#122 – Responding to Resistance Against Culturally Responsive Teaching

Unpacking Education October 12, 2022 41 min

We are honored to be joined once again by Dr. Geneva Gay, an international leader in the study of multicultural education. Dr. Gay is credited with being a pioneer and thought leader in the area of culturally responsive teaching. In this episode, we explore culturally relevant strategies and address how to build acceptance around these practices. During our conversation, Dr. Gay mentions two things she believes to be inherent in the human condition. First, we are inherently diverse, and second, we can’t help but be cultural. These statements reinforce the importance of a culturally relevant learning experience. Dr. Gay adds that we should celebrate our diversity, saying, “Human beings are not the same, and that does not mean that they are inherently better or worse than anybody else. They’re just different, and to me, that’s the ultimate beauty as human beings.” 

In this, the first of two episodes with Dr. Gay, we explore the basic concepts of culturally responsive teaching and strategies for addressing potential resistance, misunderstanding, and misinformation from others.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

Culture is like the air we breathe, permeating all we do. And the hardest culture to examine is often our own, because it shapes our actions in ways that seem invisible and normal.

Zaretta Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain

Creating a Win-Win Situation 

In this age of the Internet and social media, there is no shortage of misinformation, and these inaccuracies may lead to misunderstanding and conflict. This is true in conversations about culturally responsive teaching. In our conversation with Dr. Gay, we discuss how culturally responsive teaching is not intended to marginalize anyone. On the contrary, when authentically embraced, these practices enrich everyone involved. Dr. Gay suggests that culturally responsive teaching practices should be a win-win situation, and that’s how we need to approach it. 

Tune in to this episode to hear more about culturally responsive teaching and how we can resolve misunderstandings while having positive, productive conversations. Here are a few highlights from this episode.

  • The origin of controversy: The controversy surrounding culturally responsive teaching fits a common pattern of where controversies typically originate. In short, they happen when people in power feel threatened. Dr. Gay summarizes this mindset. She points out that people in power may say to themselves, “There’s a limited amount of resources, and I need to have those for me, and anybody who tries to maybe take away some of those resources from me or compromise some of them, then I’m going to resist that because I feel it’s a form of threat to me.”
  • Not a threat: “Culturally responsive teaching is about enhancing the humanity of everyone,” says Dr. Gay. It’s not about taking anything away from anyone. She adds, “We’re all in this thing together,” and culturally responsive practices should enhance the lot of everyone involved.
  • Equal opportunities: Culturally responsive teaching is really about asking that minority groups have the same opportunities as majority groups. All people in this country have contributed to its history, and the educational agenda should represent all of these stakeholders. This approach is not about pushing anyone out of the spotlight and into the margins. Rather, it’s about recognizing that there is enough spotlight for everyone.
  • Expanding perspectives: If students bring misinformation or anti-culturally responsive rhetoric to the classroom, teachers can help them explore their beliefs and expand their understanding of the topic. Students are not to be made to feel shame or be reprimanded. Dr. Gay says, “That’s what they know at that point in time.” Rather than shaming students, teachers can help them examine their beliefs by prompting questions such as: Where did you come up with that? Why do you believe this? What are some alternatives? Helping students analyze their beliefs doesn’t mean a teacher is endorsing them. They are simply helping the students learn and form a more well-rounded understanding with multiple perspectives.
  • Learn more: One of the best ways to help students better understand culturally responsive practices is to help them deconstruct any misinformation they may have learned. Once they identify the component parts of what they have verbalized, teachers can help them break the ideas into manageable pieces. Then, students can be encouraged to do their own research to affirm or challenge their ideas and beliefs. 
  • The influence of culture: Every society has culture, and the cultures of those in power generally shape the larger systems of that society. This includes education. People construct systems that “perpetuate their dominance,” says Dr. Gay. For this reason, various cultural perspectives should be at the table when systems are created and improved.
  • Building community: To build community, we need to continue crossing multiple boundaries of differences. If we try to cross them all at once, it may be overwhelming. However, we can build community if we identify those existing boundaries and work together to cross them one at a time. Ultimately, building community is about creating a “supportive relationship” among people who interact with each other.
  • Build from strength: When attempting to establish and spread culturally responsive teaching practices, it’s beneficial to start from areas of strength rather than areas of weakness. For instance, instead of starting advocacy work with those who oppose a practice, begin with teachers and colleagues who are receptive to culturally responsive practice. This can help leaders to maintain stamina throughout the challenging work of advocacy. If a few leaders begin instead by challenging the skeptics, Dr. Gay says, “That leadership pool can easily be exhausted, and if there’s nobody left to pick up the slack and continue the effort, then you lose ground.” Similarly, it’s easier to get people to embrace the idea of change by starting with their strengths. “Start with what those other teachers do well,” says Dr. Gay, and use that as a bridge to making positive connections and eventually spreading culturally responsive teaching practices. This can become a win-win situation for all involved.
  • Administrators: School administrators have the task of connecting the school to its community members. One way to avoid controversy and conflict is to be transparent and forward with information about school practices and approaches. When community members have information up front, it builds trust among involved parties and can head off potential misunderstandings and misinformation. When communicating with a diverse public, it’s important that administrators are culturally responsive in how they communicate and inform. As Dr. Gay says, “If they don’t do that, then they will create more damage than good.”
  • Study yourself: Dr. Gay encourages all of us to first become students of our own culture. She calls this studying yourself from the inside out rather than the outside in. Once we are comfortable with our own identities, we can more openly and fully explore the cultures of others.

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • What do you currently know about culturally responsive teaching?
  • What is the attitude toward and understanding of culturally responsive teaching in your school, district, and local community?
  • How can culturally responsive teaching be a win-win situation for all involved?
  • How might a teacher address anti-culturally responsive teaching attitudes shared by their students?
  • How might an administrator work with teachers and community members to create a positive mindset about culturally relevant teaching practices?
  • How would you define your own cultural identity, and how does this fit into the broader cultural community around you?

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