Setting Up A Cultually Responsive Classroom

by on March 28, 2017

Ishmael is a seventeen-year old high school student, who just arrived at a small high school on the coast of California, north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Ishmael just arrived at this high school from Mexico. He speaks minimal English. He comes to Study Hall three days a week, and chooses to sit in the classroom of the study hall during lunch break.

This essay will explore the necessary principles to engage in culturally responsive pedagogy which ensures the highest learning for students like Ishmael. ELD students are perhaps the easiest students to teach. The default language barrier between teacher and ELD student requires a teacher to show they care in ways other than words, or telling. A solid teacher should reflect on why instruction with an ELD student is effective and attempt to carry-over the same principles to the rest of their students.

Gloria Ladson-Billings addresses three principles in developing cultural competence in the public school classroom:

  • an ability to develop students academically,
  • willingness to nurture and support cultural competence in both home and school cultures,
  • and a development of a socio-political or critical consciousness.

A teacher of students like Ishmael can address the three principles of Ladson-Billings by becoming what educator and consultant Jim Fay calls a “Consultant style of Teaching”. A consultant teacher teaches with empathy, shares control of the classroom, and shares thinking of the learning or growth process.

How can a consultant-style teacher show a non-English speaking student they care, that they are an intellectual and moral authority even if they cannot communicate verbally? By the universal human emotions of smiling, laughter, and humor. By learning small phrases in the language of the non-English speaking student.

But those qualities and actions can be difficult to pull off day-in and day-out over the course of an academic year. In order for a teacher to be an effective consultant teacher they need to have a “clear sense of self”. They need to have an unequivocal idea of who they are, what their dreams are, and how they are going to accomplish those dreams.

Does a whole school need to be involved for a teacher to implement a culturally responsive pedagogy?   No, it Only Takes One Person to invoke change for a student, a classroom, a school, a community. A desire for positive growth and/or change cannot throw the baby out with the bath water. Individuals need to know that they are in control of their lives, that they have the power necessary to make meaningful growth, learning and changes in their lives. When a teacher is able to impart these psychic principles indirectly, then the teacher is beginning to address the principles of Gloria Ladson-Billings.

This is where teaching then becomes fun – even in the difficulty in implementing a high level curriculum to a diverse classroom. It is at this point where true collaboration begins. True collaboration is not cooperative learning. Teachers do not assign roles, goals, or other man-dates. Students naturally become involved in setting goals and monitoring their own progress. Groups become heterogeneous. Tasks are less pre-structured and the focus is on “flexible, learning centered investigations.”

This type of classroom, or learning environment, can at once seem intimidating to a teacher (or even a student), but for a spiritually conscious individual it just happens. No, it doesn’t just happen. It does require a conscious planning and action, but yet at the same time it doesn’t