Learning to see, hear, respect, and empower every student

Culturally responsive and sustaining educational practices are taking shape supported by decades of scholarship and experience. How are Remake Learning members making the most of these powerful practices?

Take a moment and remember back to a time in school when you had a true “aha!” moment. Chances are it was when something that was usually obscure and mysterious suddenly broke through and touched your life in a very real way. Those are powerful, transformative moments of learning—when we come to understand something new on a deeper level, relevant and applicable to our lives, our visions of ourselves and our future.

Now remember back to the times when that didn’t happen, when there was no “aha!” moment, when you were left completely baffled. Maybe the subject was difficult. Maybe it was completely foreign to your lived experience. Maybe it was disconnected your sense of self. Maybe it was irrelevant to your vision for the future. Chances are you probably felt disoriented, frustrated, ignored, hopeless.
Now imagine if this is what most of your learning experiences were like in life. And on top of that, imagine if you had no one to help you connect with what you were learning, to help you feel its presence in your life and the life of your community. You’d probably have a much different history of learning than you do today.

This is the reality for learners when they don’t see themselves, their communities, and their histories reflected in what they’re being taught. When the dominant cultural references in education ignore or erase the experiences of Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, and people of color, learners lose out.

In recognition of this reality, there’s been a growing interest among educators and advocates for approaches to teaching and learning that consider the culture and identity of the learner. Often called culturally responsive, culturally relevant, or culturally sustaining, these are pedagogical methods that “connect curriculum and instruction to students’ personal experiences, perspectives, histories, and cultures.

Education theorist Gloria Ladson-Billings developed a framework for culturally relevant pedagogy in the 1990s that identified three crucial tenets:

  1. Students must experience academic success
  2. Students must develop and/or maintain cultural competence
  3. Students must develop a critical consciousness

In the two-and-a-half decades since Ladson-Billings influential framework first appeared, numerous scholars and practitioners have built on these essentials, adapting them to apply across a wide variety of school subjects and learning contexts. And recent research has found evidence of positive impacts on student attendance, grade point average, and behavior.

Today, many educators, including members of the Remake Learning Network, are using culturally responsive practices as they work toward a more just and equitable future for learning. Through these practices, educators seek to create learning environments where students are “reflected and respected” in what their learning and how they’re being taught. When we do this, we empower students and inspire them to fall in love with learning.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be exploring the ways in which network members are using these practices to make learning engaging, relevant, and equitable for their students.

Culturally responsive instruction

How do educators relate to and understand a culture other than their own in a way that is authentic and genuine? How do educators confront their implicit bias and develop their own capacities for cultural competence and critical consciousness?

Well, it takes practice. Educators seeking resources and supports to develop culturally responsive approaches to teaching can look to professional development to help. We’ll visit one such experience, led by the Arts Education Collaborative, to see how teachers learn and practice culturally relevant and sustaining education.

Culturally sustaining student experiences

How can culturally responsive education ensure that each and every student’s identity and history is reflected and respected in the curriculum, while also empowering students to lead in a shared future?

Remake Learning’s mission makes clear the network’s support for learning practices and environments that “challenge learners to question, examine, and dissect social systems; to develop the confidence to address and deconstruct inequalities; and to construct a more just and equitable world.”

This is where culturally relevant bridges into culturally sustaining. By cultivating deeper engagement in learning through culturally responsive practices, learners develop a greater sense of ownership for what they learn and a greater sense of empowerment for how they can apply it. We’ll learn about some specific examples of this vision in conversation with Dr. Tyra Good.

Culture in context

How does culturally responsive and sustaining education connect to issues of school discipline and social-emotional learning? How does embracing culturally responsive education equip schools and learning communities to combat systemic racism? Where does culturally responsive practice end and highly effective teaching begin?

We’ll explore these connections and gather some helpful resources for educators and youth workers looking to build more engaging, relevant, and equitable learning experiences through the practice of culturally responsive education.

Published November 20, 2019