Teaching Opinion

Reaching all Students Through Culturally Responsive Teaching

By Urban Education Contributor — September 13, 2018 6 min read
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This post is by Brooke O’Neill, Director of Curriculum & Instruction at David Douglas School District (@daviddouglas_sd).

Today’s post is the practitioner perspective on Monday’s post: Three Principles for Culturally Relevant Teaching

With the student body of the David Douglas School District becoming increasingly diverse (and diversity in our teaching workforce not catching up fast enough), we recently intensified our efforts around a district-wide focus on culturally responsive teaching to continue serving all of our students well. As part of this effort, we tapped into our partnership with the University of Portland through the Multnomah County Partnership for Education Research (MCPER) to identify what the literature says about culturally responsive pedagogy and teaching strategies for educators. The findings from the literature review, outlined in Monday’s post, reinforced our commitment as a district to make culturally responsive teaching practices a priority focus throughout David Douglas School District. While we understood the importance of culturally responsive teaching, deeper conversations revealed that we had multiple definitions circling regarding what culturally responsive teaching meant and what it looked like in practice. A common understanding and set of actionable practices is where we decided to begin with our entire administrative team.

Use of Research Findings in Practice

The MCPER literature review and a shorter article by Education Northwest, “Culturally Responsive Teaching: A Guide to Evidenced-Based Practices for Teaching All Students Equitably,” guided our initial efforts around implementing culturally relevant pedagogy that we kick-started and sought to define during our August 2017 Administrator Academy. David Douglas’ Administrator Academy is our annual back to school meeting: A team of forty school and district administrators meet for three days each summer to outline strategic goals for the year. Prior to the start of our August 2017 academy, each administrator read the Education Northwest article, which aligns perfectly with the literature review, reinforcing that effective teaching is culturally responsive teaching and highlighting the relationship between teacher expectations and student achievement. The article also outlines 27 “specific, observable and measurable teacher behaviors that communicate high expectations to all students regardless of their race, ethnicity, or cultural or linguistic context” (p. 4). These 27 practices aligned with the practices that also emerged in the MCPER lit review, giving us a number of research-based practices to consider for implementation in the 2017-2018 school year.

The first of the 27 practices is welcoming students by name as they enter the classroom. The literature review stresses the value of care and relationships. Knowing this, we chose welcoming students by name each day as a culturally responsive teaching practice that all schools and all classrooms would implement. While this sounds simple, David Douglas represents over 75 different languages from across the globe. Welcoming every student and pronouncing their name correctly, we agreed, was the first step in demonstrating care and fostering positive relationships.

We engaged in a consensus activity with our entire administrative team to identify four more practices as a focus for the upcoming school year. From the partnership literature review we learned that key characteristics of culturally responsive teachers included valuing students’ culture, heritage, and experiences. Therefore, two of the additional culturally responsive teaching practices chosen by our administrative team were ensuring bulletin boards, displays, instructional materials, and other visuals in the classroom reflected students’ racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds and using students’ real life experiences to connect school learning to students’ lives. The remaining two practices chosen were using “wait time” to give students time to think before they respond to your question and providing students with the criteria and standards for successful task completion.

After identifying the culturally responsive teaching practices that would be our area of focus for the upcoming year, we divided our administrative team into into professional learning teams (PLTs) based on feeder schools. Each group included elementary, middle, and high school principals. Their charge was to take one of the culturally responsive teaching practices they were assigned and align it with our professional teaching standards that are part of our evaluation system to show the relationship between culturally responsive teaching and what educators already know and do. After identifying the aligned professional teaching standard(s), teams then learned more about each culturally responsive teaching practice by watching short videos showing classroom demonstrations of the equitable practices published by Montgomery Public Schools. We asked teams to identify observable actions that represented best practice for teachers and students in regards to implementation of the five practices we had identified. Teams recorded the observable actions on a shared Google Doc.

This document served as a walkthrough tool that teams could use as they visited each other’s schools throughout the year. Because of the importance of this work we changed our administrative meeting structure to devote one meeting per month to meet in PLTs. In lieu of a traditional informational type meeting structure, teams were given two and half hours monthly to visit each other’s schools, collect implementation data, identify challenges and successes, engage in professional learning and/or determine next steps. Our collective goal as an entire administrative team was to scale implementation of culturally responsive teaching practices throughout the district. While the goal remained consistent, the monthly work that occured during PLT meetings differed by group and was determined by data collected, needs of the team, and where they were in the PLT process. Three times throughout the year (January, April, and May), each PLT reported out their data and the team’s response to that data.

Future Work

Welcoming students by name as they enter the classroom will continue to be a district focus for the 2018-2019 school year. At the 2018 Administrator Academy we wanted to build on last year’s efforts and go deeper, so we introduced the REL Northwest Naming Conventions Reference Guide. Our learning target was to understand the naming conventions for the top five languages in David Douglas School District. Principals will take this resource back to their school sites.

In addition, five collective administrator commitments around culturally responsive teaching have been established for the upcoming year. These commitments will be a part of each of our administrator meetings and the focus of future Administrator Academies. Commitments range from ensuring all staff know what a particular culturally relevant teaching strategy looks like when fully implemented to consistent application.

At year’s end we will reflect on how far we’ve come and where we still need to go. What will remain the same is our relentless focus and commitment on implementation of culturally responsive teaching practices.

Photo: Unsplash

The opinions expressed in Urban Education Reform: Bridging Research and Practice are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.