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What is Culturally Responsive Teaching?

I recently attended an excellent professional development session in which Zaretta Hammond highlighted the differences between three dimensions of equity: multicultural education (i.e., celebrating diversity), social justice education (i.e., raising students’ consciousness of social and political issues), and culturally responsive pedagogy (i.e., improving students’ learning capacity). Hammond notes the first two are commonly practiced, but the latter is what is needed to promote instructional equity. This was a powerful mind shift for me. Yes, we should celebrate diversity and decolonize our curriculum and focus on social justice awareness and activism, but this is not worth much if students do not have the capacity to learn independently. Students need to move through the learning pit, not have teachers over-scaffold and remove students from the important grappling that is learning. Interested in learning more from Zaretta Hammond? Check out her book, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain or watch this video.

As educators we likely recognize the educational systems are not adequately serving our black and brown students, and it is our responsibility to our students to take action against racism. White educators should take steps to deepen our understanding of systemic racism and study ways we can disrupt racism in education. Many times white educators (and white folks generally) become defensive, claiming, “I am not racist,” but this locus of racism in individual acts obscures the systemic racism that plagues our schools and our roles in it. Robin DiAngelo discusses this in her book, White Fragility. She also encourages white people to increase their stamina for racial conversations, as we need to be able to engage in conversations about race and accept feedback on our participation in racist systems. Jay Smooth’s TED Talk proposes a powerful metaphor to help shift our mindsets from defending our character to an appreciation of feedback for growth. He suggests instead of looking at anti-racism work as a tonsil removal (i.e., one procedure and you’re not racist), think of it like going to the dentist (i.e., ongoing check-ins are considered normal, healthy, and helpful). Another great resource is the podcast, Teaching While White, which features an interview with DiAngelo in the first episode.

As a school, educators may want to individually self-assess how often they engage in these equity practices perhaps via Google Form, and then identify areas for collective growth. Professional learning communities may also want to read Cornelius Minor’s book, We Got This. Listen to him talk about this book on the Truth for Teachers podcast. Teachers can also listen to Jennifer Gonzalez interview Pedro Noguera on the Cult of Pedagogy podcast, where he shares 10 ways educators can take action in pursuit of equity.

What resources or practices have you found helpful

in your pursuit of educational and racial equity?

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