Announcer:

This podcast is produced by Benchmark Education.

Kevin Carlson:

Culturally responsive education, it's about recognizing biases and blind spots. It's about celebrating diversity and addressing inequity. It's about answering this question: How can we help our young people strive and achieve without giving up who they are? I'm Kevin Carlson and this is Teachers Talk Shop.

Dr. Luvelle Brown:

Once you see it, you can't unsee it. Once we truly look at our data, once we truly look at our instructional practices, we then know that what we've been doing is contributing to the inequities and the lack of culturally responsiveness in our spaces.

Kevin Carlson:

That is Dr. Luvelle Brown. He has been a teacher, assistant principal, principal, school CIO, and is the superintendent of the City School District ESD in Ithaca, New York. He's also a father, community leader, and author. Dr. Brown's leadership has led to innovative programs, redesign learning spaces, and numerous technology initiatives. His work has helped create transformative shifts in culture and academic achievement. In today's conversation, author and educator Patty McGee talks with Dr. Brown about the motivation and methods behind his approach to culturally responsive education. And they talk about how you can apply them to your own classroom. Here's Patty McGee with Dr. Luvelle Brown.

Patty McGee:

The words of culturally responsive practices have become very much a catchphrase in education, and we know that it is essential though, it is so important. So to wholly understand what it means, would you first start by just sharing what culturally responsive practices are?

Dr. Luvelle Brown:

Sure. And thank you for taking this approach because, yes, it is important to define the term and have a common mental model for what it means before seeking to implement it in schools and in classrooms. For me, it's about first establishing strong, deep relationships, which is validation and affirmation, validation and affirmation of the multiple identities that come into our learning spaces each day. Now, to do that, the educator needs to understand their own identity and understand who they are and how they have traditionally showed up in the classroom space, in the curriculum, on the walls, in the pedagogies. So understanding oneself first as an educator and then validating and affirming the beautiful diversity that exists in a space. Relationships are first, in establishing that trust and safe space to learn is first.

And then we can have what my friend Sharroky Hollie refers to ‘build and bridge’. We can use that great diversity to connect to the academic environment and the skills and the pedagogies that are culturally responsive, which will then allow for our young people to flex their cognitive muscles. So first validating and affirming, building relationships and then moving forward to the pedagogies, instructional strategies, connecting to the academic environment in ways that our young people can strive and achieve without giving up who they are. So that's a bit of a long-winded definition. We could write it out, but it's important for folks to be able to speak to what they're doing, the process, the pedagogies, and the why.

Patty McGee:

Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, you're very well known for saying it like it is and then showing us the way through that. So I want to dig right into a question that is really important for us to discuss. Why is our current education system so deeply inequitable? What got us here?

Dr. Luvelle Brown:

By design. This is not a flaw or a bug in our system, these inequities. It is a feature. It's been written into our policies. Those policies have been written by folks who have not explored their biases and blind spots, or maybe they have in some instances, and they have written policies and practices to be oppressive and to marginalize. You know, my mother, I grew up in the South and my family would refer to it as the Jim Crow South. And my mother was a long-time educator, 40 plus years, and she would say that when we integrated schools, our young people of color lost something. We lost black educators, we lost the schools and learning spaces where our culture was centered. We went from having these culturally responsive spaces that were loving, that contributed to young people achieving the literacy rate for young people of color who look like me were higher at the time of the Great Migration than they are today.

So some things happened by design; we removed the African-American educators from classrooms, the curriculum, the assessment became “standardized”, if you can't see me, "standardized" and we know what that standard is. So this is by design. Every policy we have on our books, from code of conduct to meal purchasing to special education, have resulted in marginalization and oppression and data, quite frankly, that is predictable now that speaks to our young people of color not achieving. So I would argue that it was by design and it is a feature in our system, these inequities.

Kevin Carlson:

After the break, Dr. Brown shares some first steps that teachers can take. Stay with us.

Announcer:

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Patty McGee:

Can you now share with us maybe some first steps that you could recommend for teachers as they start to break apart the inequities of education?

Dr. Luvelle Brown:

Sure, and I write about this in my book. It begins with reflection, reflecting on who we are as individuals, as an organization, understanding how we individually have shown up in our learning spaces. That self-reflection pushes us to reflect on our implicit biases, which are key. Bias leads to stereotyping, stereotype, prejudice, and discrimination. That stereotype, prejudice, and discrimination leads to oppressive policy, which then leads to culture. And our culture pushes the pedagogies that our young people are experiencing in our spaces.

So the reflection is needed first where we can be aware of what's happening and then the next step would be the conflict or intellectual friction. Once we are aware, once you see it, you can't unsee it. Once we truly look at our data, once we truly look at our instructional practices, we then know that what we've been doing is contributing to the inequities in the exclusion, not inclusion, and the lack of culturally responsiveness in our spaces. So then we have to look at grading practices, assessment practices, instructional strategies, and that's going to push us to be different and to change. So, first up, implicit bias, reflect on your biases, reflect on what we do and how it's contributed to these systems that we say we need to change and then begin the work of identifying and shifting our policies and practices.

Patty McGee:

Yes, and if I may add to that, I've been spending a lot of time looking at my own biases and that is hard work. There's a lot of discomfort in that. And I want to bring that up because I want to encourage others to not let that discomfort stop them, because once we put ourselves in that uncomfortable place, there's often shame for many of us who have realized that we have been contributing to this, unknowingly or knowingly. And so I wanted to add on to what you're saying about really being honest in our self-reflection and to do so in a way knowing that big emotions come up around that and to still push ahead because our emotions are not as big and as important as building equity. And so as someone who is on a journey, I just wanted to share that because that can stop a lot of people. And you have given us examples of how to continue through that, no matter what feelings come up, because there's a bigger purpose for us.

Dr. Luvelle Brown:

Then you're going to be shifted from the guilt to having a sense of responsibility. Too often I see people who feel guilty and they struggle with the messiness and being uncomfortable and they shut down. I'm asking folks, and you've done it, to shift to that sense of responsibility, 'I need to be better. I need to unpack this to be a better educator, to make education systems better.'

Patty McGee:

Yes. Thank you. So can you share some things about- I know your wheelhouse is that K-5, K-6 area, even though you are clearly through all of the grade levels and here for all students and for education, but we at Benchmark really are focusing on the K-6 level. We invite everyone in to hear this conversation, but specifically for that age group, can you share some things in classrooms that we can do to really begin that equity conversation or begin to really practically pull in some practices that enhance conversation that bring together discovery of I guess inequities, yes, but also how we build understanding of one another and recognize each other's cultures.

Dr. Luvelle Brown:

So a great place to start in elementary classrooms right now, just look at the texts in your space and if they represent the great diversity that exists in our country, not even so much always in your classroom. Do we have texts in our classrooms that allow for our young people to not only explore pluralism and see diversity, but also unpack these issues around marginalization, power, control, and oppression? There are great texts that our young people, our youngest ages can connect with that allow for them to unpack these issues around social justice and particularly for our young people of color. How much literacy are you immersing them in and engaging them in that really allow for them to explore these deep concepts that they've been asking to explore for a long, long time?

Again, I'm coming from a culture and my mother was an educator of young people of color like me and they used literacy to find their voice to stand up to social justice issues. And there was never a conversation or a question about engagement then. But yet today we're having conversation and questions about engagement. See the ways in which we've gone about teaching literacy today is much more about individualism and competitiveness and skill-focused versus the non-linear, collaborative, collective approaches that many cultures have found to be the way in which they connect to literacy. So at the elementary level I would ask folks to use the text first, look on the walls and see which images are represented, which images are on the walls. Just look at the environment and what we're engaging our young people with, and then we can begin the conversation about the pedagogy, then the instructional strategies and how we get young people moving and finding joy in the literacy. But let's just start with doing an inventory of what we put in front of our young people.

Kevin Carlson:

After the break, when you do this kind of work in your classroom or school, what are the outcomes? Stay with us.

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Patty McGee:

When sound culturally responsive practices are in place, what are the outcomes?

Dr. Luvelle Brown:

I can tell you what we don't wish to look for as much anymore is the standardized assessment data, in part you say you're culturally responsive and then measure it using standardized data because we know what their standard is. But there are some things we can look for. We can look for levels of engagement. We can capture that data and quantify it. We can look at graduation rates. We can look at attendance rates. We can look at, although our traditional grading approaches have always been a way to marginalize, but if revamping our approaches to grading, we can look at that. So attendance, graduation rates, "discipline" and referrals. You see, when we're culturally responsive and loving those quantitative numbers shift.

But then we can also look at qualitative data. Ask our young people. Do they see themselves represented in the curriculum, on the walls? We built a survey out like that in collaboration with our young people where we have qualitative questions that we asked to give us a sense of how culturally responsive and inclusive our environments are. So think about what questions one could ask young people to get a sense of how things are going. That's qualitative data that you can then put back out to your community. And then there is that data point that I refer to the most is, how do they feel? Young people, educators, adults walking into a space, parents, they can tell you how it feels. And when you're truly culturally responsive, you can get, I know it's called antidotal evidence, but I think about it much more deeply, is the evidence. Folks will tell you if they feel loved. And if you're truly culturally responsive, it will be a loving environment.

Patty McGee:

Yes, absolutely. Wow. So just to summarize what we've spoken about, you shared with us a very important definition of culturally responsive teaching and how we got to such an inequitable place in education. And you shared with us ways to bring forth and begin to establish culturally responsive practices through first reflection on our own biases, and also to think about looking to our students and literature to be able to bring about more inclusivity into our classrooms and to start to shift our data points and look at things that are more indicative of students feeling loved. And that's really just an incredible way to move forward from here.

And I definitely recommend for everyone listening to pick up your book, to listen to anything that you have shared, to visit your website, and in any way to continue to learn from you about ways that we can, you know, lock arms and move ahead to change, change and fix what needs to be fixed so that all students are welcomed, and all students are given the opportunity to learn deeply and be the people that they are and can be. So thank you for being with us today, Dr. Brown.

Dr. Luvelle Brown:

Thank you for the opportunity. I'm honored to be on this journey with you.

Patty McGee:

Thank you.

Kevin Carlson:

Thank you, Patty, and thank you, Dr. Luvelle Brown, for sharing your wisdom, experiences, and insights about culturally responsive education. You can learn more about Dr. Brown and his work and his book, Culture of Love at his website, LuvelleBrown.com . That's L-U-V-E-L-L-E-B-R-O-W-N.com.

And thank you for listening to Teachers Talk Shop. For Benchmark Education, I'm Kevin Carlson.