Culturally Relevant Teaching: How Do We Create Equitable Learning Environments?


This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >

Elementary Students
Students enter the classroom with their own specific learning needs, styles, abilities, and preferences. They also bring with them their own cultures, backgrounds, and personal histories. In culturally responsive classrooms, teachers make standards-based content and curricula accessible to students and teach in a way that students can understand from their varying cultural perspectives. If the goal is for each student to succeed academically, how are we using the cultural capital available in our classrooms to capture attentions, engage students, and make curricula relevant?

On this episode of the Whole Child Podcast, Sean Slade, ASCD’s director of whole child programs, and guests explore what it means to, as Gloria Ladson-Billings writes, “empower students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes”; how to create a positive classroom learning community; and what supports teachers need to serve their diverse students.
Listen to the episode below or download here.

Seven Ideas for Revitalizing Multicultural Education


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


“Not multicultural education, just excellent education.”
— William Ayers

I had the privilege of attending (and presenting) at the National Association for Multicultural Education International Conference last week in Chicago. Moreover, I got to sit down many of the influential and founders of the organization including activist and multicultural education advocate William Ayers and “founder supreme” of NAME, Dr. Cherry Ross Goodin. My goal was not only to learn the overall trends and themes for Multicultural Education, but also practical tools that teachers can use in their classroom. In my opinion, you need to have a crucial understanding of the underlying pedagogical and historical frameworks of multicultural education to be able to institute culturally responsive strategies and lessons in your classroom.

Increased Interest

Attendance approached 1000 people, a continued increase, signaling a revitalization in the conversation and interest. Leadership programs have been formalized with a mentor/ mentee format with specific objectives to help new members get involved. Personally, I was able to meet with almost every single person involved in the leadership of NAME, from the founders and president to keynote speakers and committee chairs. It was a rare conference where you can meet the leadership up close and personal and engage in authentic and courageous conversations. Institutes and workshop topics targeted all audiences and needs from a session on the challenges of implementing GLBTQ children’s literature in the elementary classroom to a session on an innovative teacher evaluation matrix that included quality indicators for culturally responsive teaching.

Below are some tips and ideas from the two aforementioned leaders on real strategies you can become a culturally responsive education and utilize practices of multicultural education.

1. Know your students.

Of course this is a given, but Dr. Goodin expressed that knowing about the background and culture of your students is crucial to building the relationship you want so that students can achieve. Ask them questions about their culture. Find moments to have students share. In order to build achievement, you have to build respect for who your students are.

2. Analyze Jacob Lawrence’s paintings.
Ayers notes that Lawrence’s famous paintings can provide fruitful discussion about African American culture, depiction and historical representations. Art is a great tool to engage in critical conversations about race.

3. Have students create a slang dictionary.

Ayers also suggested that slang is a great window culture. I have actually done this with my students. It can provide an opportunity for students not only to share their culture with each, but create their own. It honors their knowledge about their own cultures and empowers them by letting them know, your ideas matter. Example: Scrapper (n): a low riding Buick or Cadillac, that has an amazing sound system.

4. Use the standards as your framework and then find opportunities to embed multicultural ideas, literature, and materials.
Embedded multicultural education should be the focus, noted Dr. Goodin. Start with you learning targets and see what possibilities there are to engaging in multicultural themes, literature and more. That’s the best part of standards in my opinion, they are just the start. Let’s go beyond standards to create great multicultural classroom discourse.

5. Get them going with teen poetry competitions.
Ayers mentioned the documentary Louder than a Bomb, which chronicles the journey of a high school team through competitions. At the conference, we were even privilege by students from a local high school demonstrating their own. Inspiring. It is a great opportunity to build literacy skills and honor student voice. Students have amazing stories to tell, let them tell them.

6. Controversy is coming to you. Teachers often spend time closing it off.
I think that Ayers, like Dr. Goodin, was trying to express that becoming a multicultural educator is not as hard as it seems. Subjects, issues and controversy are all around us. Allow it into the classroom. Students are already talking or thinking about them. Use it to engage students in conversations on culture.

7. Don’t ask permission.

I appreciate Dr. Goodin’s authenticity with her statement. When you do what is right, you don’t ask permission. At the same time, if you are going to engage in controversy or potential courageous conversations, find and recruit allies in administration. In fact, there may be policies in place at the district level that protect you.

All in all, I left inspired to continue my work as a multicultural educator and scholar. Just remember, it is not as hard as you think. Culture encompasses so much of who we are, and can easily be leveraged in the classroom learning. If we seek to know our students and truly value them, our classrooms in turn will reflect it in practice.

Online Teacher Professional Development – What do we do?


This post originally appeared on Abeo School Change’s blog, an education design and implementation group that partners with schools and systems to make powerful learning a reality for every student. View Original >


At the iNACOL conference this last fall, I encountered many professionals asking the same question. “What does Professional Development for online teachers look like?” Many sessions addressed the topic, but most of it was around processes that were in place to train and evaluate teachers. These were great sessions and highlighted many ways to create effective systems, but many participants were disappointed. They wanted to see content. What were teachers being trained in? What do online teachers do when they participate in professional development? Great questions all. They were looking for modules to take back to their schools and districts. iNACOL recently put out a report around professional development and it too gives great indications of what online teachers need. Since we lack a plethora of content to distribute, we need to think about ways to create an effective professional development program for online teachers. As a teacher and teacher trainer in the online education world, here are some important steps I believe one must take in order to create an effective professional development.

1) Identify what good online teachers do – Take time with teachers to identify and discuss with them what online teachers do. You will hear comments like “They are in constant contact with their teachers,” or “They give useful feedback in a timely matter.” You will end up with many topics to cover.

2) Identify critical components of the school framework – Schools have a vision, and this vision is articulated in its framework which includes, of course, structures and curriculum. Perhaps your school has an iRTI structure. Perhaps you focus on PBL. Perhaps you focus on competency –based pathways. Regardless, teachers will need coaching in these areas of the school framework.

3) Analyze what teachers need – Through both feedback from teachers and things noticed while “walking the halls,” identify what teachers need to know. There is no use in covering everything, and frankly, there is not enough time. You may find that only some teachers need a certain topic, while other content will need to be pushed out to all teachers.

4) Create modules or trainings based on each of these needs – Use a competency-based pathway model to create modules based on needs the teachers. Some of these modules will call for synchronous and asynchronous learning. On a side note, ensure that if a PD session is synchronous, keep it sacred. Don’t crowd it with logistics, announcements or other pieces that might distract from focused, deep learning.

5) Show teachers what it “looks like.” – Teachers, like students, need specific models and examples. If they need help with effective communication with students, play them a recording of a model phone call. Have teachers look at a model welcome email. Show them paragraphs of ideal feedback for student work. Again, examples and models speak volumes.

6) Continue to monitor and set goals with teachers – Be authentic and transparent with teachers with the quality indicators for evaluation. Don’t do “drive by” evaluations, but instead, create a culture of continuous feedback and improvement. Partner with teachers to set goals and improve.

While all of these pieces may seem obvious to many, I see many professionals skip to step 4. Professional development should come from authentic needs and quality characteristics of online teachers. This is just a starting point in the conversation around professional development for online teachers. A major next step in this world of professional for online teacher is to create open source training resources. Although there will specific components unique to individual schools that teachers must be trained and coached in, there are some common pieces all teachers will need in the future.

How to Refine Driving Questions for Effective Project-Based Learning: Part 2


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


In my last blog about driving questions, we reviewed the purpose of the driving question as well as some tools to help you refine your driving questions. In addition, some sample, poorly written driving questions were given to have you practice. We will review them at the end of the blog and look for some exemplars from all of you.

There are many types of driving questions, but I like to break them down into three types.

Philosophical or Debatable: These types of questions are honestly debatable questions that have complex possible answers. Of course, all driving questions should be open-ended, but philosophical or debatable questions by nature require complex, rigorous thought, and of course corresponding student products. Be careful that you aren’t writing this type of question, but the answer obviously sways one way. If you have an agenda, and want students to get to a certain place, this isn’t the type of question to use.
Example: Can a dog live in the desert?

Product-Oriented: How do we create ______ to ______? This is a great type of driving question to use if you have a specific student product in mind. Notice that it isn’t just about the product, but the purpose as well.
Examples: How do we create a podcast to debunk myths and stereotypes of world religions? How do I create an epic poem about an important episode in my daily life?

Role-Oriented: Students love to take on roles and pretend to be things they are not, even high school students. In this type of driving question you give students an authentic or real-world role with a problem to solve or project to accomplish.
Examples: How do we as architects design an outdoor classroom for our school? How I as a scientist design an experiment to debunk and common scientific myth?

I’ve had teachers ask, “What is the difference between essential questions (à la Understanding By Design) and driving questions?” In my opinion, essential questions, when created to their utmost potential are driving questions. Driving questions are just essential questions that are high on caffeine. They demand authenticity and rigorous problem-solving, which essential questions can do, but don’t always. In addition, essential questions are often created to be more like enduring understands or learning targets. Those are great, but shouldn’t be confused with driving questions. Essential questions that sound like enduring understands are not exciting and do not DRIVE the learning, which brings me to my next point.

We spend time crafting and refining driving questions for the student. The student! Just because a question sounds interesting to you, it may not be to a student. Driving questions must be accessible to the students and engage them. I’m a big nerd, and so love learning. Enduring understandings and questions that mirror them appeal to me, but to the reluctant and marginalized students we are trying to reach, they are not. So remember, it’s all about the students. Try testing out the driving question you have created on a student and see how they react. Will every student jump up and down about it? No, but we can at least have students say, “I guess that sounds cool.”

One last point, be culturally responsive. Some driving questions may not be appropriate depending on the students you have in your classroom or in the location you teach. The driving question, “How do we create a game to cheat people out of their money without them knowing it?” may not be culturally responsive. A Hindi student might find that question offensive, because it is contrary to cultural values. However, the driving question “How do we create a fun chance game for the neighboring fourth grade classroom?” might be more culturally responsive. Just keep that in mind.

Rewriting Last Week’s Poorly Written Questions
Now let’s see how I might transform some of the bad driving questions from from last week:

What is epic poetry?
Can be rewritten as
How do I write an epic poem about an important episode in my life?
You will notice that the project will be more relevant and challenging. Yes, they will learn epic poetry, but in order to write about themselves.

How have native peoples been impacted by changes in the world?
Can be rewritten as
How do we create new policies to honor the culture of the Snoqualmie tribe while allowing for casinos?
Here the question is local. It also demands innovation for a complex task.

How does probability relate to games?
Can be rewritten as
How do we create a new gambling game to cheat people out of their money without them noticing?
Here the question is a bit subversive and quite engaging. Content about probability will be learned for an authentic purpose. A quick note, this question may not be culturally responsive, as it demands behavior that may be contrary to certain cultures. In that case, you might make the question, How do we create a chance game to engage elementary students?

Why is science important and how can it help save people?
Can be rewritten as
Should we allow for genetic engineering to prevent diseases and illnesses?
Here the question is contentious and debatable, and it is focused on specific topics so that the scope isn’t too large.

Well, there you go! Two blogs with tips, tricks, and tools to create great driving questions for your projects. Keep working at the “beast” of driving questions, and you will find yourself able to spout them off at will to your colleagues as they build their PBL projects.

Culturally Responsive Online Teaching


This post originally appeared on edReformer, a community of advocates, entrepreneurs, educators, policy makers, philanthropists and investors seeking to promote excellence and equity in education through innovatation.  edRefomer serves as a catalyst for innovation in education by encouraging and  promoting public and private investment in new learning tools, schools, and platforms. View Original >


Online education can help solve the issues of equity and access for students across the United States. We have heard fantastic stories of student success in graduating from high school due to access to online courses.

Last year, Susan Sawyers wrote an article for USAToday showcasing how some students are using online courses to graduate on time. It’s a great window into the potential and echoes many stories we hear from students, families, and community members who are experiencing online education. A diverse population of students was able to take classes to retrieve credit for classes they may have failed in the past.


Distance learning environments are by no means immune to the problems arising from cultural differences. In fact, these environments may even be more prone to cultural conflicts than traditional classrooms as instructors in these settings not only interact with students who have removed themselves from their native culture, but they also interact with students who remain “physically and socially within the different culture, a culture that is foreign to, and mostly unknown, to the teacher.”

—Sedef Uzuner in Questions of Culture in Distance Learning: A Research Review

Geneva Gay recently printed a new edition of her book, Culturally Responsive Teaching: Research, Theory and Practice, and it explains the many of the dispositions and practices teachers need to have. The next step is to ensure this sort of practice occurs consistent in online course instruction. We need to remember that simply having access to great online courses does not mean they will be culturally responsive, nor does it mean the teachers themselves will be. We need to ensure we train our online educators with the tools and skills it takes to interact with students of diverse populations, especially as more students begin taking more courses online. Culture of course includes a variety of identifies and aspects, from race, ethnicity and gender; to religion, socio-economic status and place. I would also propose that teachers need to utilize the online culture that we know exists with these students. All students have cultural strengths and resiliencies; we need to ensure we are using all these strengths, including the culture of online learning.

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