Anyone who knows me knows I’m a sci-fi fantasy nerd. Star Wars. Lord of the Rings. Game of Thrones. All. Day. Long.

I even like that cheesy Lord of the Rings prequel, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, that tells the story of Bilbo Baggins’ first journey that became the book, There and Back Again: A Hobbit’s Tale, that we see Frodo finish at the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Well, at the start of 2018, I felt just like Bilbo Baggins going on his first adventure. I was super excited to go out and talk about interrupting ‘inequity by design’ using the principles and practices of culturally responsive teaching. For all of 2018, I was on the road talking about and teaching about culturally responsive practices.  I went from California to Alaska. From Texas to Canada. From Portland, Oregon to Boston, Mass. There and back again like Bilbo.

And along the way I got to meet many of you.  Even as far away as Havana, Cuba, I ran into a group of educators from Montgomery County Public Schools at the Literacy Museum who had read Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain. The funniest encounter was when I was on a flight to the East Coast (I live in California).  The woman across the aisle from me kept glancing over at me. At one point, I got up and went to the bathroom and when I came back to my seat, she leaned over and asked, “Are you, Zaretta Hammond.”  I said yes with a quizzical look on my face. She said she thought so but googled me when I got up to go to the lavatory to be sure. We had a good laugh and talked a bit about what she was excited about working on in her classroom.

2019: Focus on The Implementation Gap

The downside? With all that traveling, my writing got put on the back burner. You may have noticed that my last post was Nov. 27, 2017. But is wasn’t for naught. As an educator and author, I had a chance to see how other educators — from classroom teachers to site leaders to central office folks — have been translating the Ready for Rigor frame into practice.  I’ve learned a lot about how educators are embracing culturally responsive teaching. The good and the “not so good”.  I’ve learned that there is a greater awareness of culturally responsive teaching (yay!), but the implementation has been uneven, to put it kindly.

There are some things we are still not getting right about culturally responsive and culturally sustaining practices.  And we could start right there with labels and what you call a thing. There’s a lack of nuanced understanding of how culturally responsive teaching differs from multicultural education or social justice education. Many teachers are using the terms interchangeably.  It’s incumbent on site leaders and district leaders to have a clear understanding of the differences.

Then there’s the confusion over how “courageous conversations” and implicit bias training factor into culturally responsive teaching.  I heard a teacher say, “well, to be a culturally responsive teacher, I have to first look at my own biases and manage them in order to close the achievement gap for my diverse kids.”   That sounds good, right?

Well, in reality, our first order of business is to focus on the student as a learner and put his needs above our own.  THEN, asking the question: Who do I need to be in order to serve him better?

Yeah, dealing with implicit bias when talking about culturally responsive teaching is a bit of a chicken and the egg situation — Do I focus on instruction first or implicit bias?  In reality, it’s more like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time (try that!) — We have to keep two things in mind simultaneously in order to interrupt inequity by design. We have to show how the two are connected.

Reclaiming the Power of the Pen

So, this year in this blog space, I want to focus on moving us from building awareness of CRT to more effective implementation beyond doing a book study.  We are still treating it like it’s a “thing.” I heard all the time teachers say, “… when I’m doing culturally responsive teaching, and then go back to ‘regular teaching’…”.  There is no regular teaching vs. culturally responsive teaching. Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billing says, “All teaching is culturally responsive. It’s just a matter of whose culture it is being represented.”

Referring to culturally responsive teaching as a “thing,” confusing it with being a subject area, or treating it like a treatment for minority kids is a sure sign that you may still be at a novice level of understanding of culturally responsive teaching.  And let’s not even begin to talk about the way people have misinterpreted the “culture” part in culturally responsive teaching. I’ve got a few posts in mind to address that.

Here’s the point: We have to get better at both our ability to articulate and implement this approach to equity.

Join me this year as we take on some big questions related to what Freire calls “praxis” — the intersection of conceptual understanding, action taking, and reflection on impact — around culturally responsive teaching.  Some of the questions I’ll be digging into are:

  • What does effective implementation of CRT look like in the classroom?
  • How do we move beyond the conceptual understanding of CRT to implementation?
  • How do we create the right conditions at the district level for CRT to take hold?
  • What does effective CRT professional development look like?
  • How do we build our bi-cultural lens as we grow into more culturally responsive educators?
  • Which myths are we still perpetuating about CRT?
  • How do we know CRT is working on student learning?

I am super excited to continue on this learning journey with you!

Tell me what questions about culturally responsive teaching you’re grappling with.