What a Culturally Responsive Classroom Looks Like
If you have been following my work, you know I spent 7 years a K-12 teacher and 7 years as a university professor, eventually becoming the dean of a school of education. As a teacher, I was passionate about helping students reach their academic potential and become productive citizens. As a professor and education dean, I was devoted to developing the next generation of teachers and education administrators. For the last two and a half years, I have been an education entrepreneur, launching an education company, Lynch Educational Consulting, which also manages the following web properties: The Edvocate, The Tech Edvocate, and Edupedia.
However, I often miss being in the classroom, and when I do, I usually channel this energy in an article, resource, or project that will benefit educators everywhere. This time I decided to create a series of case studies that are meant to help pre-service teachers get a glimpse into the problems and issues that they will encounter in the field. These case studies will also give them a chance to reflect on how they can use each scenario to inform their own practice. Let’s get started.
The U.S. is a melting pot of different races, religions, cultures, etc., and your classroom will undoubtedly reflect this diversity. To reach all of your students, you will have to become a culturally responsive teacher whose pedagogy and classroom management is reflective of our multicultural nation. For an example of how you can become a culturally responsive teacher, read the case study below entitled “Samantha: Lessons on Religious Diversity.” Afterward, reflect on the questions below, using your thoughts to shape your own practice.
- Describe how Samantha accommodated the discussion of Susan’s religious beliefs and adjusted her lesson plan to include a discussion of other people’s beliefs.
- How has this time of encouraging the students to share their religious traditions with the class affected the class as a whole?
- Consider the problems that might arise from an inclusion of diverse religions in class.
- What other ways might Samantha work religion and religious discussion into her class in the future while keeping in mind separation between church and state dictates?
- What behavior is Samantha modeling for her class, and what effect is that likely to have in the future for these students?
Samantha: Lessons on Religious Diversity
Samantha teaches a sixth-grade class. It is nearing the Christmas holidays, and the class is winding down. On the morning of December 22, Susan comes in with a new iPod and a great new cell phone. Matthew pipes up and says that Christmas must have come early to Susan’s house. The class laughs at his remark, but then Susan says, “We don’t celebrate Christmas at our house.”
Samantha is intrigued by this, especially because the class has been studying different cultures and religions over the fall term.
“What do you celebrate, Susan?”
“We celebrate the Winter Solstice,” Susan replied.
Many students in the class know about the Winter Solstice from a scientific point of view, and Samantha had done a lesson on it with the class the day before, but as a religious celebration it was an entirely new thing. They seemed eager to learn about it, so Susan told them the tradition in her family.
“We are Wiccan in our house, which means that we live our lives based on the rhythms of nature. At the Winter Solstice, we celebrate on the evening of the Solstice with a big family dinner, and then we have a ritual to honor the birth of the Sun King as he comes into the world again. It is the longest night of the year, and the next morning we watch the sun rise.”
“What is your ritual like?” asked Sarah.
Susan looks at Samantha, wondering if she should continue. Samantha nods and smiles and she goes on and describes their ritual of casting a circle of sacred space, calling in the directions, and honoring the new Sun King. The class is amazed, hanging on the edges of their seats.
“That sounds really awesome,” says Sarah. “Could we do something like that here, in class?”
Samantha nods and says, “Susan, would you be willing to lead the class in a small ritual tomorrow?”
“Really?” asks Susan. “Sure. I’m sure my mom will help me prepare something.”
Samantha asks if everyone in the class is willing to participate in the ritual. “It would be nice for you to experience something different, but I don’t want anyone feeling uncomfortable.” Some children raise their hands. “That’s great, don’t feel shy. You are welcome to watch the ritual without taking part.” One child asks if it would be okay for her to ask her parents first before confirming if she will take part. “That’s perfectly fine too.” Samantha responds. “Susan, please don’t feel offended if the other students do not want to take part. We all want to learn something new, but it is important that we allow people to participate freely.”
The next day the class holds a small ritual of the sort that Susan participates in at home. Samantha is surprised to find that many of the children went home and had discussions about religion with their families. They have all come back with new stories and viewpoints, and this begins a lively discussion about Hanukkah, the Jewish tradition, and Sam brings in a menorah to show the class.
Two students in the class, Eric and Madison, don’t celebrate anything during the holidays, and they explain about their beliefs as Jehovah’s Witnesses. The final days leading up to the Christmas holidays are filled with spontaneous discussions and readings on the various traditions of that time of year. The students bond more deeply with each other and with Samantha.
Culturally responsive teaching is a theory of instruction that was developed by Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings and has been written about by many other scholars since then. To read more of her work on culturally responsive teaching and other topics, click here to visit her Amazon.com page.