Transcript: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy: A Case Study in Successful Educational Systems
On behalf of the California Center for School Climate (CCSC), I would like to welcome you to Culturally Responsive Pedagogy: A Case Study in Successful Education Systems. My name is Lan Nguyen, a program associate for CCSC at WestEd, and I’ll be your moderator for today’s session.
Before we jump into today’s session, we just wanted to share with you a bit about the California Center for School Climate. The California Center for School Climate, or CCSC, is a California Department of Education initiative led by WestEd. We provide free support and trainings on school climate and data use to local education agencies in California. We invite you to visit us on our website at ccsc.wested.org to explore supports provided to districts and schools across the state.
The CCSC offers several types of supports including data use webinar sessions, peer learning exchanges around specific topics, and professional learning supports. Our website can be found on the Linktree being shared in the chat.
With that, we’d like to make a connection, if you were able to make our keynote, to Jaleel Howard’s messages. This morning Jaleel noted the importance of meaningful connections between students and adults in schools. He also shared examples of how to develop better relationships with young people in our schools. During this session, we will continue the conversation around the power of relationships in the context of culturally responsive pedagogy. Our speakers will highlight addressing the challenges of centering race and culture alongside their partners at the district and school levels and will illuminate ways to overcome what can feel like overwhelming odds in this work.
The chat will remain open for the webinar and we invite you to interact with other audience members. Towards the end of the session, we’ll have time for a question and answer. We invite you to submit questions you have in the Q&A feature at the bottom of the Zoom toolbar for presenters. Slides shared and resources mentioned are included in the Linktree being shared in the chat right now.
With that, I’d like to introduce our speakers for today’s session. First, we have Timothy Ojetunde. Timothy is a School Climate Program Associate at WestEd who supports districts and schools considering equity and improving educational outcomes for all. He specifically works with Resilient and Healthy Schools and Communities and supports the California Center for School Climate as a technical assistance provider. Timothy holds over a decade of knowledge and experience and expertise that is grounded in school leadership, culture and climate, restorative practices, SEL and trauma-informed practices as well as DEI. Timothy was born and raised in Los Angeles, a graduate of UCLA with master’s degrees from Arizona State University and CSU Dominguez Hills and enjoys music, sports, film and television.
Our second speaker is Rawlin Rosario, a Senior Program Associate at WestEd in the culturally responsive systems team where he supports technical assistance activities, develops research and evidence-based tools and resources, and provides professional development to schools and school districts around building culturally responsive and equitable systems. Rawlin was born in the Dominican Republic and grew up in Harlem and Washington Heights, NYC. Rawlin holds over a decade of experience serving as a teacher, instructional coach, school leader and policy advisor, building systems that mirror the love we say we have for our students and families.
With that, I’m pleased to go ahead and pass this on over to Rawlin.
Thank you so much. I’m very excited to be here with you all today. Thank you for making time and joining us in our session today. Here are our three session objectives. We’ll be examining the common challenges and barriers that are faced by participants as we all work to center culturally responsive and sustaining education and equity in our work. We’re going to deepen our understanding of what culturally responsive and sustaining education is and really explore some effective strategies to implement this at the district as well as school levels. Lastly, we’ll be exploring and crowdsourcing some strategies and tools that we’ve used in the past with different school systems to really drive culturally responsive and sustaining education as well as equity work.
Before we dive into our content material, we would like to model how we set the stage to really discuss equity and cultural responsiveness. When we approach equity-related or culturally responsive-related professional development sessions, there are some critical underpinnings that me, my team and others I work with really operate under. The first is that we center race. We know that students are not having the same educational experiences in our education system, and oftentimes, centering race will allow us to see the most marginalized students’ experiences and really address the harm that they might be experiencing. This doesn’t mean that we leave out other social identities that are also marginalized, like our members of the LGBTQ+ community or our English language learners, for example, but we still look at those groups at the intersection of race.
Our second point here is that culturally responsive and sustaining education and equity are the plate; they’re not just an add-on or a side dish. Oftentimes, we hear educators say, “Well, I’m already doing all of this, I’m already implementing all these things, and I have to worry about the tests, right? And now I have to add CRSC into this.” But the fact of the matter is that being culturally responsive and equity focused are things that should be foundational to the way that we approach education, to the way that we teach, build community and interact with our students to ensure that they have the best opportunities to follow their own pathways.
Next, this really brings me to our next point, where we’re really thinking about focusing our attention on fixing adult systems, mindsets and practices, not our children, communities and families. You’ll hear me say this over and over again. A lot of the strategies that you’ll hear me saying are about what we as adults can do in our system. What can we fix in our system? Our communities, our children, our families are not broken and they do not need fixing. Oftentimes, I hear, “I’ve done everything I can with these kids,” or, “The kids don’t care about education,” but we need to refocus our gaze to really pay attention to the system, structures and adult practices that often get in the way of improving outcomes for our students.
Lastly, this is a journey and not a destination. We are all on different starting points in our journey to equity and to become culturally responsive practitioners. While we won’t have all the answers for you in this one webinar, we really hope the information that we provide today will help build your toolbox, your capacity and help you see an approach to education and building culturally responsive and equitable systems in a different way.
When we go out into the field, it’s very important that we think about how we’ll work together. Oftentimes, we offer working agreements to really create a space where we can support each other to talk about culturally responsiveness, equity, and race in education. These working agreements will guide our learnings and interactions in today’s webinar. As I go through each working agreement, I want you to think about which one you might want to highlight for yourself as you engage with our material.
Our first working agreement is to expect and accept non-closure. We do not claim to have all the answers to solve educational inequity and issues around culture, equity, diversity and inclusion. If we did, maybe the world would look different, but at the end of the day, as I said, we are all on a journey to continue developing ourselves as more self-aware, more critical educators to do what is best for the students that we serve. We’re not going to figure out all the answers here in one webinar. You might leave with some more questions and that’s okay. We’re on a journey together to learn and to grow.
Our second working agreement is to really focus on impact versus intent. When we engage in conversations around diversity, equity, culture, it is more important to focus on the impact of our words and our actions rather than our intent. Now, I’m not a betting man, but if I was, I would bet that there was no educator in this virtual space that wakes up with the intent to cause harm or hinder students’ feeling of belonging. I do not believe anyone in this room really intends to cause that harm to each other, to other colleagues and to students. However, at the end of the day, we have to really focus on the impact that our actions have, even if we did not necessarily intend harm.
Our next working agreement is to stay engaged even when uncomfortable. Talking about culture, bias-based beliefs, how practices, policies and procedures that we may be a part of inhibit the academic and social wellbeing of our students is not easy and can be very uncomfortable, but I ask you to work through it and stay engaged even when you’re feeling uncomfortable. Recognize when you’re feeling uncomfortable, lean into it a little bit. Gift yourself that opportunity to be all in and present.
Lastly, I want us to really consider interrogating ourselves as well as the systems that we are a part of. We have to recognize and understand our own identity, our own biases, our own privileges and how they affect how we show up in our systems and in our roles as educational leaders.
Now, you’ve heard me talk about equity, so what do I mean when I say equity? I like to use this definition that’s offered by Glenn Singleton. What I really like about this definition is two things, and I’ll let you know after I read that:
“Equity in education is raising the achievement of all students while narrowing the gaps between the highest and lowest performing students and eliminating the racial predictability and disproportionality of which student groups occupy the highest and lowest achievement categories.”—Glenn Singleton
Now, what I like about this definition is that it is action oriented. It is seeking to raise achievement. It is seeking to close or narrow gaps. It is seeking to eliminate racial predictability. And that focus on racial predictability that often dictates outcomes for students and families is something that I like about this definition that, oftentimes, we don’t see when we think about equity.
Now, as we talk about culturally responsive practices, equity, we must first consider what are the systemic factors that really influence inequities and how we can begin to address them. Next, you will see a framework from which our team approaches this work. In our work, we must be begin to investigate these factors and really continue to dig deeper as to how they’re affecting marginalized communities in our education system. Our team really takes the approach, and you’ll see this as we get into case studies, as we get in into some of the strategies that we’ve used with other education districts and schools, it’s really an inside-out process. The inside out implies the commitment to shifts in practice, and the equitable implementation of organizational policies and procedures really requires personal reflection, learning and awareness in several areas, including but not limited to: culture, identity, race, racism, power and privilege, bias and stereotypes. This process develops what we know as sociopolitical consciousness.
For us, research has shown that the beliefs educators hold about students and the communities they serve often manifest themselves into written guidelines, sometimes unwritten guidelines, in the form of policies and procedures that really influence our educational institutions. These policies and procedures guide our educator and institutional practices that we see on a daily basis and that have critical influences every single day. I’ll use the example of discipline to show you what I mean here in this framework. If we believe that students learn to change their behavior, for example, through punishment, often, our policies, for example, our codes of conduct, will reflect our punitive belief, and then that will be reflected out in practice.
However, these are complex because your individual beliefs may come in contrast with a systemic belief that has already been codified into policy. If you believe that punishment is the way to get students to change their behaviors, this is what you’ll do because this is what the policy says and your practices will also show that. We have to not only think about the strategies, not only think about what’s in place with the policies, but we have to go even deeper and really begin to interrogate the beliefs that are undergirding a lot of these policies, procedures, and practices.
We like to start at the personal level. Substantive research highlights the relevance of bias, both implicit and explicit, as operating in our school systems. Now, three types of bias-based beliefs that are relevant for us to understand are: color evasiveness, deficit thinking and poverty-disciplining.
Color evasiveness is a belief that promotes the idea that the best way to remove racism is to omit race, gender and other social identities as a descriptor. Instead, it involves treating individuals as individuals and doesn’t consider everyone’s social identities and it really focuses on discussing and framing commonalities. The default identity ideology is whiteness, where we center whiteness. Educators see race as a taboo topic that is irrelevant to really bring into their classrooms. An example of color evasiveness emerges when we see inconsistency in teaching and learning the context based on race, gender, age, geography. Educators really teach their students in a myopic manner where they’re not really considering their diversity, their backgrounds, where they come from, what things they bring to the table. Oftentimes, students of color are forced to adapt and assimilate into a classroom culture and have to accept the consequences if they don’t assimilate.
Now, the second bias-based belief is deficit thinking. It’s an ideology used to explain the academic performance, and at times, cognitive abilities as a result of deficiencies within a cultural group. This minimizes the influence of systemic patterns and abilities that are causing some of these inequities. Educators usually have a narrow view of what this means to be normal or successful, and these views are really based on their own cultural references, which may be inconsistent with that of their students. Some examples of this is when we see discussions — oftentimes, this is paired with low expectations, teachers and educators feeling like, “Well, these kids come from a background where they’re not read to. They don’t have the opportunities to really rise up and meet this,” so students are given busywork in hopes that they won’t talk. Students are expected to conform and to be quiet and just write things down and oftentimes, this forces educators to really water down the curriculum. If they act upon these beliefs, students are not allowed to really think outside the box, to develop these critical and analytical thinking skills that they will need in the real world to question power structures, to improve unfair and inequitable realities that they face.
Lastly, the bias-based belief of poverty-disciplining is around the belief that changing the behavior and psychological dispositions of low income individuals will fix who they are. In other words, this deficit thinking bias bleeds into poverty disciplining where we’re thinking about, “Well, we have to change your behavior. We have to change who you are in order for you to really succeed in this classroom.” As we think about how we incorporate culturally responsive practices, it all begins at the personal level, where we have to consider our own attitudes and beliefs about oneself and others: the awareness, the critical consciousness about who we are. We can’t build relationships with students if we don’t have a firm understanding of who we are and how we show up.
Now, I’ll go ahead and pass it to my colleague, Tim, so he can start really diving deeper into what culturally responsive spaces are and how we can use some of these interrogation techniques and strategies to create culturally affirming environments for our students.
Perfect. Thanks, Rawlin. Appreciate that.
Diving into this idea of culturally responsive spaces, I want to take some time, as we get started, to build some contextual knowledge here and to make sure that we’re all aligned and understand what we’re referring to in all of the different various topics that we’re talking about.
When we think about culturally relevant pedagogy here, we have a definition that’s provided to us by Gloria Ladson-Billings. What she says here is that culturally relevant pedagogy is a threefold approach to ensuring that all children are successful, and that approach requires a focus on students learning, an attempt to develop their cultural competence and to increase their sociopolitical or critical consciousness. For me, that’s an all-or-nothing proposition. You can’t do one or two and say, “Oh, I’m being culturally relevant.” You’ve got to do all three. Gloria Ladson-Billings hits the nail on the head here. It’s really important to have that understanding that these three factors are connected.
With that being said, I wanted to provide a little bit more additional context. We hear various terms and the first thing that you’re going to hear is culturally responsive pedagogy. And when you hear that right, it’s more so a form of teaching that calls for engaging learners whose experiences and cultures are traditionally excluded from mainstream settings and mainstream classrooms in different spaces, and Gloria Ladson-Billings leads a lot of that work.
Another term you’ll hear that I want to bring into this space is culturally responsive teaching. This is more about the doing of teaching. It’s an approach that emphasizes using the cultural knowledge and prior experiences and frames of reference and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant and effective for them, and that comes from Geneva Gay.
And then, the last one that I want to bring it to the space is this idea of culturally sustaining teaching. When you’re thinking about culturally sustaining teaching, this is an approach that takes into account the many ways that learners identify, or identity and culture evolve. This is specifically focused on sustaining students’ culture, both their static culture right there, their heritage, their home language, and also their evolving culture.
When we’re talking about these, we’re really talking about all these different aspects and where we want to be, ultimately. Our cultural goal here, you can see in this continuum, this cultural competence continuum. Ultimately, we wouldn’t get to cultural proficiency. No matter where you are on the spectrum, on this continuum, you have to take some time to reflect and ultimately see, what are the steps that we need to take to make sure that we’re getting to a space of cultural proficiency.
I’m not going to read all the specifics of each column, but one thing I do want to call out is this idea of moving from ethnocentrism to ethnorelativism. Ethnocentrism specifically compares other cultures by using a group-specific culture as the basis of that comparison, believing that theirs is superior and the standard to be used in comparison to other cultures. We want to really shift that to ethnorelativism, and this, on the other hand, believes that culture is understood best through its own people. How are we highlighting those voices and how are we highlighting those different aspects of different identities and cultures?
When we talk about getting started here, there are a few things that we want to make sure that we have consensus on, that we’re all aligned on, the first one here being shared language and vision. As this process is getting started, no matter where you are in your school or your district, your county office of ed, your organization, this has to be a thing that is worked on as a collective involving multiple voices and perspectives. Also, you want to make sure that you’re assembling the right team and client co-ownership, making sure that you’re bringing the right people to the table. And once you do that, you want to focus on building consensus around desired change. Can we all together talk about the key drivers and the process in which we need to take and in which we need to go?
Then, you want to monitor impact. It’s not enough just to say like, “Yes, we’re doing this, cool, it’s great. Let’s move on to something else,” but how are you continually monitoring the impact of that work that you’re implementing in your organization or district or school? And also committing to the process. This is not a one-and-done thing. Like Rawlin said, this is not about the destination, but it’s more about the journey, or how are we looking at this process not in the short term, but in the long term and how is it more so a foundation for all the work to come?
We’re going to get into a quick activity here because we want to bring in you all’s perspectives as well. Rawlin.
Right. When we’re talking about culturally responsive education and moving towards that spectrum that Tim just described, we really want to think about the community. What do we want our schools and classrooms to feel, look like and sound like? What does community look like? We want to hear from you. What would be the ideal community in school? What would that look like? What would that feel like? What would that sound like?
Go ahead and scan the QR code. You can also click the link in the chat that was placed in the chat and go ahead and engage with us. I’m going to go ahead and share so that we can see what some of these responses are.
Again, go ahead and click that link. Go ahead and type in what you think. What does community look like, feel like and sound like in our schools and classrooms? We’re already getting a lot of great responses. Love, fun, joyful, free of bias, safe. Students talking. Connections, understanding, collaboration, belonging. Loud and engaged. Diverse. We want representation. We want a space where folks feel valued, where folks feel like their opinions matter. Acceptance. Honesty, transparency. What else? What do we see in the classroom? What do we see in the hallways, perhaps? Students are welcomed and their strengths and areas of growth are supported. Awesome. Openness, acceptance. Student-centered. Smiles, laughter. This is great.
A lot of what you all said are things that we had as well. Feeling valued, feeling heard, this sense of connectedness, smiling, laughing, questions, seeing themselves in the artwork around the school, seeing yourself reflected in the curriculum as well. Students talking to each other. Oftentimes, this is our goal. So why is it that not all of our schools are this way? What really gets in the way? We want to hear from you the challenges. What gets in the way of us building this community that we want? We’ve named it, we know what it is, we know what it sounds like and it should look like, but what’s getting in the way of that?
I’d like for us to, again, engage with the Menti and think about what do we think is getting in the way? And oftentimes, we get in the way is some of the challenges that we’ve seen as we work with clients and implement these strategies that we’re talking about. We are already seeing it our own beliefs getting in the way sometimes, fear of change. Change is hard. Adult problems. It’s hard to work in a school. I worked in a school during COVID, it was very difficult. It changed everything.
Upholding ideals of White supremacy. Going back to that belief piece. Time, that’s very real. We only have 24 hours in one day and we’re also people that have families and other interests. Leadership — we might not have the support that we want from our leaders in our own schools. Lack of resources. Patriarchy. Not everybody might be on board, there might be resistance. There might be folks who get angry when we implement some of these strategies, folks that might get defensive when we talk about biases. Taking care of yourself while at the same time taking care and pouring into our students. Thank you for that.
As we think about, you all named it, right? We need to think about what gets in the way: cultural misalignment and conflict. Oftentimes, we may not understand students’ culture. Respect might mean one thing to them and it might mean another to you. Our bias-based beliefs that I just talked about, interrogating those, thinking about when are those most likely to show up? Devaluing student agency and voice, not really allowing students to be themselves and have a voice. And then, making the time, right, to create these authentic connections with students and parents. How can we begin to really uncover and put these things to the side or work through them in order to create culturally affirming environments for our students in order for there to be a place for us to implement these strategies?
I like this quote because it says, “Schools become a meeting place for cultures, containing children and adults who bring with them multiple facets of their identity along with unique experiences and perspectives.” We need to think about these things as we come together and work to understand our students, our families and our communities. I’ll go ahead and pass it to Tim. Unpack some of the key factors in culturally responsive approaches.
Perfect. Thanks, Rawlin. Appreciate that.
Really thinking about this, I want to break this down into two. We have our traditional approaches and our culturally responsive approaches, and when I think about the traditional approach, I think about this idea of, a lot of times when people come into the teaching practice, their concept, their idea of what teaching looks like is really dependent on their own experiences in education as a learner, as a student. This idea of it being very teacher centered, a lot of people have this thought and this view of, teaching is me in front of the room, the sole holder of knowledge in this space. When we think about culturally responsive approaches, it’s more so about how are we building in experiential learning with multiple modalities? How are we being student driven and working from a lens of sharing responsibility or sharing power, understanding that there could be multiple correct answers and understanding that there’s a rationale to explain with that.
Quickly, here, looking at culturally responsive and sustaining education, as we’ve spoken throughout this session, beliefs can manifest themselves into policies, procedures, and practices as well as microaggressions. The continued work with racial identity development and knowing how to identify and address tension and bias-based beliefs are foundations for us to begin changing the inequalities in our system through, specifically, culturally responsive and sustaining education.
What happens when we ignore and devalue students’ cultural assets? And when do we have a safe and inclusive, culturally affirming environment? Students begin to feel this internalized devaluation. This is where students feel like they do not belong or they’re unworthy because their cultures are not being affirmed and respected. And this affects students’ self-esteem and confidence.
Another impact is the assaulted sense of self. This continuing exposure to devaluation shapes how students of color see themselves. It becomes very challenging to develop a healthy sense of who they are when they’re inundated by messages that they’re not as smart as other students, so they’re not welcomed here. And then, lastly, we see this idea of students develop internalized voicelessness, which really erodes the ability for students to advocate for themselves, to speak up when unwelcomed or unjustified negative messages come their way. And thinking about this in terms of leadership, we want to bring into this space this framework from Muhammad Khalifa. In his research, Muhammad Khalifa offers powerful examples that show how cultural responsiveness is a necessary component of effective school leadership and that if cultural responsiveness is to be present and sustainable in schools, mostly, it must be consistently promoted by a school leader.
As you can see in this graphic by Dr. Khalifa, he lays out a core set of unique leadership behaviors that characterize culturally responsive leadership. There’s a lot going on here, so I want to take some time to orient you to what you’re looking at. Under this first section, develop culturally responsive teachers, leaders are the central driving force of instructional leadership, and oftentimes, curriculum development in schools. They are also held accountable for growth or efficacy of their teachers and all other leaders on campus. Leaders are the ones who are best positioned to improve this practice of teachers by building capacity and equity mindsets. We’ll talk a little bit more about the importance of mindsets as we move on.
The next section here, critically reflect on culturally affirming leadership. Building leaders must understand their own identity and their own aspects of their identity. Because before you can say you’re going to help your teachers or help your staff be culturally responsive, a leader must be in tune with their own aspects of their identity and that is what needs to be done as a precursor to lead this work of other people.
If you’re looking at that next section, promote culturally responsive and inclusive school environments, leaders really should establish shared language and a vision for culturally affirming practices at their school. We mentioned this earlier. It’s important for leaders to challenge exclusionary policies and teachers and behaviors while simultaneously affirming changes that center and respect the identities of those racially diverse students at their school.
The last one that I want to call out here is engaging students and parents in Indigenous contexts. This is extremely important. Aside from building one’s own cultural proficiency and responsivity and encouraging teachers to adopt and use culturally responsive practices, the culturally responsive leader must include parents and communities in their leadership. That is, community-based histories and perceptions must be at the center of any conversation in order to overcome systemic barriers. This work is extremely important and the leader holds a strong impact at this work. This is not just leader at the school, but also leader at the district level and moving upwards as well.
The next thing to bring into this space, like we said, we wanted to provide you with resources and tools to help you do this work. I’m not going to go over all eight competencies, but I want to make sure that we have this understanding that there should be a focus on improving the learning capacity of diverse students who have been marginalized educationally. It centers around the effective and cognitive aspects of teaching and learning, and all of this is an effort to accelerate learning.
I think that’s really important to name, and we have a couple quotes that we want to bring in as well. One is from Dr. Tiffany Tynes Curry, and she says, “I realize when my students enter my classroom, they have more knowledge of themselves than I do, so it’s extremely important for me to listen.” This is something that was brought up by our keynote this morning, that is the power of listening and the impact of that and why that’s so important. This is the question that we have to ask ourselves: what values and beliefs do we hold? What beliefs do we hold about the students in our classrooms and in our schools? What beliefs do we hold about our families? More importantly, how are we leveraging their cultural assets in teaching and learning?
Ultimately, this all comes down to mindset. There’s no one set of rules or books that we can provide you, that Rawlin and I can say, “Hey, here, this is what you’re going to do. Step one, do this. Step two, do this.” It’s all about your mindset and your approach and how are you really thinking about this contextually and what are the things that you need to do to shift mindsets at your sites.
The first point that I want to bring in is that student voice matters. Before we can teach lessons that are relevant to the lives of our students, we need to know our students, and that’s just point blank. Because if we don’t do this, then this leads to the second point, then, we’re making assumptions. It’s important to make sure that we don’t have any assumptions because we can’t assume that our students all share the same experiences because once we make that assumption, then we’re actually devaluing their experiences, which we can’t do.
I want to quickly bring in this quote before I pass it back to Rawlin for a deep dive into some district work. I was talking to a student and we were talking about classes and content and learning and she said this to me. She said, “It’s important to learn about our culture in school because we don’t get much or any of that. Representation is important so we know that we’re important,” and this is something that we really want to take back and keep top of mind as we engage in culturally responsive pedagogy.
Thanks, Tim. Over the next few slides, we’ll give you some snapshots and highlights of some of the work that we’ve done to build a culturally responsive and equitable system. Each example really gets at the levels that we spoke about earlier when we talked about systemic influences that influence our inequities. We talked about beliefs, policies, procedures and practices, and at each of those levels, you will see how we were able to incorporate and center culturally responsiveness and equity in order to improve outcomes for the district or state in which we worked. Our hope is that you can see some of these strategies and begin to think about how you might be able to implement some of these in your context.
Again, we’ll go through three projects. We’ll share some characteristics, followed by some challenges and some of the supports that these places received to really create culturally responsive and equitable systems. But before we go in there, I want you to have this in your mind as we talk through this: what challenges have you experienced? What are some ways that you are addressing resistance or challenges at the district, at the state, at the school level, depending on your role.
This district, after really thinking about this district’s characteristics, it’s a large district that we served. It was over 25,000 students population, mostly Black students, 31% White, 9% multiracial, 4.3% Latinx as you can see there. This district really pledged to reduce their disproportionality and eliminate racial disparities, but in over 18 years, the data really hasn’t moved. It’s still happening. The support that they had was this ongoing equity plan that they made to address these issues through a district equity team. However, a lot of their training was outdated, hadn’t been updated in a while, and they really had some sustainability issues where, as Tim mentioned earlier, it’s like, “Oh, yeah, here’s the checklist. We’re going to do this and we’re done with equity work.” That’s not how it works. We need some sustainability. That’s why we call it culturally responsive and sustaining education, because we need to have this sustained throughout.
Some of the resistance and challenges that we faced were, numerous leaders didn’t just really think that these trainings applied to them. These trainings around implicit bias, around equity, building district equity teams, wasn’t really relevant to them and they denied the impact of systemic racism in our education system. What we really did was, we partnered with district leadership and trained and built the capacity of over 50 staff members through co-creating and co-facilitating trainings with a new group. We did a train-the-trainer model where we were able to train over 50 staff members in different roles, you name it: teacher, principal, assistant principal, support staff, counselors, SROs – school resource officers, and you name it. We had a very diverse group of roles, diverse staff based on race, and we were able to train those folks around some of the things that we’ve talked about today: implicit bias, culturally responsive strategies, talking about disproportionality.
And then, what we did was, we really helped them develop the knowledge, the skills, the attitudes and practices necessary to advance educational equity. And then we had them train their own staff members, because it’s much different training the people that you know, that you have relationships with, people that work in your district, because the fact of the matter is you have that experience. And we helped to push this by using the research from BIPOC educators that are on the ground, in this district, and we helped build by and through that collaboration and that partnership. Using the disproportionality data and using this train-the-trainer approach, we were able to uncover some of the root causes in the systemic beliefs, policies, procedures and practices. Now, this kind of work is on them to continue. We hope that the train-the-trainer model will provide a bit of sustainability so that the district can continue doing these trainings and build the capacity of even more staff to do this well.
This second district serves more than 20,000 students, of whom approximately 66% are Hispanic or Latinx, 19% are Asian American or Pacific Islander, 8% are Black or African American, 7% Filipino and 4% biracial. This district has about 1,000 employees, and most of them are White employees. For us, we worked with this district to really evaluate, develop and effectively implement key aspects of their anti-bias and anti-racist policies. This included evaluations of their existing data, from teacher professional learning, community input, technical assistance and evaluation support. Really, the effort we did with this district was strengthening their work and collaborative effort for this district-appointed Equity Oversight Committee and facilitating data collection and analysis related to community input of these anti-bias and anti-racist initiatives and how school principals manage the racial complaint process. Some of the resistance and challenges that we faced here was really going in circles, challenging folks’ personal agendas and motives, not having specific processes and facilitation to what they thought would work for students.
What we did to support them was really co-developing these equity tools, helping them get feedback from the people that are most impacted. We co-created a shared vision — as Tim shared earlier, we have to make sure we’re on the same page, we have a team. We’re building that consensus and really co-developing this process that was owned by the EOC, the Equity Oversight Committee. Again, it’s not just about us coming in there and giving you a training and then leaving, but it’s really about, how do we build the collective capacity and how do we sustain that by having you own this work and you do this work even when we’re not there.
In terms of supporting equitable system, we helped them do that, but also helping them push them towards the next steps of implementation. Now, we’ve created this policy. Now, how do we get this into the classroom? How do we see what we can do inside of the classrooms to make sure that our students are feeling culturally affirmed and we’re being responsive to what we’re hearing in the community? Again, this one focuses more on that policy and practice area.
And then this last piece, District C — it’s a rural district outside of a major urban area. You see here the student population, mostly White. We have 24% Latinx, 6.9% multiracial, and it goes down from there. Here, 88% of the teachers are White. A lot of the resistance and challenges that we faced were some political opposition in the current climate, this district having these disconnected one-off trainings and programs to address concerns in DEI, and then really decentering whiteness and centering the experiences of marginalized communities. This one really focuses on the practices.
What did we do with them? We really helped this state build a cluster of online modules in concert with professional learning and capacity building of leaders at the SEA and LEA level, before really going into the school level. A lot of what our modules consist in, and again, this is all online, available for all teachers to really think about things like racial equity foundations, starting with foundational knowledge of examining unconscious bias, racial identity, White privilege and intersectionality. And then, we move them towards applying those personal mindsets to instructional context: specifically developing an understanding in more in depth of culturally responsive pedagogy, and then moving them to applying that equity mindset to different learner variabilities. Now, how do I apply this to specific populations of my students that have different needs and different identities? And as we think about this in this new world, post-COVID, a lot of the things we’ve benefited from in terms of using technology in a different way to engage our families, our schools. This was just one way that we were able to really support this state in building culturally responsive practices and equitable systems.
We have these online modules that all teachers, all leaders, administrators can go through, but we also coupled that with trainings and facilitation guides so that, again, future facilitators could not only say, “Hey, you do this cluster, you do these modules on your own, but we’re also going to talk about it as a school-based community. We’re going to talk about this in professional learning communities and really apply these understandings to our context.” We partnered with multiple community organizations and other members of the educational community to ensure that what we were putting out there really received the feedback that it needed and that we were able to really focus on the needs of the community. What are the needs here and how do we provide you this information in a way where not only you can internalize it, but then you can share it with others and really move your school to be more equitable?
These were just three examples, and as we come to the end of the presentation phase, I want to hear from you all. You’ve heard a few different case studies of how we approached really building culturally responsive practices and equitable systems in different contexts. Now, I want to see what strategies could you potentially take, from how we modeled working agreements to how we sort of approach the work that we do on the beliefs, policies, procedures and practices side? And then, thinking about, again, what might get in the way of trying to implement these strategies? Go ahead, take a moment, I want to hear from you, and then we will open it up.
You can go ahead and hit the Menti. We only have a few folks, but that’s okay. We have working on beliefs, train-the-trainer aspect, thinking about how do we amplify voices of BIPOC staff, examining our own biases. Appreciate that. All right. I guess I’ll go ahead and stop sharing and pass it to, I think, Lan.
Yes. All right. We’re going to have a brief moment for question and answer. That was just so much great content in such a short period of time, so thank you both so much. We have some questions from the audience, so we’re just going to go ahead and pose them here in this space to both Tim and Rawlin.
A question that we have from Kimberly Celery is, how do you address both the old guard and new wave of educators/activists who insist that there isn’t systemic racism and become defensive when the topic is broached? I’m hearing a question about different approaches and perspectives, old versus new guard. What do you all have to say about that?
I guess … Go ahead, Tim. You start.
Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s a great question, Kimberly. Thanks for sharing that. One of the things that I think that’s top of mind and I shared in the presentation when I was also working with the district around this, I spoke to a student and the student talked about how they felt that there was not, or there was a lack of, focus and emphasis on their identity and their perspectives being brought into the classroom. And when I come in and say people have that kind of pushback or people feel that certain type of way and become defensive, but one thing that I’ve found great success in is working with students to bring in their voice into that space and using their voice to explain what they’re experiencing on a daily basis to their teachers and to their staff members. I think when it comes from a student, when it comes from their perspective, I think you’ll find that it’s harder to have pushback from an adult versus, sometimes, when it comes from an adult.
And I think, also, leveraging if it’s not direct student voice, but how can you bring in data to back up the trends and concerns that you’re seeing? I think top of mind for me is how do you leverage and bring in student voice into that space to really help support people in understanding that there has to be a shift and students can see the impact of this lack of shift, and what can they do, what part can they have in promoting that work, I think, is something that could be beneficial and helpful for that.
Yeah, I think so. I think that’s a great response. That just made me think about empathy interviews. Ask your students how they’re feeling. Like Tim said, it’s going to be hard for you to combat the experience that a student is telling you, “This is how I’m feeling.” And students are smart. We don’t give them enough credit. They know about race, they know how they’re treated, they know how they’re feeling. But to add on, I think it’s tough, and everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve experienced some type of resistance when I do these types of trainings.
For me, I think a big part is about building relationships. This whole series is about the power of relationships, and that doesn’t change with adults. You have to build a community. That’s why I started with working agreements. Those aren’t all the working agreements. There’s more, trust me, but those are some of the most important ones that we have to come together and we’re going to engage in this training, but here’s how. You set the parameters, you set the container, but you also take time to get to know who it is that you’re training. You build that shared language. When I say this, what am I talking about? When I say race, what am I talking about? And really being clear about those definitions.
And then, I think there are some non-negotiables. I’m the type of person, I’m not going to sit here and argue with you that systemic racism exists, because it does. For me, I think it’s about approaching folks in a way where I don’t want to center whiteness. I’m not going to center the White person that’s going to get defensive. I’m going to center the experiences of marginalized communities and the students. I’m not centering the 40-year-old White woman that’s teaching the eight-year-old Black boy because she’s getting defensive. I’m centering the student. What does the student need and how can you start interrogating what you know, what you believe and what you’re doing to ensure that they have the best possible experience?
And then, I think a lot of it is really exposing folks to things that they might not have thought about. I like to use the example of the core tensions. There’s an article by Mica Pollock called “Core Tensions, What Can I Do?” There’s the personal tension, the structural tension and the strategic tension. Working through those tensions, when you’re engaging in conversations about race, equity, what is your own personal readiness to discuss this? What blind spot thoughts might you have coming into your community that you might need to address? Is there something you need to read, is there someone you need to talk to before engaging in this? And then we think about the structural tension. What can I do in my position? What is in my locus of control? I can’t do it all, but what can I do to improve this structure in my classroom, perhaps?
And then, we think about the strategic tension. In practice, what are the strategies that I can use to really be more culturally responsive? Those are some of the things, I would say, of how I’ve addressed or push those folks that might not be on board. And at the end of the day, they still might not be on board, and you have to be okay with that because we’re centering the experiences of those that are most marginalized.
Just to quickly add on to that, sometimes, you have to move on with those who you have on board and you can’t wait for the few who are holding everyone else back and saying, “Well, we need to address this specific tension and we need to address this specific pushback and resistance.” Sometimes, you move forward with those who you have and I think, as you start to do that work and people start to see the impact and the positive change that comes as a result of that work, then you can also bring more people along through those relationships and through those experiences as well. I just wanted to add on to what Rawlin shared.
Great. Thank you both so much. I realize that that was just one question, but it’s such an important one, especially when talking about this idea of resistance. So many folks actually have that same question, so I think it was definitely worth spending a bit of time on.
With that, I’d like to give a massive thank you and shout out to our speakers today. There was just so much great information. On behalf of CCSC and WestEd, we want to thank you so much for joining us.