“In order to create change, you have to identify and unearth the roots of your teaching practice.” — Nikki Williams Rucker
At the start of the year, a teacher tells his students that classroom participation is going to be worth 15% of their final grade. Some students embrace this edict, eagerly sharing their perspectives. Others, begrudgingly, sometimes raise their hands. One, however, remains silent.
Despite periodic reminders, she stays quiet. At the end of the year, the teacher thinks, She had plenty of warnings, but never raised her hand. I did all I could. With a disappointed shake of his head, he knocks the student’s 82 average down to a near-failing 67.
But where did the failure really occur? Was it only the student’s inaction? Did the teacher really do all they could? Given that this is a blog about improving our pedagogy, “no” is a safe guess to the latter two questions. To answer the first one — and improve educational outcomes for all students — I’d highly encourage you to incorporate Culturally Responsive Teaching into your practice.
This Edutopia article, by Nikki Williams Rucker, is a great place to start. It offers a clear introduction to the importance of culturally responsive teaching, its central ideas, and some toolkits to help you get started.
You carry a lifetime of experiences, assumptions, and beliefs into your classroom. So do your students. And some of their life experiences have been very different from yours. By pushing you to examine the assumptions and biases you carry with you — into everything from lesson planning to creating and grading assessments to your relationships with students — culturally responsive teaching can empower you to meet your students where they are, rather than forcing them into situations where they are penalized for their backgrounds and beliefs.
In the example above, the quiet student may have been raised in a culture that taught her to respect authority figures, like a teacher, by staying silent. The expectation that she raise her voice may have created in her a tension she was unable to resolve, leading her to nearly fail the class.
Don’t let your cultural assumptions fail your students. They deserve a teaching practice that responds to their lifetime of experiences. By interrogating your assumptions, you’ll be better able to create an environment where students from diverse backgrounds feel safe enough to tackle whatever new challenges you set for them.