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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Are You a Culturally Proficient Educator?

There is the temptation for educators to shy away from advice and information to better their craft simply due to the fact that educators receive advice and information from multiple agencies, leaders, universities, and more. Many see schools as the vehicle for positive change and influence, and the teacher as the conduit for that work.


It's critical that educators resist the urge to shy away from new information. Instead educators need to seek out the best information and resources to move their work forward in ways that matter. Yesterday our school system offered a professional learning event that provided rich wisdom and ideas for teaching better. I provide a snapshot of those ideas below.

School system educators and leaders met to focus on the topic of culturally proficient education. The superintendent, Dr. Paul Stein, first introduced the session last week with a memo that included a powerful quote. Then at yesterday's presentation he shared a number of important points that will help us make anti-racist teaching visible as we design and facilitate learning experiences.

I used some of the points that Dr. Stein raised to create the questions below to guide my work in this regard:
  • How will we correct misinformation and fill in missing information with regard to the curriculum?
  • How can we move beyond food, festivals, and posters on the wall to create culturally proficient teaching/learning environments?
  • In what ways do we demonstrate to children high expectations and an "I won't give up on you attitude?"
  • How do we employ student-centered teaching?
  • In what ways does our work reflect the importance and value of collaboration?
  • How do we help students make connections?


After the introduction, Dr. Stein introduced the speaker, Kalise Wornum, M.Ed., METCO Director for the Wellesley Public Schools. Ms. Wornum shared her experience and research related to the topic. Her well-received presentation provided a positive challenge and action steps for every educator. During her discussion she highlighted the research of Dr. G. Gay, Gloria Ladson-Billings, and Linda Comer through videos, book references, and quotes.


I've listed some of the main points of the presentation below, points that I want to continue to reflect on as I develop my craft and practice with and for students.
  • There is “more knowledge among us than in any one of us.”
  • "We need to talk about race to fully explore race."
  • "Teachers make the difference in student achievement" and relationships are critical in this regard.
  • Cultural proficiency is a framework and filter that helps us as human beings to make sense out of the ordinary things.
  • It is important to focus on the intangibles of culture including values, beliefs, opinions, and assumptions.
  • The primary premise of cultural relevancy is for teachers to make linkages between what students know, do, and understand. Teachers are cultural translators and cultural bridges.
  • Students bring into the classroom cultural experiences. “Our kids don’t arrive empty when they walk in the door, they come with stuff--examine that, embed that into the learning/teaching."
  • Culturally responsive pedagogy builds on students cultural knowledge and experiences.
  • We readily ask students to adapt to school, but we also, and more importantly, need schools to adapt to students.
  • Students are individuals first, they are not representative of any one cultural group since students attachment to ethnic groups vary in multiple ways.
  • Culturally proficient educators self reflect and study their students.
  • The only way to end racism and build culturally proficient teaching/learning environments is to ask curious questions.
  • It is critical to have the difficult conversations: name the difference, claim the difference, reframe the difference, train about the difference, and adapt for the differences.
  • Culturally competent educators know you can’t make assumptions - we can’t know the future of children--you have no idea what your students will become.

Ms. Wornum's presentation also prompted us to think deeply about "group identities" with the attributes below:

  • we all have multiple identities
  • culture is a predominate force, you cannot NOT be influenced by culture.
  • cultures are not homogeneous; there is diversity within groups.
  • unique needs need to be respected
  • invite cultures of students into the classrooms in ways that matter. (parent questionnaire--how can we do this--understanding and investigating their culture)
  • failure to embrace students' cultures as assets gives rise to deficit base thinking rather than strengths based thinking and teaching.
  • how do we get to know our students: ask questions, talk to them, engage them in conversation, reading and responding to journals, surveys, start-of-the year get-to-know-you activities, get-to-know-you parent surveys, invite them to join you for lunch, meeting them at the door with a positive attitude. . . .
  • kids become what they think we think they can become.
  • If change is going to happen, it’s going to happen in the classroom--no significant learning can happen without a significant relationship--such a powerful statement (Linda Comer)
  • "4:1- four positive interactions are needed before you can create that relationship--this is not for the faint of heart. . . ."
  • "design and create instruction that acknowledges and respects a student's culture."


What implications does this talk have for my teaching/learning?

First I want to further reflect on these points alone and with my teaching/learning team to better adapt my own teaching routines, structure, and schedule to better meet students' needs, experiences, and interests. I outline some specific actions in this post.

Next I want to begin to implement the actions noted above with greater intent.

After that I want to think about ways that our greater organization can support this work. I think the following actions will be helpful.
  • Rethink how we start the school year and invigorate our efforts to orient students, staff, and families to our school community as well as to orient educators to the families and students we serve.
  • Create, find, and or improvise a check-list that we use as we design and implement culturally proficient units of teaching.
  • Rethink school structure, roles, and schedules to make more time to develop deep relationships with students which will result in our ability to adapt our teaching/learning to students' cultures and individual needs, interests, and experiences.
  • Invite families to share culture and needs in ways that matter at the start of the year and throughout the year. I believe this is an area we can work together as a learning community (families, students, educators, leaders, citizens) to create.
  • Make cultural relevancy an integral part of our collaborative work at PLCs and RTI.

Yesterday's presentation was powerful. It created terrific, positive challenge, and multiple action steps to improve the work we do with students. The notes above provide only a snapshot of Kalise Wornum's wise words and share. If you'd like to know more, I recommend that you invite Ms. Wornum to speak at your school system or that you take part in one of the courses Ms. Wornum offers.

The graphic below was also shared.
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