Making Practices Culturally Responsive
What and Who am I Teaching?
What am I Teaching?
What is missing from this lesson or practice? How can I enhance this content to engage all of my students?
After preparing a kindness unit, an elementary teacher shares her plans with colleagues and realizes that several elements are missing from her lessons, including a stronger focus on student-centered learning. After reflecting on how to be more inclusive, she decides to incorporate the following: 1) “kindness exemplars” representing the diverse students in her classroom, 2) consultation with students and families regarding their beliefs about kindness and acts of kindness, 3) teacher-student collaboration with students modeling lesson activities and practices for their peers, and 4) a student-driven project like a “kindness challenge.”
Are there stereotypes or prejudices that this lesson or practice may implicitly promote?
Some bullying lessons can oversimplify the distinction between bullies and victims and don’t always focus on WHY many children are bullied: they don’t fit into the status quo.
Instead, teachers can invite their students to unpack stereotypes they might hold about their peers, especially those that appear to look or act differently than the majority. Teachers can also challenge basic assumptions students might have about bullying (e.g., there are two kinds of people: bullies and their victims; bullies and victims are types of people who really can’t change) and promote a growth mindset about people’s capacity for change.
Are the key topics and terms in this lesson or practice accessible (and acceptable) to students and their families?
Although many teachers use the term “mindfulness,” and share “mindfulness” practices with students, it’s actually difficult to define, and considered a controversial practice by some families and religious communities. So it’s important for an educator to consider when or how they will describe it to students in their classroom and community. Some teachers refer to it as “awareness” or “a way of paying attention to something–right now”–or as a form of “cognitive training.” Regardless, it’s crucial to acknowledge the possible reservations and questions some families may have about “mindfulness.”
Who am I teaching?
Who is not being addressed or included in this lesson?
When teachers direct their students to “close their eyes” at the start of a mindfulness practice, they are not considering students who may have experienced trauma. If they invite students to choose whether they would like to close their eyes, gaze downward, or keep their eyes open, they are providing options that may help students to feel more psychologically and emotionally safe in the classroom.
How might my beliefs about this topic, lesson, and/or practice differ from my students’ and their families’ beliefs? Does this practice privilege my values over theirs in any way?
Before asking students to participate in a specific gratitude practice, a teacher considers his beliefs about how to express gratitude to others. Studies tell us that different cultures share gratitude in very different ways (e.g., verbally, through gifts, etc.). Since he doesn’t know how his students typically express gratitude, he invites them to interview families and community members about what they are grateful for and how/when they share gratitude with others. Then, his students return to class and report on their interviews.
This activity encourages curiosity while opening the door to a wider discussion of cultural differences. It also provides an opportunity for students to share practices or rituals that everyone can try.
How is this lesson or practice relevant to all of my students?
During class meetings and community circle practices, an elementary teacher emphasizes the importance of “active listening,” directing her students to make eye contact with one another. However, she learns that some of her Native American, Hispanic, and Japanese students do not use eye contact to demonstrate empathy, respect, and/or engagement. Instead, the teacher asks her students about some of the ways they listen to each other in their respective communities. Then, students share the ways they communicate respectful interest (e.g., nodding, not interrupting, etc.).
Why and How am I Teaching This?
Why am I teaching this?
What do I want students to do with this lesson or practice (in the “real world”)? Is there some form of action they might take?
A middle school social studies teacher asks his students to 1) choose a pressing social issue that matters to them, 2) research it, and 3) outline possible solutions to the problem each year. But this year he realizes that his students’ collaborative group work shouldn’t end there. His newly revised “Change the World” project also features neighborhood canvassing and formal presentations to community members as students advocate for policies that protect traditionally marginalized groups (e.g., local refugees and homeless youth).
Am I asking students to practice a skill that I value (or that is privileged by the dominant culture)? If so, will it benefit them?
During her community circle practice, a U.S. teacher emphasizes the importance of “conflict resolution,” directing her students to use “I” messages to assert their opinions. However, some of her students from Korea and China remind her that in their cultures group harmony is prioritized over an individual’s thoughts and feelings. In response, the teacher asks her students to share some of the ways they resolve conflicts in their cultures and countries of origin— and how they might honor those approaches within their classroom circle process.
How am I teaching?
How do I make the content in this lesson or practice relevant to students’ lives?
A high school science teacher regularly integrates ethical dilemmas–many of which are suggested by students–into classes when introducing lessons and units. For example, students examine the values that drive their thinking as they explore specific case studies and scenarios related to the ethics of artificial intelligence, animal testing, and eugenics. Through these discussions, students get to know each other on a deeper level, participate in challenging conversations, and learn to articulate their sense of right and wrong.
How can I incorporate the following teaching strategies into my lesson—drawing on diverse students’ “cultural learning tools,” like social learning and stories?
- Social Learning: Encouraging students to depend on each other for their learning helps to build a “communal orientation” in the classroom.
- Stories: Because all cultures celebrate stories, students can benefit from creating coherent narratives about the skills, topics, and processes they learn about in class.
Instead of simply defining “empathy” and discussing the importance of sharing and understanding each other’s feelings, an elementary teacher leads a class meeting where students voluntarily share a personal story of when they received empathy or extended empathy to someone else. Then, students work in pairs and draw pictures of what their class looks like with empathy and without empathy.
Am I transparent about my criteria for assessment? Do students know what to do and how to do it?
As part of a cooperative learning activity in a unit on “debate, dialogue, and persuasion,” a high school teacher tells her students that she will assess each group member’s ability to “debate constructively” on an issue.
To ensure a fair and equitable assessment, she 1) discusses the characteristics of respectful debate with her students, 2) generates a list of concrete behaviors to demonstrate this (e.g., acknowledge your opponents’ argument by paraphrasing it, using “I” to express your opinions, as well as “and” to build on another person’s ideas, etc.), 3) models the use of each concrete behavior, 4) invites students to practice these behaviors multiple times before she formally assesses them, and 5) provides students with the rubric she will use while they practice.
Here are some additional suggestions for your professional growth:
- Examine 13 common beliefs about racially and ethnically diverse students (Sample Practice: Common Beliefs Survey: Teaching Racially and Ethnically Diverse Students).
- Consider how your identities influence your relationships with students (Sample Practice: Dimensions of Similarity and Difference Reflection).
- Explore your assumptions about students’ behaviors (Sample Practice: Mindful Reflection Process for Developing Culturally Responsive Practices).
- Understand the relationships between stereotypes and systemic discrimination and reflect on the ways privilege can influence justice (Sample Practice: Understanding Justice).