldview, lived experiences, biases (positive and negative) impact your ability to support the students you serve.

2 They are on a cultural proficiency journey

What spaces and places do you frequent? Who are the people that you spend the majority of your time with? Do you keep company with people who look and think differently than you, or does your daily social circle mirror your lived experiences, worldview and bias (positive and negative)? To begin a journey toward cultural proficiency one must recognize the ways in which they show up. I know that I show up visually as a black woman. I also know the systemic racial connotations of my blackness and womanness. Those sociocultural, historical and politically systemic connotations would have people make assumptions about me rather than work to build a relationship with me to understand the deep love I have for creating space for others to walk in their light. People make assumptions that because I speak so fiercely about #AntiRacistEd that I do not recognize myself as a cisgendered, heterosexual female who has a responsibility to listen to the needs of, advocate for and create space for my LGBTQia+ colleagues and friends.

3 The need to learn the interests of each student in their care

When I have conversations about cultural responsiveness or cultural proficiency with adults, educators specifically, I often hear the retort, “I can’t learn about all the cultures of my students.” Or “It is my job to teach content… (insert any ending you’ve heard people finish with)”, or “I have 5 preps in one day and 150+ students for this content area, I can’t add another thing to my plate.” I then explain that cultural proficiency is not an add on, it’s not a checklist, a curriculum, a one hour, nor a one day professional development. Cultural Proficiency is an inside/out approach, it’s a way of being, it’s an understanding of your worldview and how it impacts and may at times conflict with the worldview of others you come into contact with daily. One way to learn about the interests and narratives of your students is to share a little about yourself. You have to determine what you will share and how it relates to the content you are responsible for. As a writing teacher I started the day by writing with my students and sharing my journal entry.

This journal entry was from September 16, 2005, my third or fourth year as a fourth-grade teacher. The students and I were writing recreations of a poem about a dog complaining. The four words I wrote in my journal were flapping, hole, bowl and mess. I chose to write about my puppy Paige.

What a mess! 
My shirt flapping in the air landed in the spaghetti bowl.
Oh no! Here comes Paige.
No girl, don’t chew a hole there, that’s my favorite shirt!

The students and I had a huge laugh. This simple cultural connection taught them about my sense of humor and that I don’t take myself seriously. Each student was able to share with the whole class or with one partner. At that time I could take mental and physical notes about things and stories that interest them to inform the curriculum that school year.