Editor’s Note: This is the second of three articles exploring culturally responsive teaching. See the February issue for the introductory article in this series. The final article covers specific strategies for classroom practices.
Culture is an often misunderstood aspect of culturally responsive teaching that requires examination as a prerequisite to adapting culturally responsive pedagogy. Ethnicity is one component of culture, but it is not the totality of culture. Age, gender, and class are also important components of culture. A middle-aged white man from the South has a different culture than a 30-year-old investment banker in New York City, who is also a white male. Ethnicity alone does not define culture.
Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade, Associate Professor of Latina/Latino Studies in the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University, challenges educators to think of community as something that represents culture more holistically, encompassing more than just race and diversity (TEDx, 2011). Culture and community are interconnected. Culturally responsive teachers understand the multifarious components of culture. Food, language, and music are also vital components of culture. Think of the food you grew up eating and the music you enjoyed in your youth. These memories are reflective of a larger community and contribute to overall culture.
An unfortunate common assumption is that the Black community is monolithic. However, the culture of Black kids growing up in the suburbs may be different from the culture of Black kids growing up in an urban environment. Instruction that addressed local and community-based issues will help students connect and apply that instruction to their lived experiences. It is important to see the heterogeneity of Black Americans and to consider the culture and community of our racial minority students in a more nuanced way. Additionally, it is important to remember Black students are not the only people of color present in classrooms. The diversity of our classrooms includes African students, Asian American students, and more.
“Culturally relevant teachers recognize that they do not instruct culturally homogenized, generic students in generic school settings. Teachers armed with a repertoire of generic teaching skills often find themselves ineffective and ill prepared when faced with a classroom of culturally diverse students” (Irvine, 2009).
Educators must become more comfortable modifying curriculum, pedagogy, and assessments for the unique needs of the community their students are living within. Culturally responsive teachers acknowledge ethnic, linguistic, racial, and historical identities within the context of grade-level instruction. Teachers must know their students and their respective communities in order to do this well.
Sometimes teachers fear that a focus on community and culture will dull the rigor of their classroom. Many teachers have a desire to see a more integrated curriculum succeed in their classroom, but only have a cursory understanding of culturally relevant pedagogy. Consequently, teachers often spotlight historical figures like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and Frederick Douglass for Black History Month, and attempt to weave rap or pop music into units on poetry or literary devices. These examples are a start but fall short in and of themselves because students need more than facts about historical figures. They need to understand how their contributions, culture, and community are a valued part of society. There are steps that can ensure a student’s culture (race, age, gender, class) and community are organically integrated into pedagogy.
Here are a few ways to acknowledge and celebrate the culture and community that minority students bring to the classroom.
- Celebrate diverse culture (food, music, rituals) throughout the school year and not solely during Thanksgiving or Christmas feasts. Celebrate diversity year-round and not merely for Cultural Heritage Months.
- Create projects and lessons that allow students to connect the curriculum and content to their life experiences. Read diverse literature. Display diverse artwork. Allow students to share stories that represent their home communities when making real-life connections to instruction.
- Help students understand their primary identity in Christ, but also how their identities and experiences may be linked to their gender, ethnicity, and racial identity. God has created us uniquely male and female and with a specific ethnic make-up. These too are part of our identity and influence how we navigate the world around us.
- Cultivate a classroom community of respect where questions are welcomed and expected. Hard conversations that require self-reflection and introspection should not be shied away from when cultivating a safe classroom community. Educators can model how to enter these conversations with charitable judgment, assuming the best of others. Modeling humility and godliness in these conversations will give students the tools necessary to successfully navigate them in the future.
Taking these steps, we communicate to our students of color their identity, community, and culture are not only important to us as educators, but also valued by us as their brothers and sisters in Christ. We not only acknowledge the beautiful and unique ways that God has created them, but we also defend their distinction by lavishing it with merit and grace.
Irvine, J.J. (2009). Relevant: Beyond the basics. https://www.wisconsinrticenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/3B-Relevant-Beyond-The-Basics.pdf
TEDx. (2011, September 28). Jeff Duncan-Andrade: Growing roses from concrete [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CwS60ykM8s
Director of Educational Strategy Tia Gaines serves as Department Chair for the English department as well as the 6-12 Instructional Coach for Insight PA Cyber Charter School. She coaches more than 200 teachers on teaching strategies in a virtual setting. She has also taught in the School for Applied and Innovative Learning program at Delaware County Christian School in Newtown Square, PA. In addition, Tia provides consulting to schools, universities and organizations on diversity, equity and inclusion alongside her husband, Joel. She resides in Philadelphia with her husband Joel and their four children.