Modeling a Culturally Responsive Mindset: Strategies That Connect and Empower

Modeling a Culturally Responsive Mindset: Strategies That Connect and Empower

Yolanda L. Dunston (North Carolina Central University, USA) and Patience N. Jones (North Carolina Central University, USA)
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3652-0.ch009
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To address the rapidly changing cultural demographic of the United States, educator preparation programs must guide future teachers to create welcoming and equitable classroom communities that establish diverse cultural contexts as the norm and address culture not as an add-on but infused in natural, authentic ways throughout the school year. This chapter provides a rationale for implementing culturally responsive pedagogy by addressing the concept of cultural competence and then offering strategies for creating a welcoming classroom that recognizes and values the whole child and creates an overall positive school culture that promotes inclusion and fosters success for all. Moreover, the chapter addresses the importance of modeling dispositions at the EPP level for normalizing culturally responsive practices so that preservice and beginning teachers will naturally and routinely recognize and employ strategies that make all students feel seen, embraced, and worthy.
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While submitting a proposal for a recent national education conference, I was asked to consider whether educator preparation programs (EPPs) are promoting and modeling the right things for pre-service and practicing teachers. Specifically, I was urged to think about what might be missing or what should be done differently to prepare teachers for 21st century classrooms. After much deliberation, I ultimately concluded that the issue that concerns me the most relates to teacher dispositions. I arrived at this conclusion as a result of a constant barrage of media and news outlets reporting on questionable, unfair, unethical, even profoundly damaging practices in schools, particularly concerning to Black and brown students.

Many Americans have argued the current fulfillment of a post-racial society, that the election - and re-election - of a Black President is proof that racism and other forms of prejudice are no longer prevalent. Some would say schools are places where students are treated fairly regardless of skin color or country of origin. However, accounts of treatment of students of color, which range from inappropriate to malicious, clearly indicate that the nation has a long way to go.

In December 2019, an assignment from a Missouri 5th grade teacher required students to pretend they were in the slave trade and to set a price for slaves. The assignment was deemed culturally insensitive, the teacher was placed on administrative leave, and the principal indicated that the teachers and staff would undergo cultural bias training to “ensure all students and families feel valued and respected” (Kaur and Watts, 2019).

Also in December 2019, a class of 5th graders was asked by their peers during small group work to portray either slaves or Blacks during the Jim Crow era, simulating inappropriate and emotionally harmful roles and events. School officials later apologized for the teacher, who did not explicitly assign the activity, but inadvertently provided a task that lacked “parameters to ‘protect students’ and [failed] to foresee potential problems with the assignment.” The principal noted that the school would engage in discussions about race to “ensure that future assignments are ‘culturally sensitive and appropriate,’” and that the staff members would attend diversity training. (Stein and Heim, 2019).

In February 2020, an African-American student teacher in Tennessee was dismissed after assigning a task for 4th graders to list ways for slave owners to keep their slaves subservient - a lesson approved by the university as well as the cooperating teacher. The cooperating teacher was placed on administrative leave, and the school district expressed their regrets for any pain caused to children or parents as a result of the assignment (Li, 2020).

Since January 2020, a Trinidadian teen in Texas remains in jeopardy of being banned from his upcoming high school graduation due to an in-school suspension resulting from failure to cut his dreadlocks. He maintains that the hairstyle is part of his Trinidadian heritage. Although the family contends that they have followed school policy, even tying the teen’s hair up with clips and rubber bands to remain compliant, the teen has been told that he may not be able to participate in the ceremony unless he cuts his hair. Some have called these dress code policies damaging to Black bodies, as they are written by White people with White culture at the epicenter (Cox, 2020).

After being taken to the principal’s office for a temper tantrum and physical altercation with the assistant principal, a Black six-year-old from Florida, who had subsequently calmed down and was quietly reading a book, was still arrested by a school resource officer, restrained with zip ties, escorted to a police car, and transported to the Orlando Police Station. The officer's body camera footage shows the child calm at first, then becoming anxious at the sight of the cuffs, and finally weeping for a second chance and pleading to not be placed in the police car. Her cries were ignored. Although the child was not processed at the Juvenile Assessment Center, the incident was undoubtedly traumatic and has left her in therapy. The state attorney did not pursue charges, commenting, “Very young children ought to be protected, nurtured, and disciplined in a manner that does not rely on the criminal justice system” (Flores, 2020).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Cross-Cultural Learning: A pedagogy that increases one’s understanding of their own culture in contrast to another.

Cultural Competence: The ability to demonstrate awareness, sensitivity, and communication across cultures.

Implicit Bias: Unconscious attitudes and inaccurate interpretations that impact cultural understanding and behavior.

Dispositions: The attitudes, values, and beliefs educators develop about their students based on familial and student interactions and prior biases.

Educator Preparation Program (EPP): A higher education institutional program that prepares teachers, counselors, and administrators for licensure and/or certification.

Preservice Teachers: Students who are enrolled in educator preparation programs prior to becoming licensed teachers.

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy: A holistic approach where students’ cultures are acknowledged, appreciated, and embedded into the curriculum and everyday routines.

Colorblind Teaching: Disregarding a student’s cultural identity, believing that in doing so, one is avoiding cultural bias, stereotypes, and racism.

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