It’s no secret that cultural responsiveness is a sought-after practice. At Bank Street, it is part of the educative canon.
However, it is also not a secret that practicing it can be challenging. Culturally Responsive Practice (CRP) requires understanding of what it really is and as a teacher, practicing it fluidly is honed over time. To newer teachers (like myself), its effective, smooth practice may often seem like an ambiguous, lofty concept— gossamer dreaming in a perfect teaching world. Many fellow educators I have spoken to about this both in my cohort and outside of it say similar things— culturally responsive practice is an ideal, conscionable way to include all cultures in our classrooms. It develops a harmonious community of tolerance, familiarity and true acceptance of different people— but it’s sometimes not easy.
So what does concrete, real, culturally responsive practice in a three-year old classroom look like?
In my classroom, it looks like literature from many places that depict differences in people— cultures, races, economic backgrounds, occupations and family structures. These are simply there as part of curriculum. These kinds of images in children’s literature normalize distinct or underrepresented families, chipping away at potential bias and making them more mainstream beginning at a young age.
Equity and Equality
In my classroom, CRP looks like every child being treated exactly the same regardless of where they come from or of their appearance. It also looks like equity— children who predominantly speak other languages or come from other countries receive additional scaffolding and differentiated instruction if needed to learn the same lessons everyone else is.
Intentional Highlighting and Art
My culturally responsive practice looks like celebrating and highlighting beauty in the students— big curly hair like mine, blue eyes, brown eyes, pretty smiles, all skin colors. At the beginning of every school year, we create self-portraits out of art materials that are then displayed in every Bank Street classroom through the Upper School. Pointing out features in a mirror and calling attention to their importance, their beauty, and their uniqueness builds a confidence in our students and that they are lovely and important no matter what they look like . The final works are also a concrete reminder of the special identity of our classroom community.
Strong Familial Presence
CRP in my classroom is also celebrating funds of knowledge. Does someone’s dad work at a bakery? Does the child know all about baking as a result? Then they are our baking expert. If someone’s mom has an herb garden in the kitchen and her child is familiar with planting, then their skills and knowledge from their home life are an invaluable addition to our classroom. I use my students’ prior knowledge— the cultures they carry with them— to make our curriculum and our classroom community richer.
Many times, culturally responsive practice also looks like my intervening and stopping shaming comments, gestures or biased ideas expressed by a student towards someone else. Then, larger conversations are had about these instances in whole groups or in private. These help us try to reach the root causes of these ideas and help students understand that their words and attitudes are powerful, and they can hurt others. Although at three, children seldom understand the depth of some racially charged comments or situations, it’s important to put a stop to them and have a conversation about why these ideas can be hurtful, particularly in our current social climate.
I have learned that cultural responsiveness in my practice became a part of the class’ culture itself. The sensitivity, awareness and respect for others becomes embedded in our way of being— mindfulness slowly becomes seamless— someone’s hijab just is, a dashiki is lovely, but nothing out of the ordinary once we’ve talked about it. All of these obvious differences are fascinating, but they are as important and necessary as our own cultural backgrounds. Continuously working on CRP is an effort worth making.
Culturally Responsive Practice can be different in every classroom, and should get deeper and more complex as children get older— it is an integral part of empowerment.
What does Culturally Responsive Practice look like in your classroom?