Culturally
Responsive
Classrooms:
More than Content
– A Shift in Mindset
By Kevin Baird
A

t the just-completed National Literacy Summit, speakers, including Dr. Gholdy Muhammad, Dr. Pedro Noguera, and Kweku Mandela, offered thoughtful and sometimes provocative insights into the question, “What is a culturally responsive classroom?” Summed up, they asked us to consider that our responsibility is more than teaching from content with diverse, colorful faces and stories from different communities. Instead, they challenged us to change our minds about how we interact with our students.

Culturally
Responsive
Classrooms:
More than Content
– A Shift in Mindset
By Kevin Baird
A

t the just-completed National Literacy Summit, speakers, including Dr. Gholdy Muhammad, Dr. Pedro Noguera, and Kweku Mandela, offered thoughtful and sometimes provocative insights into the question, “What is a culturally responsive classroom?” Summed up, they asked us to consider that our responsibility is more than teaching from content with diverse, colorful faces and stories from different communities. Instead, they challenged us to change our minds about how we interact with our students.

They challenged us to expect more from ourselves as professionals. And they challenged us to reflect critically, not just upon our content and our curriculum, but also upon our practices, methods and approaches to teaching and learning.

It is a fact that children learn at different rates, and that as children age, their cumulative feelings of success or failure become critical, sometimes defining elements, for their rate of learning and ultimate trajectory.

Simply put, how a student feels about the experience of learning is as important, if not more important, than the knowledge and skills we ask them to master. This provocative, and yet well-researched finding suggests that the role of teacher is as much confidence-builder as it is “guide on the side”.

Confidence, self-esteem and self-identity are culturally constructed. Our feelings about ourselves and our abilities stem from the world around us and our interactions with it — our culture. When presented with continuous negative feedback, messages of failure, embarrassment or even physical frailty, our confidence and self-esteem are less supported than in the opposite scenarios. Even one instance of feeling that we failed, especially if we are working to please an important adult whom we admire, can devastate and have lifelong consequences. The feelings of failure and memories of embarrassment never leave us. Ever.

Students smiling in classroom
It is a fact that children learn at different rates, and that as children age, their cumulative feelings of success or failure become critical, sometimes defining elements for their rate of learning and ultimate trajectory.
And so they challenged us to imagine our classrooms as embodying a shared culture of success, where every student is assumed to be skilled, capable, with a worthwhile opinion and gifts to share. A classroom where every background brings something to the table, and where our investigations draw from the authentic stories, histories, interests and experiences of the students themselves. Cultural relevance begins with authentic student voice — it does not begin in an outside text or “culturally responsive” curriculum, although these elements can support students in voicing their authentic experiences.

Achieve3000 is devoted to the ideal that all learners are capable, and that success builds upon success. We are dedicated to including authentic voices from the broadest set of human stories, and especially stories of students in the world. In the coming weeks, we will launch early reader content from NABU, stories written and illustrated by members of the African and Haitian diaspora. Our Kids and Teen Channels are populated with stories by and about the amazing contributions of young people from all walks of life. But our ultimate promise to you — and to our readers — is that every Achieve3000 learning experience results in success. The feeling you get when you can read, when you really understand, and when you find stories which speak to you and to your own experience.

ACHIEVE3000 is devoted to the ideal that all learners are capable, and that success builds upon success. We are dedicated to the inclusion of authentic voices from the broadest set of human stories, and especially stories of students in the world.
Teacher and her students in socially distanced classroom
As we consider the importance of shifting our mindset to one which values the stories and abilities of young people from an endless kaleidoscope of backgrounds and cultures, we hope you will notice and take advantage of additional features to support culturally relevant approaches to teaching and learning. We hope you explore…

  • The Scoop: Where students engage in conversation, creating their own arguments and understanding around STEM topics.


  • Kids Channel & Teen Channel: Where we celebrate relevant stories from every walk of life.


  • Our new WordPlay lessons: Where Chicago’s Mr. Reed reads and guides students through word games to build foundational literacy skills.


  • Actively Learn: Where its comprehensive curriculum with questions challenge students to reflect upon history and literature, making their own deeper and culturally relevant connections.


  • And coming soon, Teachonomy — Where the voices from educators around the world continually motivate and challenge us to bring a critical eye to our practices.

We believe in you, the teachers of the world, and we are working to build tools which support authentic student voice and culturally relevant practices for classrooms where the mindset is a culture of success.
Teacher working with students
About the Author

Kevin Baird (MBA, ALEP) serves as chief academic officer for Achieve3000. He is a noted leader in college and career readiness content, strategies and standards. He has taken part in educational research on every continent save for Antarctica, consulted with governments to create college & career readiness initiatives, and has served as trainer and consultant for states and districts across North America. Kevin has served as chairman and senior faculty at the non-profit Center for College & Career Readiness and has collaborated with Achieve3000 for over 15 years and contributes as a member of our Educator Leadership Council.