Years ago in my teaching prep courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, we were asked how we would teach/be culturally responsive in a diverse environment. I answered the question by copying whatever the text said and that is why I do not remember what I wrote, only that I had absolutely no idea what I would do. We were required to spend 75 hours in schools that were high in populations of Native Americans, African Americans, and Hispanic Americans. What I can recall is that the school where I spent hours with the Native American populations were frightening. The school was dirty, old, and completely filled to the maximum capacity. Right across the Red River, the schools where I spent with the two other groups, were completely different, as in modern, clean, and less scary for a teacher-in-training! This was in the early 2000s.
Fast forward to 2019 and most of my years teaching have been in a public school where my white skin is in the minority and we are classified as Title 1, meaning most of the students are on free or reduced lunches. Being culturally responsive was not something I was aiming for per se, but it has definitely become a required skill to remain relevant for my students. I wish I had taken courses on this subject, but thankfully, bonding with my students and their families gave me the education I needed. I can honestly tell you that the desire to know and understand what motivated my students was where my education in culturally responsive teaching began. Also, my colleagues of color have impacted my teaching practices.
Here is a list of some culturally responsive traits:
- Positive perspectives on parents and families
- Communication of high expectations
- Learning within the context of culture
- Student-centered instruction
- Culturally mediated instruction
- Reshaping the curriculum
- Teacher as facilitator
Taking courses on being culturally responsive may not be necessary if you are on the path of finding out how to bond with your students. When building foundational relationships with young people, some of these traits are natural, like being welcoming to families. Over the years, my students taught me that they were more highly involved in learning when I was talking less and they were doing more, my role as a facilitator was shaping itself and my own pedagogy was more student-centered.
The two strongest indicators, for me, that I was becoming more culturally responsive in my teaching practices, was when I was able to reach out to my students and ask them how I could help my students of color more, and when my personal friendships started growing with more non-white people. One young lady shared with me she felt noticed and as important as all other students, for the first time, in my class. The comfort we felt while talking about our differences and appreciating each other was real. I listened more to my students and the wise teachers who took me under their wings. Becoming friends with more people who were African American, Hispanic, Asian, or biracial has given me glimpses into perspectives I would otherwise never have. I know being able to address cultural differences with people close to me has really challenged and changed me! AND I LOVE IT! I’m absolutely grateful for those relationships and the way I’ve grown because of them.
Relationships, conversations, and learning how to appreciate different perspectives is what has formed me into a culturally responsive and relevant educator. While more natural for others and less natural for some, if we are willing to listen and learn, more of us in education can cross the divide that oppresses our nation, and be part of the unifying factors. That is probably one of the coolest things about being in education, being a unify-er of people!
If you are interested in growing in this area or helping others grow in this area, hop on Twitter this Tuesday and follow one of my favorite chats, #FlocabChat. While on Twitter, under the search button, type in #FlocabChat and click on the “latest” tab. Our chat begins 7pm CST and 8 EST.
Although I have grown so much in this area since I first became a teacher, I know I still have much to learn. Listening and asking questions to educators in the know is one of the best ways to begin this important journey!