Black History and Cultural Competence

In the United States, February marks the start of Black History Month, 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. 

Every year, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History selects a theme for this celebration. In 2023, it is Black Resistance:

“African Americans have resisted historic and ongoing oppression, in all forms, especially the racial terrorism of lynching, racial pogroms, and police killings since our arrival upon these shores. These efforts have been to advocate for a dignified self-determined life in a just democratic society in the United States and beyond the United States political jurisdiction.”

This year’s theme reflects the enforced resilience that Black people need in order to navigate oppressive systems, including the legal ban of teaching Black history in schools, while constantly pushing for freedom, safety and justice.

How educators prepare for and teach about Black history matters

In 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 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. 

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. If you want more information, grab your copy of Teaching with the HEART in Mind and head over chapter two. 

  • Develop an awareness of your own cultural identity (especially if you’re 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.

Using SEL to teach Black history

This February, you have an opportunity to teach Black History in a way that honors and celebrates the joy and resilience of our Black communities. That requires that you critically examine if and how curriculum violence exists in your educational program and/or teaching practice. As we have discussed, good intentions don’t always lead to positive outcomes, so it is necessary to engage in critical and ongoing self-reflection about our teaching practices.

In addition to strengthening your cultural competence, you can use the HEART in Mind model to reflect on your teaching practice and identify how you can do what’s right for your students. Use the reflection prompts in this post to guide you in the process. 

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