Please note, this is the fourth installment in Dr. Tonia Durden's blog series Times Up!: Be Equitable. If you are new to this series, we recommend that you first read A Shield of Armor, Be Aware: Confronting My -isms, and Be Intentional: Culturally Relevant Teaching — My Culture.
I can't believe what you say, because I see what you do.
What we say with our words:
- I believe all children can learn.
- I believe teachers must be lifelong learners.
- I believe in equity for all children.
- I believe in partnering with parents.
How often have you said or heard the beliefs expressed above? I hear these beliefs quite often in my work with early childhood professionals whether the person is just entering our field or has worked with children for more than 25 years. When we consider the history of culturally relevant teaching, and why there was a need to make culture and relevancy more explicit in our teaching, it is because our actions when teaching children of color didn't align with our beliefs and what we were saying with our words. James Baldwin's quote captures this so clearly.
So, what do we often say with our actions when teaching Black and Brown children?
What we say with our actions:
- I believe some children want to learn and others don't.
- I believe teachers must be lifelong learners of universal teaching practices.
- I believe in equality. I don't see color or culture—just children.
- I believe in partnering with parents who align with my beliefs on how to support their child's learning.
When we consider what we often say with our actions, we notice that we are repeating a cycle of carrying out beliefs that leads to implementing "best practices" that are not best for all children. If we are truly committed to culturally relevant teaching we must be willing to grow in our beliefs about children, families, and learning—even critically rethinking what we consider to be developmentally appropriate best practices. How so?
The following are the fundamental beliefs of culturally relevant teaching:
- I believe that all students can succeed.
- I believe that teaching is like pulling or mining knowledge instead of putting knowledge in or banking in.
- I believe that learning is social and cultural.
- I believe that excellence is a complex standard that takes student diversity and individual differences into account.
- I believe in educational equity.
- I believe in collaboratively engaging with families and other professionals.
It is important to have a clear understanding of the beliefs that align with culturally relevant teaching. Often, I see teachers who support the practice of culturally relevant teaching but do not have the belief that all children can learn, or that learning should be equitable. Some professionals also don't believe that parents have important knowledge and skills to contribute to a home-school partnership. If there is a particular belief or value mentioned above that counters your current belief about children, teaching, and learning, STOP NOW in your quest towards the practice of culturally relevant teaching. Instead, critically reflect on why and what is the countering belief(s) then go back and read the first three blogs in this series. If you can affirm that you share the same beliefs as culturally relevant teaching, you are ready to move forward to the next installment in this series: Be Intentional: Culturally Relevant Teaching — My Teaching!
About the Author
Tonia Durden, PhD, is a clinical associate professor of early childhood and elementary education and is a program coordinator at the Georgia State University College of Education and Human Development. She is also a co-author of the book Don't Look Away: Embracing Anti-Bias Classrooms.