In August 2016, 80 educators from around the country gathered for the launch of the first Equity Design Lab, NAIS’s newest leadership and professional development series. Each lab employs iterative design, neuroscience, skill-building, and collaborative strategies to help schools develop innovative models and solutions related to diversity, equity, and social justice on school campuses, according to Caroline Blackwell, vice president of equity and justice, whose team launched the program.
The first lab, Culturally Responsive Teaching, took place in Atlanta and was facilitated by Zaretta Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students.
“Culture dictates what makes us feel socially and emotionally ready for learning. When a student’s cortisol level is up, no learning can occur,” Hammond said during the program. “Culturally responsive teaching is not a formula,” Hammond explained. It’s about creating the conditions where all kids can be and do their best by attending to the cultural perspectives that impact the teaching and learning process.
“Remove the label and ask yourself, ‘How can I create an environment where all children can be themselves, where all children can learn?’” she added.
During the two-day lab, Hammond oriented participants to her Ready for Rigor framework, which locates culturally responsive teaching along two dimensions (culture and sociopolitical context) and four pillars (mindset, rituals, routines in the classroom and other learning spaces, and strategies). These strategies are not “a bag of tricks,” Hammond noted, but they reflect teaching skill, content knowledge, knowledge and familiarity with exemplary teaching practices, knowledge of child and adolescent development, and authentic care for the students in one’s charge.
Over the two-day experience, participants explored what it means to be a culturally responsive educator, the value of cultural responsiveness to majority students, hands-on teaching practices that close learning gaps, and how racial literacy serves as a necessary condition for connecting with all students across real and perceived differences.
Attendees examined barriers and levers to teaching in an effort to identify those practices that affirm, validate, connect with, and offer wise and authentic feedback to culturally and linguistically diverse students. The goal is to establish a classroom climate that engages students, fuels brain development, and builds intellectual capacity and social-emotional well-being.
“Culturally responsive teaching is teaching for this century and for the new generation of learners coming into independent schools,” Blackwell says. “To help maintain the excellent and fundamentally relational context that sets our schools apart, we must take action to eliminate barriers and biases in schools and classrooms — and in ourselves — that can extinguish the light of learning in our students, compromise our values, and impede our professional effectiveness.”
The 2017 Equity Design Lab on Culturally Responsive Teaching will expand to three days, July 31-August 2. Location to be announced.