Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain – Interview with Zaretta Hammond – Part 1

Culturally Responsive Teaching and the BrainTom Malarkey and I recently had the pleasure of sitting with our friend and colleague Zaretta Hammond to discuss her new book, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students.

Zaretta has been on a blog-tour promoting her book, so we thought we’d experiment with a video blog. It was an honor to sit in on this insightful conversation about the many ways educators can use culturally responsive teaching in service of supporting all students to learn – and the brain science that supports these powerful strategies.

There was so much to cover! We are posting Part 1 today and will post the second half in the next few weeks. You can also skip to the topics using the links listed below the video.

Part 1 includes the following topics:

1. Overview
2. Misconceptions of Culturally Responsive Teaching (2:37)
3. Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Common Core (5:13)
4. The Promise of Culturally Responsive Teaching (8:31)
5. Definition & Process of Culturally Responsive Teaching (9:36)
6. Cultural Archetypes (12:50)
7. Brain is a Social Organ (14:45)
8. Dependent vs. Independent Learners (17:58)
9. Building Brain Power/Intellective Capacity (19:55)
10. Mindset (20:29)
11. Students Lead Their Own Learning / Gamification (23:09)
12. Ready for Rigor Framework (25:57)
13. Core Practices Every Teacher Needs (31:59)
16. Resilience Theory & Grit (36:15)

Follow Zaretta Hammond at @ready4rigor and her website www.ready4rigor.com.  Follow Tom on our blog and at @tmalark.

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Leading for Equity by Sharing Our Stories

I just returned from facilitating another Leading for Equity Institute; the National Equity Project has been hosting these Institutes annually for over 14 years. I have been at most of the these institutes and it is very common for people to not fully understand the kind of “equity training” they are coming to, which then provokes a fair amount of anxiety. One participant expressed it this way at the end of her time with us:

 “I came into this weekend nervous and afraid. What was going to be said? Would I understand it? I have no connection to my own culture and haven’t experienced any racial issues personally. What I experienced was nothing short of amazing. For someone as naïve and as uneducated as me the process was eye opening and so supportive. I look to the future hopefully and know that it can and will start with me.”

We hold a deep belief that people can solve their own problems. And we believe that Leading for Equity is fundamentally about taking responsibility for what matters to you. Taking responsibility as a leader for equity always begins with the ability to listen deeply and well to yourself and others.

An essential element in our Leading for Equity Institute is a structure called a personal experience panel. It is a constructivist listening practice we use to listen to each other and share our stories.

Leading for Equity

Jan 2015 Leading for Equity Institute
Marconi Conference Center, Tomales Bay, CA

Because you “only know what you know when you need to know it” – it is difficult to get at aspects of knowledge, feelings, values and beliefs that are held inside but rarely talked about. When people tell each other stories about their experiences, the social negotiations that take place create to some extent the feeling of being “in the field of fire” or in the state of “needing to know”. Thus hidden knowledge (thoughts and feelings) surface and become available in ways it could not otherwise do so. Telling stories allows people to disclose sensitive information on issues and experience about oppression, privilege, leadership and power without attribution or blame, because the inherent distance between perceived reality and narration provides safety for truth telling.

What we are after in inviting people to participate on a personal experience panel are not purposeful stories, which are indicative of what people believe is expected of them, but anecdotal stories, which are more unguarded and truthful. For personal sensemaking sharing some of your story before a group of attentive and supportive listeners is often powerful and healing.

Visit http://nationalequityproject.org/events/leading-for-equity for further information about our Leading for Equity Institutes. We have sold out this year’s Institutes but we do have a waiting list open.

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Martin Luther King Day

Every year we celebrate Martin Luther King Day as a reminder of the power of collective leadership to transform inequity.

Hundreds of thousands of marchers gather around the reflecting pool during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

Today it feels more important than ever that we move the dial on racial equity in our country.  There is no blueprint for how we will change the systems and structures that perpetuate inequity, but we can find lessons in our history. The Civil Rights Movement brought Americans together toward a common vision of humanity and justice. Today’s #BlackLivesMatter movement has brought systemic racism in our justice system into the public conversation. We’ve seen brave educators bring these conversations into their staff meetings and classrooms.

We know that we can make progress on racial equity in our schools and communities. But it will unfold through complex and unpredictable dynamics. Dr. King said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.” We must have the faith to take risks, have tough conversations, build new relationships and take the steps that will lead to an equitable future.

The Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change has a publication called ” 10 Lessons for Taking Leadership on Racial Equity.” We share this as a solid framework for taking action on racial equity in your context. To honor Reverend King here is an excerpt from  Lesson 5: “Start by preaching to the choir.”

“Motivating a core group of allies—the choir—to take action requires a persuasive framework and language, as well as tools to help identify the most effective routes to progress on this longstanding societal challenge. Starting with the choir builds a critical mass of those who are willing and able to make progress on racial equity and to bring others into the fold along the way.”

In faith and action – Happy Martin Luther King Day.

faith-mlk

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Holiday Greetings: Let the Light of Justice Shine

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. - William Butler Yeats

As 2014 draws to a close, we add our voice to the millions of people all over the world struggling to make meaning, take productive action and maintain a sense of optimism in the face of injustice. We lift up the lives of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and dozens of young men and women whose lives were cut short by a system that refuses to recognize their humanity. Their lives do matter – these recent events have sparked civic action and dialogue naming systemic oppression and racial bias at the heart of national discourse and demands for change.

Whether it’s our judicial system or our education system, there isn’t a simple answer to eliminating racialized outcomes. These complex equity challenges require new ways of working, thinking, and being together. We have to look for and lift up the bright spots, inclusive and creative approaches that justly serve young people and families. We have to talk to each other about what scares us, what confuses us, what inspires us. At times we may fall short, but we will not make progress if we don’t work and learn together.

Please consider the National Equity Project in your holiday giving this year. Your generous donation helps us continue to support leaders to tackle complex problems and find innovative solutions in their work toward equity for children and families.

To donate online visit bit.ly/nep-donate. To donate by mail please send a check to National Equity Project, 1720 Broadway, 4th Fl, Oakland, CA 94612.

We wish you a hopeful and healing holiday season and New Year.

Warm regards,
LaShawn Routé Chatmon
Executive Director

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Equity and the Common Core

The question on my mind these days is: Will the Common Core, on the whole, be a force for equity? Or will it wind up reproducing the current inequities in our system?

Literacy educator Alfred Tatum asks this question even more provocatively:

Will the CCSS yield the promise for African American and Latino boys that reshapes the trend for college and career readiness to be on par with the best young minds in the nation?

OR- 

Will the CCSS serve as a metaphorical noose that hangs young African American and Latino boys from data sheets until the next best reform effort comes along?

At the National Equity Project, we view the Common Core through a lens of equity. We believe in the potential promise of the Common Core. And we’re clear that unless educators approach its implementation with an eye to the predictably differential impacts it will have, that promise will go unrealized.

This post begins a blog series dedicated to Equity and the Common Core. We’ll explore a range of issues from an equity perspective: instruction, collaboration, implementation, student-teacher relationships, Common Core and complexity, john powell’s notion of “targeted universalism” and the Common Core, implicit bias, coaching in the Common Core, and more.

So let’s start at the “core” of the Common Core – what happens in the relationship between a student and a teacher. How will students, especially those experiencing less success, and especially those who are black and brown, experience teaching and teachers within this new Common Core era? How will the combination of (presumably) higher expectations, (theoretically) more engaging content, and new forms of assessment shape their learning experience? Their motivation and ownership of their learning? Their belief in themselves?

And for educators, how will the demands of the Common Core shape our experience of our students, especially those further from success? Using an equity lens, one thing we can predict about the Common Core is that it will surface tensions in educators’ beliefs about “all students can learn.” 

The Common Core indeed represents a “higher” bar – both for student learning and for instruction. So the more important question is how will we, as educators, respond to familiar patterns of student failure – and to new forms of struggle? In the words of the DuFour’s well-known PLC question #3: What will happen when students don’t learn? Will we unconsciously (or even consciously) tell ourselves (or others) that some of our students may not be suited for this kind of learning? Will we believe that “raising the bar” will necessarily leave some (potentially more?) students “behind”? As we continue to see drops in students’ scores – and increases in achievement gaps – as Common Core assessments get first implemented, how might that impact our confidence that these standards are a reachable goal for students who are further from success already?

Understandably these issues can be hard to name and explore. I do not raise these questions to blame teachers or leaders, but rather to ask “What keeps reproducing these perceptions and experiences for teachers and students?” We must examine the ways our education institutions are structured at all levels, including classrooms, to see what keeps reproducing this experience.

It is important to normalize, not pathologize, the equity-related challenges that we face as we learn to teach and lead in the Common Core. And we need to see these actually as not so different from the challenges our students face. The Common Core calls upon students to engage in deeper learning… to take risks… to fail… and to learn from this failure. We should accept – no embrace – that we as adult educators are called upon to engage in a parallel struggle. This might give us some empathy – and some new openings in our relationships with students as we learn together to navigate this new era.

At the National Equity Project we have a framework for developing student-teacher relationships towards deeper engagement for struggling students, the capacity for independent learning, and ultimately the acceleration of their learning. We call this framework a Learning Partnership. A Learning Partnership is a purposeful, culturally responsive relationship between the teacher and student. We believe Learning Partnerships are even more critical in this era of the Common Core – and enable teachers and students alike to navigate the challenges of deeper learning.

We will engage educators with these ideas and more at our upcoming learning seminar – Keeping Students at the Core of the Common Core: Learning Partnerships for Equity taking place in the SF Bay area in October and January. Learn more and register online today at http://nationalequityproject.org/events/common-core-learning-partnerships.

As our colleague, Zaretta Hammond, puts forth:

If we take the time to help students build their capacity to learn and leverage their culture as a vehicle for making content “sticky,” we will find they are better prepared for the rigors of the Common Core State Standards.

Zaretta’s new book, Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students is available for pre-order on Amazon.

Posted in Conferences & Events, Current Events, Equity Pedagogy, Learning Partnerships, Relationships | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Where To Start When Your Team Gets Stuck

Leaders I’ve worked with often express frustration when they feel clear about the equity work they are addressing, clear with others about where the group needs to go – but somehow the group gets stuck. Some members seem resistant, some aren’t engaging – for whatever reason, important work isn’t getting done.

When I’m coaching leaders in these situations, I often start by asking them to step back and get curious about what their people might be thinking, experiencing, and feeling. At the National Equity Project we have found great value in the work of John Heron who reminds us: “The dynamic of the group is grounded in the life of emotion and feeling. A crucial role of the facilitator is to manage the dynamic at the affective level.

Particularly with groups that are just getting started, or have just never seemed to “gel”, we consider how Heron’s “3 Forms of Anxiety” may be playing out:

Acceptance Anxiety (WHO): To what extent do people feel they belong and are valued on this team? How well do they know one another or feel comfortable expressing what they believe, want or need? How are these needs playing out across differences of race, gender, sexuality, role, experience?

Orientation Anxiety (WHY & HOW): How well to people understand why they are here and what they’re up to together? To what extent do they feel they’ve been a part of developing the team’s direction, or feel identified with the work of the team? How clear are they about what to expect about how the team will operate as they work together toward a goal?

Performance Anxiety (WHAT): To what degree do people feel confident that they have what they need to do what’s demanded? What levels of will, skill, knowledge & capacity are needed to tackle the equity challenges this team is taking responsibility for? Are they ready? Do they need more support?

All of these fears are human needs that play out in different ways for people – especially when there are changes in a group’s membership or focus. And all of them require both in-the-moment facilitation skills and thoughtful planning and design of team meeting time – to find ongoing ways to give time and support to address the needs in service of the equity work the team is working toward.

Learn more at our upcoming facilitative leadership trainings: Designing Meetings for Learning & Collaboration and Facilitating Group Dynamics for Effective Teams.

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Instructional Coaching for Equity: Starting the School Year Right

At the National Equity Project, we believe that equity-focused instructional coaching begins with developing a caring and meaningful learning partnership between the coach and teacher. Bringing a genuine curiosity about who this teacher is – as an educator and as a human being – helps us actively get to know what she values and needs most to do her best work on behalf of every student. Building this trusting relationship starts with intentional and focused listening.

Here are some of the things we listen for:

  • What inspires and excites the teacher, what initially drew her to become a teacher – where she gets her energy
  • How the teacher is thinking about student achievement – what he values as indicators of success, what he is most committed to achieving with students
  • What the teacher knows about how students are experiencing her classroom, particularly students who have not historically felt successful in school
  • The language the teacher uses: how he describes the way different students “show up” in class, how he describes his “best” students, what categories he holds in his mind about different types of students – all of this can help us understand what this teacher values, as well as potential “blind spots” that might get in the way of serving every student well
  • How the teacher explains the challenges she has faced with students she has had trouble reaching – how does she interpret this challenge and what is causing it? How curious is she about what else might be going on?

Ideally, we have opportunities for this listening and relationship building before we see the teacher working with students, to start the coaching relationship from a place of interest in and empathy for the teacher (rather than the inevitable questions and pedagogy-focused assessments that arise when observing classroom practice). As we begin to understand more about the values, beliefs and priorities of the teacher, we can start to move into some explicit conversations to co-construct the coaching partnership and what it means to coach with an equity lens. For us, this often involves:

  • Learning about the teacher’s previous experiences of being coached (formally, or informally when learning something new) to understand what helps him feel more open to feedback and new learning, and what can help him trust we are on his side
  • Making connections between what she cares about most and what we want to help her achieve
  • Collaboratively identifying artifacts or data that will focus our coaching conversations, such as
    • Exploring what kinds of student work analysis might deepen our learning
    • Clarifying what meaningful student engagement looks like (for each of us) and how we will gather data on engagement
    • Sharing observations of students in class and conversations we have with students about their experience and their thinking
    • Determining if and how we might focus on a few students for deeper learning, based on who the teacher is curious about and which specific students we need to learn more about to help them accelerate their own learning

Throughout these initial conversations, as instructional coaches for equity we hold on to the urgency we feel to ensure that every child receives a high quality education, while we honor that it is the teacher who ultimately chooses if and when to learn and grow. We trust that with the right kind of support, teachers have the capacity to solve their own problems and can take on bold new actions in service of supporting the success of every student in their care.

Learn how to develop these skills and more at our upcoming Instructional Coaching for Equity seminar.

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