February marks the start of Black History Month in the US, a time to remember and celebrate the many contributions that African Americans have made to this country. It is also a time to reflect and recognize that the struggle for racial justice continues.
In schools, teachers may read biographies, review important historical facts or study the Civil Rights Movement. While this is important, it shows that Black history is treated separately from other history lessons. In this article published by Teaching Tolerance, Coshandra Dillard argues that “there would be no need to observe Black history in a designated month if it were taught year-round, alongside other histories as part of a regular curriculum.” However, we are not there yet.
In my new book, Teaching with the HEART in Mind, I discuss how educators need to build their cultural competence in order to do this work effectively. When teachers build their racial literacy, they can better understand how these historical events are connected to the sociopolitical context negatively impacting Black, Indigenous and people of color today.
“Understanding students’ lives can help educators foster positive relationships and ensure that students feel respected and seen in the classroom. According to Zaretta Hammond, culture is central to student learning; cultural practices shape students’ thinking processes, which serve as tools for learning in and outside of school.”
In other words, you cannot separate culture from learning, because culture influences not only what students learn but how they learn. Educators who are culturally responsive to their students respect their languages, cultures, and life experiences as meaningful sources for learning and understanding.
When students’ unique traits and life experiences are acknowledged, celebrated, and used to enrich the learning environment, students are more likely to feel a sense of belonging and engage with the classroom content in meaningful ways. In Teaching with the HEART in Mind, I discuss the importance of developing cultural responsiveness, in addition to trustworthiness and emotional connections, in order to develop positive relationships with students.
These are 6 ways for educators to develop their cultural competence, so they can create positive connections with young people and a classroom climate where all students can thrive:
Develop an awareness of your own cultural identity (especially if your are a White teacher.) I’ve been reading The Racial Healing Handbook by Dr. Anneliese A. Singh with a group of parents, and found it to be a great resource to develop awareness and consciousness.
Reflect on how you perceive cultural differences (and how it relates to your cultural identity.)
Learn about and build on the varying cultural and community assets of students and families.
Connect academic instruction with students’ prior knowledge and experiences.
Understand the negative impact that implicit bias and microaggressions have on students’ academic, social and emotional growth.
Promote an inclusive and equitable classroom that proactively works to counteract and reverse implicit bias.
If you want to learn more, pre-order the book now or download the first chapter for free. I can’t wait for you to read it and hear how you are building your cultural competence and implementing SEL in your class and school.