Every time I leave a Jay Marks session I'm competely exhausted... in the best possible way. I've said this before, but Jay really creates thoughtful activities where it's impossible for you not to be 'in' the session. This time around I was prepared to be 'in the moment,' share information about myself with people I have never met before, and reflect heavily outwardly and inwardly- the latter being the most important as it leads to growth and possible new perspectives.
I have written posts about the Social Justice cohort sessions that many of our Royal Oak Schools teachers attended last year. A lot of the topics and activities were ones we did before, so I won't repeat that information in this post. However, as I said to a fellow colleague: "In my opinion, you really can't think about these topics enough." Even though I've done many of the activities, I find that I have new thoughts and ideas as I work through them again a second or third time.
Let me just dive right into this post and give a little background for new teachers and readers. This year I am part of a four session learning experience about Culturally Responsive Teaching. Much of the time of the first session was dedicated to getting to know ourselves and our own cultures, coming to a definition of what it means to be 'culturally responsive,' and for some of us, maybe even identifying some of our own biases in the process.
Before joining these workshops with Marks, I may have had a narrow view of culture. I have always attributed culture to ethnicity, but I really didn't take into account the whole picture or person. One of the activities I love is the cultural portraits (and it's not because I'm a Visual Art teacher <3 :) I love the activity because it's personal, you can see where people are in their own journey, and it's visual. There's something powerful in the gallery walk. Looking, reflecting, discussing and ultimately seeing similarities and differences. Recognizing where we are and where we need to go in our own process.
I really tried to think of categories that formulated the foundation of who I am as a person. Totally easy right? Yeah... totally... Interestingly enough my categories really had nothing to do with my race/ethnicity. Though it's a part of me, it doesn't define who I am. Even though it has shaped me as a person and affected pieces and moments of my life, I don't base everything about me on the color of my skin. However I am very aware that this may not be the case for someone else. If I'm being honest, I have been afforded certain luxuries and privileges based on my upbringing and the color of my skin.
Another activity that we did at the social justice cohort (last year) was the group activity where we linked arms (privilege walk). Jay would ask us all questions and if it applied to us, we would step forward. In the end, you could see the levels of opportunity with each group/individual. I knew I probably would fall somewhere in the middle. Not the top and not the bottom. But I guess I didn't realize how far back I would be from the top group (which was 100% white). It gave me a different perspective on privilege. Something I always knew I had, but didn't realize the how large the gaps were.
Much of my own cultural identity has been blurred between two worlds. Since I was adopted into a Caucasian family I have certain perspectives and privileges that I came to realize as I became older. However, outwardly on the surface I am Asian-American. That is my category, but it is not that which defines me. A weird place to be in the world, I think. You're not part of any one group, but receive the positive aspects of both- and also the negative. This is something that I have had to think about and process as an adult many times over.
So how does this connect with teaching? Anyone...? Anyone...? Bueller...? Bueller...? Why does it matter to know our cultural selves? Why does it matter to know our students' cultural identities?
A simple answer is that by knowing our students cultural backgrounds, we are really getting to know our students as individuals. A lot of what I heard in the discussions were the words 'mindful,' 'appreciation,' 'perspective,' 'sensitive,' 'understanding,' 'accepting...'
To me at the very core of culturally responsive teaching is relationships. As a teacher you have to be invested in your students. It's not just supporting them academically, but helping to support their development into becoming a well-rounded individual/citizen. We know that relationships are at the center of everything that we do in school and in life. As I continue moving forward developing a better understanding of Culturally Responsive Teaching I want to make it a goal to be more mindful of...
Interested in knowing more about the Social Justice Cohort and Culturally Responsive Teaching? Reach out! :)
How to Teach Students Who Don't Look Like You