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Who Are You Creating A Classroom For?

It is of utmost importance that we are creating a classroom environment that ALL our students feel welcome, supported, accepted, safe, cared for, comfortable, and engaged.  This starts with our classroom environment.  Use the hashtag #OURclassroom2017 on social media to provide the teaching community with examples of how you are being purposeful and mindful when setting up your learning space.

The following blog post is an excerpt from my Guide to Becoming Culturally Responsive.

Set the Stage…

While it should not be news to any educator, students thrive best in a positive learning environment that is inviting and welcoming both physically and psychologically.  The issue goes back to our own cultural experiences and how we (most of the time) unknowingly project them into our classroom setting.  What the teacher may view as welcoming, positive and inviting may indeed appear to be uncomfortable and exclusive to some of the students.  Moos (1979) states that “ for students of color and families of immigrants , their initial assessment of their acceptance into the school environment depends on whether or not they perceive pictures, symbols and other visual representations that remind them of their homes, communities, and values.”  Simply put, do all of your students see themselves represented within the walls of your school and/or classroom?  In the majority of public schools across our nation the answer is no.

In his book “Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning” (2012) Sharroky Hollie identifies 8 key elements that help to create a Culturally Responsive learning environment.  They are as follows:

  • Print Rich Environment
  • Learning Centers
  • Culturally Colorful
  • Optimum Arrangement
  • Multiple Libraries
  • Technology
  • Relevant Bulletin Boards
  • Displayed student work and images of students

Again, while many of these elements are not new to educators, the goal is to be culturally mindful and aware while implementing them.

A Print Rich Environment

All learners will thrive in an environment that is designed to stimulate their language development and literacy acquisition, but it is especially important to create this kind of environment rich with text and symbols for our underserved students (Hollie, 2012).  Signs, posters, symbols, labels and especially word walls are essential to all learners whether you are teaching in a primary elementary classroom or a content specific class.  Be sure to steer clear of commercially created items.  Often times images are not truly cultural/ ethnic reflections of your students, but are merely a “colored in” version of an individual with “white” features.  Actual photographs or images that accurately depict ethnicities are better suited if they are to be used.  Be highly critical of these elements and the message that they are sending to you students, your students are staring at them every day.  In order for you students to take ownership and truly see themselves in the environment the majority of the materials should be student created.

Learning Centers

The key aspect here is to think beyond the traditional content area centers of reading, writing, math, science, etc.  “Centers that feature culturally related speaking and listening activities are welcome additions to the traditional centers (Hollie, 2012).”  The research has been well documented showing how effective music is at stimulating the brain, the addition of cultural music at a listening center can be beneficial.  Dr. Hollie (2012) also suggests the addition of a “cultural center” where items from students homes can be brought in and showcased.  The purpose of this center is to act as a living museum for the students and their families to tell their story.

Culturally Colorful

Many of us have little control over the color of the walls and floors (even furniture) in our classrooms. If your school and district allow it, try painting over the often “institutionalized” colors that can be found in our aging classrooms, but please make sure you get an approval before picking up that paintbrush!  The goal is to have classrooms that are dynamic, lively, exciting and inviting, so if you can not get rid of those drab walls there are many other ways of creating a culturally colorful environment.  Please note, I do feel as though there is a delicate balance here and that again, you need to know your students.  I am not suggesting that you over colorize your classroom, you need to be purposeful and mindful just like everything else.  Many students (especially the younger ones in my experience) may become over stimulated by a dramatic use of color.  Shade, Kelly, and Oberg (1999) state that native American cultures seem to prefer earth-tone colors and in some cases bright yellows and pastels which are also colors supported by a lot of the current brain research.  The use of ethnic cloths and patterned papers (if you are unable to use cloth due to fire code), prints and artwork are other ways to tie color into your classroom in a purposeful manner.

Optimally Arranged

Almost every teacher goes through the same scenario in August when walking into an empty room with everything piled into the corner, “how am I going to arrange everything?”  Having tables can make the task somewhat easier, but for those with desks the potential arrangements can seem endless and choosing the “right one” is a daunting task.  There are a few key features to keep in mind when arranging your space it should be one that;

  • promotes movement
  • encourages student collaboration
  • enhances viewing capabilities
  • allows for students to connect with the teacher individually or in small groups

Multiple Libraries

How to organize a multitude of books into a classroom library has been another challenging and ever changing task over the years.  Dr. Sharroky Hollie (2012) suggests formulating multiple libraries by organizing books into categories such as genre, authors, topics or  reading levels.  He also notes that it is important to display the books in such a way that it appeals to students.  Clearly labeled and easily searchable baskets (or another organization method) that are within the students reach are generally more inviting to students.  I would also include that explicitly teaching students how to navigate the classroom library, as well as giving them the time and encouragement to do so is an important factor.

Use of Technology

In todays classrooms there is a definite push for the use of technology.  As teachers of 21st century students it is our job to make sure that we are being purposeful and responsive with how we set up and use technology.  There is a tremendous amount of potential for technology use with our students but often times you will walk into a classroom to find it collecting dust.  I implore teachers to utilize the technology that they have in their rooms and seek out opportunities to let it help you be culturally responsive.

Relevant Bulletin Boards

I would like to highlight the word relevant in this heading.  All to often I see educators using bulletin boards as a decoration or space filler that becomes old and stagnant.  Let us be reminded that the purpose of bulletin boards is to highlight and connect to the content being discussed or overall theme of the lesson/ unit.  There are endless possibilities when it comes to creating bulletin boards and there are wonderfully inspirational sources out there.  Whatever the you use your bulletin board for, make sure to do it purposefully, through a cultural lens, and please change it several times before June.

Displayed Student Work and Images of Students

Perhaps the easiest and yet most prominent way to reflect the learners in your environment is to display their work and images.  Just like bulletin boards, it should be changed out frequently (in fact, bulletin boards are a great place to highlight your students!), at least once a month.  As Sharroky Hollie (2012) states, this is the classrooms version of having your students’ names in lights, so it should be completely inclusionary while also maintaining high expectations for exemplary work.

 

Hollie, S. (2011). Culturally and linguistically responsive teaching and learning: Classroom practices for student success.  Huntington Beach, CA: Shell Education.

Gay, G. (2010). Cultural Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice (2nd ed). NY: Teachers College Press.

Griner, A., & Stewart, M. (2013). addressing the achievement gap and disproportionality through the use of culturally responsive teaching practices. Urban Education, 48(4), 585-621. doi:10.1177/0042085912456847

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Looking to Get Started With Culturally Responsive Teaching?

By now you may have heard a little bit about Culturally Responsive Teaching… but if you haven’t feel free to check out this post.

Getting started can seem like an overwhelming and daunting task.  Like it’s “one more thing” to be doing in your classroom.  I get it, I’ve been there along with my colleagues.   I’m here to tell you that it is much simpler than you may think- as a matter of fact you’re probably doing a lot of it already!

One of the easiest ways to get started with cultural responsiveness is by using attention signals in your classroom.  “Well I already do that!” you say… great!  The key here is using them purposefully and adding in a little cultural twist here and there (by culture I don’t just mean ethnicity- youth culture is a very important aspect as well!).  Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when using attention signals to be culturally responsive:

  • Use attention signals for specific purposes.
    • To clarify, or give further directions
    • To transition
    • To bring the activity, or lesson to a close
    • If you use a signal to bring the class back to attention, do not use the same signal as a transition.  Students will get confused.
  • Make sure that you have a good reason to be using the attention signal.  You will lose student engagement and buy- in if you repeatedly us a signal without good reason.
  • Do not expect the students to be quiet immediately.  They should gradually come to quiet- within 3-5 seconds.  If done correctly, and with student buy-in once you start talking all should quiet down.
  • If you need quiet immediately, use your “freeze!”  or other stop on a dime signal.
  • The use of attention signals builds community, harmony, energy, rhythm and unity in your classroom.  They will validate and affirm those cultures that utilize call and response for connecting with one another.
  • Have signals in your toolbox that are traditional, responsive and culturally responsive so that your students experience variety and learn to understand how to respond to their differences and build situational appropriateness.

If you are ready to begin using attention signals in your classroom I have a treat for you!  I’ve compiled a bunch of my go- to signals in a easy to use freebie just for you 🙂  Click here to grab yours today and stay tuned for more ideas and products on becoming Culturally Responsive.

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Is Your Clipart Culturally Responsive?

While it should not be news to any educator, students thrive best in a positive learning environment that is inviting and welcoming both physically and psychologically.  The issue goes back to our own cultural experiences and how we (most of the time) unknowingly project them into our classroom setting.

What the teacher may view as welcoming, positive and inviting may indeed appear to be uncomfortable and exclusive to some of the students.  Moos (1979) states that “ for students of color and families of immigrants , their initial assessment of their acceptance into the school environment depends on whether or not they perceive pictures, symbols and other visual representations that remind them of their homes, communities, and values.”

Simply put, do all of your students see themselves represented within the walls of your school and/or classroom?  In the majority of public schools across our nation the answer is no.

Most teachers (myself included) like to adorn our work with clip art.  Whether it be a powerpoint slide or a worksheet or even classroom posters, teachers everywhere are utilizing clip art and other various images on a regular basis.  Unfortunately many of these images do not accurately reflect the students within our classrooms and it all boils down to awareness.

I’ve learned over the years, after doing many searches for clip art of culturally diverse students that many of the individuals who create the clip art are simply unaware of what truly diverse images look like.  Often times attempts have images with the same facial features and body/ hair but slightly different skin tones.  This is called the “colored in effect”.  While it is a step in the right direction towards diversity it still portrays some of the “ideals”  that our students are flooded with on a daily basis.  Very rarely are drawn images of students depicted as being in wheelchairs, wearing glasses, having a broad nose and full lips, having freckles, wearing a hijab, and the list goes on (for a great example of Culturally Responsive clip art look here!).

On the flip side, many educators aren’t aware of how their own implicit bias affects the images of students that they use in their room.  Not to say that this is intentionally done in any way… but many times, especially considering that the majority of the teaching profession in this country is made up of white females, it just isn’t something that is considered all that often.  Inherently, teachers will select images based upon their cultural lens and must build their awareness of the other lenses in the room.

Even if they do not teach in a diverse setting it is important for educators to consider who they are representing through images in their rooms.  We don’t need to worry about representing our white students anywhere near as much as our nations underserved students, who have historically and systemically been under- represented or mis-represented in games, toys, books, curriculum, movies, tv shows, dolls, products etc for centuries.  Our white students see themselves represented just about everywhere everyday.  It is important that even in an all white classroom to expose students to people and cultures who are different from them.  I would argue that it may be even more important for teachers in this setting to take just as many steps to represent diversity as teachers who work with diverse students.

Overall, we need to do a better job of being cognizant of the images that we are choosing.  A cute little clip art kid may seem harmless at the time, but consider the images that are flooding our students on a regular basis from all angles.  The ultimate goal is to be highly critical of these elements and the message that they are sending to you students, because your students are staring at them every day.

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What is Culturally Responsive Teaching?

I love this quote by the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. especially in terms of Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT).  To me, it sums up what Culturally Responsive Teaching is… all of us with our different learned experiences working and maneuvering together in the same boat.  Typically, when I’m speaking to other individuals regarding CRT I like to start off with why it is so important for today’s educators.  In today’s post though I thought I would start off a little differently.  I thought I would start by explaining what Culturally Responsive Teaching is… because I can see in my colleagues across the country that many already know why we need it.  I see teachers on a daily basis who love their profession and students and want nothing more than to see them succeed, but despite their best efforts things are still not going as well as they could… or worse, things are going horribly wrong.

But alas, I can not resist providing you with a tiny little bit of background information…

Other than the Indigenous people of the United States we (or our ancestors) have all arrived here by “ship”.  The time period in which we arrived on American soil as well as the purpose for coming (voluntary vs. involuntary) has had a large impact on our experiences- especially within educational institutions.  We are all trying to navigate an antiquated, and racially biased institution together- our boat, which unfortunately is not set up for all to be successful.

When colleagues ask me what I’m doing differently in my class, or how I manage certain things, my answer is almost always CRT.  While still very much a work in progress, I have been studying and utilizing Culturally Responsive techniques (formally) since the summer of 2013.  I began attending a series of professional development on the topic that was provided by my district and presented by Dr. Sharroky Hollie.  More on this later!

So what is Culturally Responsive Teaching?

One of my graduate professors Amy Bergstrom Ed.D, professor at the College of St. Scholastica once stated to myself and my colleagues “there is no formula for Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning, there is no do a, b, c, and d and suddenly you’re culturally responsive.  Its vast, and its deep and wide.  And its organic because it changes based on context… “

Geneva Gay, one of the leaders in Culturally Responsive Teaching defines it as “using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, and performance styles of diverse students to make learning more appropriate and effective for them; it teaches to and through the strengths of these students.   It changes the traditional understanding of the achievement gap by shifting focus away from the perceived student deficits and puts them towards school deficits.”  It requires teachers to respond to differences in students’ communication and learning styles by evaluating and changing their own management and teaching techniques.

I like to think of CRT as accessing students prior knowledge (also explained in the video below)… not just their content knowledge, but their cultural knowledge as well.  Then, we can build upon that knowledge and teach our students how to be situationally appropriate.  We use a variety of management techniques and protocols for responding and discussing that both validate our students learned cultural experiences and build new experiences that they will be able to draw from and utilize later in life.

In order for Culturally Responsive Teaching to be successful the following criteria are non negotiable.

  • The belief that ALL students can learn
  • An open mind and willingness to change
  • You need to know who you are
  • You need to know who your students (and families) are
  • You need to know what and how you are teaching

The following video from Teaching Tolerance does a great job at introducing the concept of Culturally Responsive Teaching:

If you are interested in learning more please stay tuned!

In the meantime you may also want to check out these resources:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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