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Start the New Year with Cultural Responsiveness

colored pencilsThe new year can be a powerful time to intentionally address our classroom culture and “re-set” for the second semester.

Part of our jobs as educators is to help students better understand their diverse identities and communities and become more comfortable and confident in interactions with others—especially those people they perceive as being different from themselves. When we make conscious choices to help students breakdown stereotypes and divisions, we foster an inclusive learning community. Here, students learn to value their own perspective, as well as the perspectives of others. They begin to understand themselves in the context of the larger, complex community of which they are part. To create such a classroom, we can take specific steps to promote inclusion, foster the valuing of diversity, and create genuine connections that support students to go beyond mere tolerance to a place of real understanding and care. Below are a list of Activities to support the building of “cultural responsiveness”—or the capacity to respond to the various cultures that are present in our classroom and lives.

We define cultural responsiveness as a fundamental human capacity and commitment to an ongoing practice where:

  • We choose to respond to difference by 1) becoming aware of the role of culture in each individual’s experience and 2) committing to an ongoing exploration of our own cultural influences, as well as the history of oppression in society.
  • We acknowledge and value differences and choose to engage in courageous conversations about these differences.
  • We are committed to supporting social justice and to responding to challenging situations when they arise.

The ongoing practice of cultural responsiveness is about showing up in an interaction with another person, mindful of our own histories, contexts, filters and habits of mind AND with curiosity and an open heart. We enter each encounter willing to be informed and changed by the interaction and each other’s cultural perspective.

Cultural responsiveness is a life-long path and practice and cannot be reduced to a series of strategies. However, the following activities can help us to engage students with more intentionality and awareness.

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.


Activities for Building Cultural Responsiveness

An Excerpt from The 5 Dimensions of Engaged Teaching (Solution Tree, 2013), pp. 35-36

  • Learn more about your own history, heritage, community, family, culture, and traditions, and share this information with your students.
  • List some characteristics of your culture. Consider your communication style and other cultural norms. Notice how this impacts your teaching approach, and consciously bring in other approaches.
  • Pay attention to the following in your classroom and school: Who is silent, and who participates? Who tends to be reprimanded or disciplined most frequently? What kinds of teacher-student interactions occur? What about student to student? Do you notice any pattern? Over time, see if these correspond with cultural differences.
  • Examine disparate discipline data and tracking patterns in schools and see what you discover. Discuss these findings as a faculty.
  • Integrate discussions of culture into your classroom. Invite students to share about their own cultural traditions. Use personal cultural history exercises (personal narratives) and affirm cultural identity.
  • Survey the resources you use in your classroom—books, texts, posters, illustrations, and magazines. Notice what cultures these resources represent and consciously expand the diversity of resources you offer and work with.
  • Teach students about racism, classism, ableism, sexism, and other isms. Teach students to think critically, examine multiple perspectives, and understand historical oppression.
  • Be clear about what is acceptable in your classroom—for example, “In this class, I will not tolerate jokes or derogatory comments about skin color, ethnicity, language, gender, or culture.”
  • Help students and colleagues rethink the stereotypes they express. Provide accurate information that helps them learn new perspectives and rethink learned stereotypes.
  • Seek out anti-biased and multicultural curricula.
  • Read and discuss Peggy McIntosh’s (2003a, 2003b) research and writing on white privilege. Invite kids to explore implications and discuss how to change systems.

Note: Adapted from Understanding Culture (Zion et al., 2005) and personal communication with Dr. Vivian Elliott (September 15, 2012).

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