The first time I saw the words “culturally responsive teaching” was on a student-teacher evaluation form rubric. It was a new phrase for me, but as a veteran teacher, I was pretty confident I knew what it meant, at least in the broad sense of the term. The stance that I held—that I “already knew”—is at the center of the need for culturally responsive teaching. Educators, even well-intentioned ones, are not aware of their own starting place as teachers within a cultural context.
Thankfully, I wasn’t entirely comfortable enough with my “broad sense” to evaluate my two student teachers, so I read up on the topic. The short version of what I learned: To be culturally responsive teachers, we must address the totality of our students’ experiences and backgrounds and our own. The “and our own” part is the portion we tend to miss. If true culturally responsive teaching were occurring, it would not be necessary to have months dedicated to any subgroup. However, because most of us aren’t there yet, we should welcome the opportunities to learn, along with our students, and Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15—Oct. 15) is a good place to start.
Share My Lesson’s content partner, The Music Center, has excellent resources and is known worldwide for its arts education. Culturally responsive teaching should emphasize the commonalities experienced by humanity, viewed through multiple lenses. The lesson “Josefina López: Simply Maria” touches upon the global themes of oppression, transformation and the complexities of family. In the play, we learn about her journey, vicariously experiencing self-discovery and finding truth. All students can relate to these universals, while learning about Hispanic culture. The lesson is comprehensive and would span at least a week. Both English and drama teachers can appreciate the content of the lesson, and it could become a cross-curricular mini-unit. Students learn to write stories and plays, create dialog, develop characters and identify themes.
As students begin to take language classes, teachers have the opportunity to explain the benefits of learning another language. Younger students may have more limited backgrounds and need an overt explanation of why we should embrace other cultures. Share My Lesson’s Foreign Languages Team resources have generated more than 1.9 million views, and the team’s “Bienvenidos al Español” lesson is a perfect way to introduce students to Spanish. Most important, students in elementary school will learn the benefits of acquiring another language.
Social studies and geography teachers will love the resources shared by Britannica Digital Learning. Its lesson, “Spanish and Portuguese America in 1784", links to the organization’s website. There, educators will find the “Guide to Hispanic Heritage” with image galleries, alphabetical lists of biographies, culture and history guides, and a wide variety of other options to explore. There are high-engagement learning activities that are both challenging and accessible.
Maybe, by utilizing and exploring teaching tools such as these, all of us will remember to be more culturally responsive as we plan our lessons, converse with students and meet their families. The more our own scope of knowledge widens, the more we’ll bring to the conversation, and the better our questions will be. In many senses, it takes our appreciation of the array of differences to conclude how similar we all are.