This post is a part of the conversation around the ASCD Forum “Learning for All = Teaching for All.” To learn more about the forum, go to www.ascd.org/ascdforum.
By Laurie A. Namey
Perhaps now more than ever, educator’s responsibility to ensure that all of our students succeed academically, behaviorally, and socially is at the forefront of everything that we do. Naturally, doing so requires us to refine our practices and look closely at the things we do to elevate achievement.
When reflecting on this year’s ASCD forum theme, “Learning for All = Teaching for All,” I can’t help but consider what it means for school leaders and teachers. How do we learn, too? And, most important, how is our professional growth leading us to ensure educational equity for all.
There is much to be said about the importance of culturally proficient practices in schools and classrooms; they are non-negotiable and a necessity in reaching and teaching our modern learners. However, one of the discoveries I made while working in this field of education is that the work goes above and beyond best practices and strategies. I have learned that the work is primarily inside out; it’s reflective work. It’s about shifts in mindset. In fact, I would argue that culturally proficient teaching and pedagogy is 75 percent mindset and only 25 percent strategy. It’s an individual journey. If we just focus on the best practices for teaching students who come from diverse ethic, linguistic, and socioeconomic backgrounds, we will miss the mark.
Professional development must be a tremendous aspect of our work, as it can serve as the gateway to ensuring all educators have what they need to refine their expertise in the area of equity and serve diverse student populations. Below are considerations for school leaders when they begin to explore culturally proficient teaching and equity as topics for professional learning.
- A Reflective Journey
Educators view things through the lens of their own experiences and culture, which may limit their ability to see other perspectives. Thus, they need the space to reflect on who they are and how that impacts their interaction and instruction in the classroom. In addition, knowing that knowledge is power, educators must understand the communities they serve. All of this should take place before strategies or best practices are introduced so that a mindset shift can occur. Educators must reflect on their practices every day. When they do that, and only when they do that, can they implement strategies and see success.
- Beyond Teaching
Cultural proficiency work goes well beyond academics and instruction. Positive school climate and inclusive environments are both necessary elements of cultural proficiency. To have a learning environment that supports the diversity of the communities a school serves is essential. Students should see themselves within the school walls. They should see themselves as part of the bigger picture—that is, they should feel like the school is theirs, not that school is being done to them. School routines, practices, and norms should align with the student population. Schools should create atmospheres of trust, respect, and love to encourage positive behaviors and interactions. Data, both quantitative and qualitative, should do a lot of the talking. When it comes to bullying and discipline, educators should observe objectively, get feedback from stakeholders, and take an honest look at data to analyze disparities or disproportionate indicators.
Professional development is a vehicle for educators to understand how to create these kinds of inclusive environments and to understand that perceptions of behavioral norms are influenced by cultural expectations. It is also important for educators to see that proactive, preventive measures for classroom management are more important than reactionary ones. In fact, culturally proficient practices around behavior are grounded in knowing and understanding students in order to better respond to their needs and abilities.
- Not a “One Stop Shop”
Professional development on cultural proficiency cannot be a one stop shop. It should be an ongoing process and a continuum of knowledge, reflection, strategies, implementation, and evaluation. To ensure that equity is at the foundation of the work that educators do in schools, professional development efforts cannot be “one and done” ventures.
- Grounded on High Expectations and Relevance
It is essential that conversations around diversity and equity are focused on high expectations and are relevant to the school communities the educators support. For example, in exploring ways to remove barriers for students living in poverty, a well-intentioned presenter might encourage teachers to overly sympathize with students and lower expectations for performance because of the influence their environment may have on their success. Instead, educators should approach this work with the mindset that learning for all is the goal and what they do has the power to mitigate the effects of poverty. It is also extremely important to look at the scope of professional learning to ensure it is relevant to educators. Cultural proficiency training should not be “canned—that is, all schools shouldn’t get the same training. Training should be differentiated so that educators see their students in the content and context of the learning.
- Evaluate Effectiveness
It is vital for educators to reflect on the new learning and determine if it is effective to help them reach and teach their student population. Effective practices to support the professional learning include walkthroughs, observations, data collection and analysis, and book studies.
Ultimately, cultural proficiency and equity has a place in every aspect of education. School leaders must take opportunities to develop culturally proficient educators so that this goal can be achieved.
Laurie A. Namey is a member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2014 and the supervisor of equity and cultural proficiency for Harford County (Md.) Public Schools (HCPS), a diverse school system that serves more than 5,000 employees and 37,000 students in 54 schools. She is also an instructor for the Graduate Programs in Education at Goucher College in Baltimore, where she focuses on the education of at-risk and diverse learners. Namey has written for Inservice, the ASCD blog, was a guest on the Whole Child Network podcast, and has presented at many state and national conferences in the areas of equity, school climate, classroom management, PBIS (positive behavior interventions and supports), and social/emotional learning. During her tenure in HCPS, she has also served as an assistant principal, behavior specialist, and English teacher. Connect with Namey on Twitter @NameyEquityHCPS.