By: Meg Stentz
At the 2018 MC Summer Institute, teacher leader Dina Klein of Marsh Avenue Expeditionary Learning School, shared her experiences with implementing culturally responsive practices.
Dina described that her understanding and implementation of Culturally Responsive Education (CRE) happened in phases. First, she examined representation in curriculum, then in her classroom management, and more recently, realized how much her whiteness permeates her experiences and how students might see her.
As a first step in learning about CRE, Dina looked at the texts she uses and asked: Will every student see themselves represented at some point during the year? When her curriculum came up short, she added texts and resources from more diverse perspectives. This additive method is often a first step, but ultimately not enough, she found.
Having a culturally responsive classroom means in part that the way you relate to students makes them feel safe, cared about, and competent. Dina noted that the way she related to and managed her students wasn’t as effective as she wanted, or maybe the effect she was looking for had changed. Dina put it this way: “The conversation I’d been having for six years, the phrases I always used—it wasn’t working anymore.”
Dina reports that her thinking shifted from: What’s the matter with them? to: What’s the deal with my practices? In reflecting on how she interacted with her students, and seeking to shift the power in her classroom, Dina came to a critical realization.
“I learned that I am white.”
Dina reports that the realization that race was something she hadn’t had to think about: “Being white, coming from a traditional middle class family, and being a woman in a hetero-normative relationship, were all things that presented in the classroom and my practices and I hadn’t realized how that impacted others. I want to empower all my students, and especially the students who don’t always have access to that power.”
Her realization affected every part of her teaching—and she had to address it, since CRE isn’t a checklist of tasks to make school more equitable, but instead a mindset and an approach to teaching that can shift power to better serve students.
Big thanks to Dina for sharing her learning with our community, and for taking up this crucial work. Care to share your own journey to cultural responsiveness, or where you are on the path? We’d love to hear. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.