How do we get to cultural responsiveness?

Educators are made up of multiple identities and see the world through their individual lenses. They come into the field of education and to school every day with the best of intentions, but they can’t know what they don’t know.  Here at Just Educators, we meet educators where they are and help them to tap into their inherent compassion and empathy to begin learning how to listen to and teach students from diverse backgrounds. Here are some of the ways we facilitate that work.

Start with the why

Are we clear about why we do this work every day or does it get lost sometime in the what we are trying to accomplish?  Here is what we know about educators:

  • We are all well-intentioned, good people who want to see all children succeed in school and life.
  • No one of us has all of the answers to the many complex questions about race and culture in a multi-racial, multiethnic, multi-lingual, multicultural society.
  • Some of us would much rather not talk about race, privilege, and implicit bias but if we consent to enter into this conversation under the agreement of trust and good will, it can broaden our understanding of others’ perspectives without negating or diminishing our own.

When we work with educators, we always begin with an activity that allows participants to share perspectives, hear others’ perspectives, and begin to build the trust and understanding that is needed to underlie the work ahead.

Identify your goal

Each particular group must identify not “the problem,” (e.g., “English language learners are underperforming”), but the goal of your efforts (e.g., “Our teaching practices will meet student needs so that all students, including English language learners, can perform well.”  By shifting the focus from “problem” to “goal,” we shift the mindset from negative to positive.

Work through discomfort

This work is inherently uncomfortable.  Talking about inequity and coming to terms with your role in maintaining inequity is part of a difficult process. If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not doing it right.  In order to make meaningful change, we need to acknowledge tension when it arises, identify the beliefs and assumptions that are being challenged, and be willing to examine those beliefs in light of new information.  It’s hard! We’re here to help.

Dig into culture and bias

Each of us views the world from the perspective of our own lived experiences.  What’s “normal” to you has been determined by the models you’ve seen in your own family and community.  The same is true for your students. Behaviors and actions that seem strange or exotic to you are normal to them.  Learning about and experiencing the practices that shape those behaviors is much more effective and enjoyable than trying to force students to be like you.  We can help model the kinds of activities that you and your colleagues can use to better understand your students’ cultural practices. You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to teach when you are on the same page as your students!

Adapt the system to serve the students

Cultural responsiveness in one classroom is a start; leadership is necessary to make real change.  What policies and practices are keeping students from achieving their best? In what ways do our systems prioritize the status quo over progress?  Once we have some awareness of how our students are being limited by existing practices, we can work together to change those practices.

Implement, examine, adjust, and celebrate!

As with any change in practice, this work takes time and effort.  There is not a single intervention to be implemented; changes in culture require ongoing dialogue, self-reflection, and openness.  As uncomfortable as these conversations are at the start, they get easier with practice. Some changes won’t be successful and that’s OK.  Talk about it and try something different. Do remember to celebrate what does work and share it with colleagues and kiddos.

These are some of the major principles and steps that Just Educators uses to facilitate culture and climate change in schools.  If you’re ready to embark on this journey, reach out to us. We’re here to help.