Top Menu

Creating Safe Places

The Importance of Cultural Responsiveness At This Time in Our World

4204261438_16fc52e91c_bFrom its inception, PassageWorks Institute has been committed to the creation of safe places for students, families and educators.  With her book, The Soul of Education, founder Rachael Kessler urged educators to invite the vulnerable inner lives of students into the public space of the classroom.  Sharing feelings, telling stories, asking deep questions, acknowledging major transitions as youth moved from one stage of their education to another – Rachael and her colleagues offered tools, curricula, and strategies for all these activities to build deep and trusting relationships between teachers and students and among the students themselves.

Since 2001, when The Soul of Education was distributed to over 110,000 school leaders across the nation by ASCD (, educational researchers have provided indisputable evidence of the connection between student engagement and student safety and learning.  There can no longer be any doubt that feeling safe and feeling a sense of belonging are the essential foundation for high level cognitive functioning.  (Find summaries of some of this research on the website of the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning as well as in The Five Dimensions of Engaged Teaching by Laura Weaver and Mark Wilding.)

PassageWorks’ commitment to the creation of inclusive, relational and safe spaces for youth and educators has only deepened over the last decades. Our repertoire of offerings includes the foundational course, Creating Engaged Classrooms, that builds directly off of Rachael’s early work, as well as other courses and initiatives that have psychological, emotional and social safety at their core.

  • Our book, The Five Dimensions of Engaged Teaching (and the courses and workshops related to it), identifies five inner qualities that help teachers cultivate classrooms in which all children are welcome and formally announces our commitment to the cultivation of cultural responsiveness and the aspiration for equitable educational systems.
  • The course Transformational Leadership for Educators broadens our reach beyond the classroom–to the school as a whole and to work with leaders and aspiring leaders. With its focus on Presence, Relationships, Cultural Responsiveness and Whole Systems change, we seek to influence the ecosystem within which engaged classrooms can best function.
  • Our work bringing Mindfulness to educators and school leaders provides participants in our programs with tools for self awareness, self care, emotional regulation and compassion to support the deepening of the ways in which we pay attention to one another with patience, generosity and kindness.
  • And two new courses, Culturally Responsive Leadership and Culturally Responsive Facilitation bring explicit consideration to creating safe educational environments across all forms of difference – race, gender, sexual orientation and identity, language, ethnicity, ability, citizenship status and even politics.

Finally, we are actively reflecting on our own organizational policies and practices to insure that we walk our talk, especially with regard to being an equitable and culturally responsive organization.  We are in the midst of an internal organizational initiative to insure that these principles infuse our work with each other and in the offerings we make to the world.

At this time in our world and in our national conversation, we invite you to join us in deepening your commitment to this important work of creating safe, inclusive, welcoming and loving environments where ALL our students, their families and their teachers thrive.


Activities for Building Cultural Responsiveness
(Excerpt from The Five Dimensions of Engaged Teaching)

  • Learn more about your own history, heritage, community, family, culture, and traditions, and share this information with your students.
  • Integrate discussions of culture into your classroomInvite students to share about their own cultural traditionsUse personal cultural history exercises (personal narratives) and affirm cultural identity.
  • Survey the resources you use in your classroom—books, texts, posters, illustrations, and magazinesNotice 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 ismsTeach 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 expressProvide accurate information that helps them learn new perspectives and rethink learned stereotypes.
  • Seek out antibiased and multicultural curricula.
  • Read and discuss Peggy McIntosh’s (2003a, 2003b) research and writing on white privilegeInvite 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).


Additional Resource:

Teaching Tolerance
A blog where educators who care about diversity, equity and justice
can find news, suggestions, conversation and support.

Image: Alice Popkorn

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply


PassageWorks is a 501(c)(3) under federal tax guidelines. Tax ID: 48-1278766