Three Ways Every Teacher Can Deliver Culturally Conscious Instruction

Dr. Kimberly McLeod | 6/3/2015, 11:14 p.m. | Updated on 6/3/2015, 11:14 p.m.
Creating culturally conscious practices in the classroom is a process that develops better humans; humans that are both students, and ...
Dr. Kimberly McLeod

Creating culturally conscious practices in the classroom is a process that develops better humans; humans that are both students, and teachers. The teaching and learning process involves a facilitator and a learner, both of which must participate in the instructional practice in order to produce desired outcomes. How do you teach anyone if, you don’t see the value in the person? Likewise, how do you learn from anyone if you don’t value who they are? How do you produce outcomes if both parties aren’t engaged in the process? What good is teaching if no one is learning? Teaching without relationships is like teaching to an empty room with four walls, then beating your head against each of those walls because there is no evidence that what you taught was learned during test time. Then blaming those walls because they aren’t good learners, then getting the city to come in and label the walls as defective and learning disabled. What good is instructional theory if you don’t know how to deliver it in a way that gets results? At some point we will have to prepare to point the finger at ourselves.

Try these three simple ways to support student learning through culturally responsive and reflective teaching:

  1. Eliminate dysfunctional, stereotypical distractions that interfere with human potential. Help students remove life weeds from the root. Whether negative stereotypes are learned directly or indirectly, is irrelevant. Once they are learned, the odds significantly increase that they will take root in one's belief system. When that happens, dysfunctional behaviors will soon align. Just like weeds in a beautiful garden, once weeds take root, they quickly grow and suffocate any other positive growth in the garden. Children and some adults live life carrying around dysfunctional beliefs about themselves or others; which suffocates a high quality of life, and life potential just like weeds. The only way to get rid of weeds is kill them by removing the root. If you only remove what you see on the surface and do not remove what is not seen rooted in the ground, your effort will be in vain. The roots underground will soon, sprout new life above ground. The tricky thing about weeds/dysfunctional thoughts, is that they may look like beautiful flowers – but don’t be fooled by what you see. A weed, is a weed, is a weed. There is no such thing as a good stereotype. Create cultural encounters, engagements and experiences that uproot dysfunctional beliefs and stereotypes from the root. Every person is an individual; don’t allow stereotypes to suffocate their identity or image or esteem.
  2. Build trust and rapport and relationships. I can only guess that because statewide assessments don’t measure relationships and schools are not held accountable by stakeholder trust as the only conceivable rationale as to why student teacher relationships are such a low priority, if a priority at all. Sure every parent, community and school should aspire to have excellent performance indicators for all students in all measurable areas, but for many students, especially those that are “school dependent” learning occurs through the relationship and not in spite of the relationship. If you have gaps in trust, gaps in positive student rapport and relationships, you will have gaps in student achievement. If you’ve heard, “They don’t have to like me in order to learn from me.” – consider that a red flag. No, you don’t have to be their best friend, get on the see saw with them, text message and invite them to your birthday parties; but you do have to have trust, you do have to have rapport and you must have a mutually progressive relationship. Bottom line, learning can only occur if teaching occurs. If students aren’t learning, then whatever you want to call that thing you are doing with them in the classroom on a daily basis, don’t fool yourself into calling it teaching – it’s more like talking. If they aren’t learning, then they are probably tolerating you until the bell rings. For many students, teaching and learning is delivered through relationships not around them. Relationships, yes - You. Need. Them.
  3. Identity Affirmation. Once the weeds of dysfunction are plucked from interfering with the teaching and learning process, an incredible opportunity exists to fill that empty space with new soil and fertilizer that is prepped for new learning. Learning that is both functional and edifying for the student and the teacher. Students need to know that who they are is of value. They need to know that they are significant and capable of experiencing unimaginable success. Identity affirmation means, who you are is enough regardless of income, language, race, hair texture, weight, height or any other discriminating criteria. Identity affirmation means you don’t have to sacrifice who you are in order to participate in a learning community. Simply being human should be enough to invaluably contribute to humanity. Differences do not mean deficits. 

Children are capable of learning at exceptional rates. We can create a culture of learning. The question is not can they learn; rather the question is can we teach? Now take that finger, turn it around and point it to yourself. You can make the difference in the classroom that will change the outcomes in their lives. Yes, that difference will be seen on the test too.

Dr. McLeod can be reached at

Twitter: @McLeodkr


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