Rochester Public Schools is no stranger to the term, Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching, or CLRT. We’ve spent the last few years engaging with the work of Dr. Sharroky Hollie and the Center for Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning. Many of us have been to trainings, have engaged in one-on-one coaching, and have poured over the pages of Dr. Hollie’s binder and book in order to become culturally responsive educators. This has been a very impactful learning experience, but we must also remember that Culturally Responsive teaching is but one facet of achieving educational equity. In this post, I want to share four overarching characteristics of culturally responsive teaching in an effort to paint a broader picture of culturally responsive teaching and how it fits the overall goal of educational equity at RPS.
Characteristic #1: Learning Within the Context of Culture
Many of our marginalized students’ home cultures and languages do not closely reflect the mainstream school culture. Students can feel pressure to assimilate and give up aspects of who they are, creating tensions that impact classroom relationships and student engagement. Luckily, much of our work with Dr. Hollie has focused on understanding the juxtaposition between common cultural archetypes and mainstream school expectations. He and his coaches have trained us to stop and recognize how behavior is cultural and how we can better validate and affirm cultural behaviors while building and bridging students to success in the mainstream school culture. We have learned how to recognize common cultural archetypes and plan instruction that honors the cultural behaviors that each student brings to our classroom so they can create deeper connections to the content and build up their intellective capacity (Hammond & Jackson, 2015).
Characteristic #2: Positive Perspectives on Parents and Families
Culture is the way we interpret the world. The culturally responsive teacher understands that each student comes to school with abundant knowledge that is rooted in their family’s culture. They also know that when instruction is rooted in these Funds of Knowledge (Moll, Amanti, Neff, and González, 1992) we create more meaningful relationships with our students and they can make deeper, relevant connections to academic content.
Characteristic #3: Communication of High Expectations
The culturally responsive teacher creates a rigorous and relevant learning environment that is rooted in relationships. They are warm demanders (Kleinfeld, 1975), communicating outrageous love to their students, while pushing them to be excellent. As Zaretta Hammond (2015) puts it, “Personal warmth and authentic concern exhibited by the teacher earns [them] the right to demand engagement and effort” (p. 98). This is different from the authoritarian teacher who simply demands compliance or, at the other end of the spectrum, the permissive teacher who is often overly sympathetic, accommodating, and inconsistent.
Characteristic #4: Relevant Curriculum
The culturally responsive teacher creates integrated, cross curricular, rigorous, student centered learning experiences. Such curricula allows students to apply their skills to situations and problems that occur in the world beyond the classroom. It demands all students develop higher order thinking skills (HOTS) and provides students opportunities to be self-reflective and hone their communication skills. This is precisely what the RPS Graduate Profile is about! Culturally Responsive educators recognize that such a curriculum requires a learning environment that supports risk taking and assessment policies that allow for authentic growth. They also recognize the importance of diverse perspectives and provide materials that authentically reflect the cultures of their students.
So now what?
Take some time to reflect on these characteristics and how they may look in your classroom. You may be surprised to see how many ways you are already engaging in culturally responsive practices. Then, choose a couple more to try. If you aren’t sure where to start, reach out to your building’s instructional coaches and CLRT Teacher Leaders. Reach out to C & I and lean on your IAs. We are here for you! The journey toward educational equity is challenging and complex but also affirming and hopeful and we don’t need to walk the path alone.
Hammond, Z., & Jackson, Y. (2015). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain: Promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students.
Kleinfeld, J. (1975). Effective teachers of Eskimo and Indian students. School Review, 83, 301–344.
Moll, L. C., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & Gonzalez, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory into Practice, 31, 132-141.
This post brought to you by Kimberly Eversman, E-12 Equity Implementation Associate
"Time is free, but it's priceless. You can't own it, but you can use it. You can't keep it, but you can spend it. Once you've lost it, you can never get it back."
The beginning of a new year reminds us how quickly time passes. It echoes how rapidly each minute really moves…. there are 60 minutes in an hour… 1,440 minutes every day …. Over 10,000 in each week…. About 525,000 per year. It’s easy to become complacent as minutes pass by so consistently and quietly. The launch of a new decade is a good time to stop and evaluate if you are just allowing time to pass by or growing deeper in skill and character with the passing of time.
Let’s get started investing in time.
List 10 ways that you have grown deeper in the past decade.
Identify 3 areas of your professional life that you would like to expand and grow in the coming decade.
From this list, what is the most important to you?
Map out smaller, incremental steps that can be taken to make this goal attainable.
Blessings to you throughout 2020! I look forward to hearing about your professional plans and attainments by 2030!
This post brought to you by Heather Holtan, Elementary Implementation Associate.
Why did you go into education?
Was it because you cared about children?
Were you passionate about learning?
Are you dedicated to teaching the next generation of leaders in our society?
No matter your reasoning for going into the teaching profession, there is an underlying commitment each one of us possesses for guiding a student’s learning, promoting their development, and inspiring them to reach their fullest potential. If we hope to accomplish this, we need to teach the whole child. Teaching to the whole child recognizes that social and emotional learning (SEL) is not another initiative, rather it engages students at a deeper learning level that complements academic skills. When SEL is embedded into the teacher’s daily instructional practices, students feel confident, connected, and have “improved academic performance, behavior, and attendance.” (Jones, Greenberg, & Crowley, 2015)
Studies show that when Social-Emotional learning is practiced and done intentionally, students have an increased opportunity to be successful in school, their careers, and in life. There is a positive correlation between educational achievement and SEL.
To be effective, social-and emotional learning should take place in many ways across many settings. This link shares 21 different ways to incorporate SEL throughout the school day. Open this link to read further on how SEL is important for students and educators.
The following diagram reinforces the impact of utilizing various teaching strategies and the connection to the social and emotional skills that can be experienced and practiced, particularly when the strategy is intentionally embedded. SOURCE
In gaining a greater acknowledgement and understanding of how many areas you as an educator are incorporating SEL into your classroom experience, utilize this self-assessment tool.
A holistic approach to education integrates SEL throughout the academic day and school environment. Thank you for being dedicated daily to the academic growth of students, their development, and building their character. Please take the time to reflect on how many times and in how many ways you have incorporated SEL into your interactions with students. Be willing to stretch yourself in planning for this upcoming week and determine where students can be given responsibility and choice in their learning. In the next week can you make a commitment to intentionally notice and share with students at least 5 situations when you can encourage children as they display good social skills or work habits?
“We think of the effective teachers we have had over the years with a sense of recognition, but those who have touched our humanity we remember with a deep sense of gratitude.” Anonymous
“We will remember with respect the good teacher in our lives that enlarged our minds and understanding of the world but we will remember with a feeling closer to love those who enriched our souls and taught us how to live our lives.” – Michael Josephson
“One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.” - Carl Jung
This post brought to you by Heather Holtan, Elementary Implementation Associate
“As leaders in education, our job is not to control those whom we serve, but to unleash their talent. If innovation is going to be a priority in education, we need to create a culture where trust is the norm.” – George Couros, The Innovators Mindset
My morning starts each day being peppered with questions from my nearly three year old.
“Mom, what’s that?”
“Mom, what’s that noise?”
“Mom, why do the cars have their lights on? It’s sunny out!”
“Mom, can I have a sip of your coffee?” and not surprisingly, “Why?” when I say no to that last request.
‘Why’ has become a frequently used word in our household. Because of this, I find myself reflecting on my time teaching 2nd graders and my times teaching 5th and 6th graders. In my own experience, I have found that the number of questions I am asked about how or why things are the way they are decrease as a child gets older. I find myself asking, why is that? Where and why do our students seem to slowly lose their creativity, curiosity and imagination?
“You cannot empower students to be self-directed, responsible, critical-thinking people if they can’t ask their own questions. At that point, you’re teaching compliance rather than responsibility.” – A.J. Juliani and John Spencer, LAUNCH: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student
I know, as a teacher, it can be so overwhelming to consider how to provide opportunities for student driven inquiry, creativity and passion projects within our standards, but what if we let our students do much of that work for us? I know that there is an element of control that many of us like to keep over our classrooms in an effort to quell potential challenges. I also know that we work with tiny humans with a love and passion in our hearts for their success as individuals that is immeasurable. Our community, teachers, and leaders got together not long ago to create a graduate profile that defines the skills and attributes we want every student leaving Rochester Public Schools to possess. Many have seen this before, but the six core areas of this include: Ethical contributor, critical thinker, skilled communicator, effective collaborator, resilient learner and ultimately, a success ready individual. This makes me think, how does a decrease in student creativity, curiosity, and imagination impact this?
I came across this video on Edutopia a few days ago and felt it tied into this so closely.
In this video we see examples of “provocations” or teacher created stations/thought provokers that challenge students to think creatively, to ask questions, and use their imagination to solve problems, engage in the inquiry process and ultimately communicate and collaborate to achieve a task. What I also enjoyed about this video was the intentional teacher conferencing that would take place-the opportunity that it provided teachers to build relationships, identify student interest, and both question and challenge student learning. For those, like me, this could be a great way to move from the presenter to the facilitator role. When I was in grad school, I explored and implemented Project Based Learning in place of traditional science fair projects. I challenged students to identify a problem from their own world, design a way to solve it and then test and refine their project or prototype. I was amazed at what my students were capable of and where their thoughts and creativity took them when I provided opportunities for them to do so.
Ultimately, my challenge to us is how can we get out of our students’ way? How can we provide them time to explore their passions and interests and turn them into authentic, rigorous and relevant learning experiences? How can we build in ‘provocation stations’ ‘genius hours’ or ‘passion projects’ to increase student learning, excitement and engagement in the classroom? It’s messy. It’s hard. But, consider the impact these students could have on our world; consider the innovative individuals that both our community and we want to have that would leave our school system ready to change the world if only they are given the space and time to hone their creativity, collaboration, and curiosity.
“The new survival skills—effective communication, curiosity, and critical-thinking skills—“are no longer skills that only the elites in a society must muster; they are essential survival skills for all of us.” – Yong Zhao, World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students
Don't worry: we're not gone for long. Nope, we're just hitting the pause button for the summer. We promise we'll return refreshed in August, resulting in some well crafted future blog posts.
We hope that you, like us, will be enjoying some extra time with family, friends, and nature. Because, let's face it, we all need a bit of time to regroup and refresh.
We may also find ourselves reflecting on why it is that we do what we do. Real teaching is all-consuming (both heart and soul) as we give a part of ourselves to each student. It can be the most challenging, emotionally exhausting, and highly rewarding career a person can choose. What I mean by highly rewarding is that sense of personal satisfaction and pride one gets when they know they are doing something that makes a real difference because we all came into this knowing it was not for the financial rewards. And while we know we are in it for the personal gratification, it would still be awesome if the reality was that society paid teachers what they are genuinely worth.
Since it is the end of the year, I thought I would leave you with some uplifting humor before you depart for the much deserved restorative qualities of summer break. In the clip below, comedians Key and Peele imagine what would happen if society treated teachers with as much respect and admiration as it gives professional athletes. Wouldn't it be nice? Enjoy!
For me, it was most interesting to quietly observe the many Amish people who were attending the sale. Amish culture has always fascinated me. In southeastern Minnesota, these communities of traditionalist Christians live quietly among us, but also intentionally set themselves worlds apart. The Amish are known for simple living that reflects more of a lifestyle from over a century ago. They also tend to limit their contact with the modern world as much as possible, shrouding themselves in a bit of mystery, leaving outsiders to wonder about their daily lives, convictions, and beliefs.
As the day of the sale progressed I came to a couple of shocking conclusions about my beliefs about identity. First and foremost, when many people are asked to describe an indigenous person of the United States, one picture usually comes to mind, the one old Hollywood westerns put into our brains, an Indian in buckskin pants with feather head-dress and war paint. As one becomes more culturally aware, it becomes known that there are really 573 federally recognized tribes, each with their own distinct cultures, history, and traditions. Each with their own identity.
In my original archetype of an Amish person, I had held one standard image.
My second revelation came as I observed a small group of teenaged Amish boys as they were hanging out together leaning against a buggy during some downtime in the sale. As I watched them, I realized they could be teenaged boys from anywhere at any time as they laughed, joked and teased each other. Even though they were each dressed almost exactly the same with homespun denim clothes, black hats, and boots, you could tell they each had their own distinct personality. At that moment, it became clear to me that as humans we are each unique, but at the core still very much the same. It is when we choose to embrace the similarities and not allow the differences to become divisive that we are able to “become proximate to the human story and find our identity in the humanity of others.” Sara K. Ahmed.
In her book, Being the Change Sara K. Ahmed outlines how teachers can develop lessons that cultivate empathy and social literacy to purposefully teach social comprehension. When students are given a safe space to voice their own story and feel comfortable with their own identity, only then will they truly have the capacity to understand another’s perspective. A much-needed skill in today’s world of political and social unrest. It begins with educators providing space to have student voices be heard and to practice kindness, compassion, tolerance, and understanding. For a review of this text, click here!
“Doing the work of social comprehension erodes the boundaries between us and them.” Sara K. Ahmed.
Choice in the classroom forces a teacher to let go of some control and take a big risk. It has to be a slow process. I began this journey nine years ago and still, at the beginning of each school year, I start very small and simple by breaking down what I am going to teach into three areas:
- Which choices are available?
- How do I keep some control of what they are doing/learning?
- What can I NOT let go of?
First, I look at the standard and ask myself, "What do my students need to learn?" and I create my objective based on that. I then post it in our classroom so I always have something to reference when a student comes to me with a question that typically starts with, "I was thinking...Could I…What if I...?" When my students come to me with these questions, it is the first sign that they are feeling confident enough to take charge of their own learning.
To keep things simple, I begin by offering students only a couple of centers and then I add to their choices throughout the year. I always know ahead of time which choices will be offered (e.g. what art media is available, art exemplars, and books to reference), but keep an open mind for ideas beyond my own that the students may come up with as they work with the objective. Finally, when presenting the choices, I provide explicit instruction on how to make good choices, how to use the centers (many visuals and examples) and how the choices can apply to their learning.
As the students work, the teacher's role is to guide, push, monitor and document. Here is where it typically feels like control is lost because students are working at different paces. A great analogy of this moment comes from one of my favorite books, Engaging Learners Through Artmaking by Douglas and Jaquith.
A good friend once compared a choice-based classroom to the large and busy South Station in Boston. People are constantly in motion, people are getting information from various sources, people are coming from a variety of places and heading in a great many directions. When one looks across the room it may seem a bit confusing, but each rail commuter has a destination and knows where to get the required information and ticket. (Douglas & Haquith, 2018, p. 24)
My biggest priority and the thing I will not let go of is creating a safe and welcoming classroom community. A choice-based classroom requires a community where the students feel safe in taking the risk to make their own choices. This type of classroom builds confidence in the learners but only if they feel their ideas will be valued and respected. Students feel competent when they believe they know what to do to be successful and feel capable of mastering the challenges ahead of them. The choices provided need to offer different levels of competence which allow the students to find their comfort level. A common fear about offering choice is that the students will just choose the easiest option but that's not the case. Students make a choice where they feel comfortable to begin their work and build on their prior knowledge.
This approach supports multiple modes of learning to help support the diverse needs of our students, which is why it can be utilized in any classroom. Students choose something they feel confident in, whether working on math skills, reading, or writing. The teacher then pushes and scaffolds new concepts that are attached to what that student already knows. As long as a safe classroom community is established, the students typically welcome this push and if they aren't ready for it, they will let you know and you can try again in other ways.
Choice in the classroom is not something to just jump into because if the teacher doesn't feel competent and comfortable with this new philosophy, the students' learning will get lost as the teacher learns. But the old adage of "go slow to go fast" will keep everyone on track to the new way of differentiating and creating a learning environment for all to feel engaged and successful.
We have been on a journey this year as a district diving into the pool of culturally and linguistically responsive teaching and learning. We have had time to explore and implement strategies that help us to level the playing field and provide equal access for students.
In the world of EL, culturally and linguistically responsive teaching and learning are at the heart of what we do. We see the assets our English learners bring with them and strive to help them to grow academically and socially in a sometimes new and confusing world of American education.
How then can we tie together the work we are doing in our classrooms and put a slight twist on it to assist our English learners? Here are 10 simple, and yet powerful things we can all do in our classrooms to enhance our culturally responsive teaching and learning for our ELs. The infographic below is from Tan Huynh.
3. Invite ELs to use their home language. Not only does it bring a beautiful new harmony to your classroom but students feel that their language and culture is valued. It is an opportunity for ELs who speak the same language to have time to connect with one another.
4. Read books with characters who share ELs' experiences. Here is a great book list that provides books at different age levels. Also, check with your Media Specialist. He or she is a great resource for finding culturally responsive books.
5. Encourage ELs to share the connections between their lives and the topic. ELs bring with them a plethora of experiences. Create a community where students feel comfortable sharing their experiences through the content you are teaching.
6. Expect ELs to engage in the same learning experience and learn the same content as non-ELs. ELs can do the work. Our job is to provide them the scaffolds and supports to get them there.
7. Have ELs work with non-ELs. We do not learn in isolation. Providing opportunities for ELs to work with non-ELs allows students to not only learn from each other academically but also culturally. ELs also have much more opportunities to develop academic language when they are with their native English speaking peers.
8. Explicitly teach students how to respectfully collaborate. Strategies such as Campfire Discussions and Gallery Walks provide students opportunities to collaborate and learn from each other.
9. Use ELs' experiences to activate prior knowledge. When building background knowledge or activating prior knowledge, provide many examples from different cultures. Do not assume that all students have the same experiences, but instead provide experiences and examples that many students can connect to.
10. Permit ELs to process content in their home languages in addition to using English resources. Providing students the opportunity to clarify concepts in their first language provides comfortability in learning and also transfers this knowledge into learning English.
All of us have those days where we wished we could press rewind and start over. But there is no rewind button. We just have to keep on keeping on and hope that whatever has crept into our day to sour it dissipates as soon as possible. I would like to share a recent experience I had with my dog, Walda. (Did you really think I would write a blog post without mentioning her?)
While this girl is no longer considered a puppy (she turned 3 on April 2nd), she does possess an endearing puppy-like quality. Man, this girl has done so much for me. She’s licked my face, rested her head in my lap, brought me her tug toy to play with, you know, all the typical doggie-companion stuff. But just a few days ago, I realized what she has done for me in the vein of personal/spiritual growth.
Now, back to what she taught me a few days ago. I came home and, just like clockwork, she got all sorts of excited: zoomies, pet my belly, here’s my tennis ball, tippy-tappy with her big-girl paws, circle-circle-circle.
I asked Dr. Cecil White Hat (Rosebud Sioux Tribal Member, deceased) one time why it seems we suffer so much from historical trauma.
He looked at me and said, “We have forgotten how to use our natural medicines.”
Great. Now, here comes a discussion on roots and herbs. And, because I hold much respect and admiration for this Elder, I need to listen to what he is going to say.
He must have sensed what I was thinking, because he then said, “Our laughter and tears, we have forgotten how to use our laughter and tears.”
I know I always feel good after a laugh or a cry. But why? Our tears release cortisol. If that doesn’t come out during a good cry, it stays in the body and can cause all sorts of negative effects. Cecil was a very wise man. He never carried himself as if he were a walking library. He was a relatable guy. I am forever grateful to have spent time with him and I appreciate his words and lessons.
His brother, Albert White Hat (Rosebud Sioux Tribal Member, deceased), was also well known for his Lakota language and culture revitalization work on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. In this video, he talks about the importance of forgiveness and what can happen if you hold onto anger.
We all get caught up in our feelings and emotions and there is nothing wrong with that. But if we stay stuck in our own thoughts, we may just lose sight of what is really important. Make a commitment to yourself to never allow your own thoughts to blind you to what you have in front of you. Tears come up to come out. Let them out and let go.
One more thing, if your dog brings you her slimy tennis ball, or does circle-circle-circle, or wants sporadic belly rubs: engage. These beings are in our life not by accident, of this much I am sure. I love you and your slimy tennis ball, Walda.
Feel free to contact Bjoraker at 507.328.4236 or to connect with her via email
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