Culturally Responsive Teaching: Sweet Connection and Deeper Learning Through Culture

Ríe, llora. Vive tu vida y gózala toda. ¡Azúcar!”  Who doesn’t want some sugar before work? I LOVE building community. As students enter on Zoom or in person, they hear Celia Cruz or Bad Bunny. It’s so fun to see their smiles as they come into class and hear Natalia LaFourcade or Anderson .Paak. Before long, students become guest DJs and share their music. I learn from them, and we start to get to know each other before diving into content. At the beginning and end of the semester, we sit in a community circle together, and our relationships grow deeper each time. As wonderful as these experiences are, such strategies are moments sprinkled throughout the semester while the rest of the time MY lens, MY modalities of instruction, and MY funds of knowledge continue to be predominant throughout the courses. I want to do better at teaching in ways that center students’ cultures and identities, rather than my own. 

To support efforts to become a more culturally responsive educator, I took the OneHE course, “An Introduction to Culturally Responsive Teaching,” by Dr. Courtney Plotts*. This introduction to culturally responsive teaching is a 25-minute (truly!) exploration of how to make both content and instruction culturally responsive. In this course, Dr. Plotts explains that culturally responsive teaching helps us connect with our students and reduces acculturated stress and racism. She explains that acculturated stress is stress that is created by a cultural shift in the environment. By bringing in various aspects of culture, she maintains that we can mitigate this harmful stress and create more inclusive learning environments.

Courtney Plotts encourages us throughout the course to “start small, but think big.” She says an easy first step is to decide if we want to focus on culturally responsive content or delivery. She also emphasizes the importance of knowing our students and listening to them. According to Dr. Plotts, a key element of culturally responsive teaching is letting our students teach us. Dr. Plotts also offers the ACCCE model for educators when considering all the aspects of culture that are present in an academic setting. This systemic approach to discussing culture includes academic culture, cognitive culture, collaborative culture, community culture, and ethnic culture. In the course, each aspect of culture is discussed and specific applications of culturally responsive teaching are explained for each type of culture. 

One of my main takeaways from this practical section of the course was the idea of utilizing a “Sense of Community” rubric. The rubric is co-created with students and offers the opportunity to assess how well the community is getting along. It allows for structured discussion about civil discourse, connection, equity of voice, and amplification of voices. Plotts recommends posting the rubric in announcements biweekly and discussing what is going well in the community, as well as areas for future focus. I plan to use this rubric in face-to-face classes as a way to check-in after courageous conversations. In her course, Plotts offers a variety of practical tools and strategies that can be implemented tomorrow. 

This course was well worth my time, and I highly recommend this OneHE introduction to culturally relevant teaching. Dr. Plotts meets each of us right where we are in terms of becoming more culturally responsive. She acknowledges that we are all in different places on this journey, and she offers several entry points to the work. For STEM educators just who may be dipping their toes into culturally responsive pedagogy, Plotts offers ideas for content integration. For folks who are ready to begin thinking about culturally responsive instruction, she offers suggestions regarding delivery of instruction based on core values. For educators who aren’t sure where to start, she offers practical tips: start small; find your people, and talk to your students. Dr. Plotts assures us that the investment into cultural responsiveness and the environment we are creating is sure to benefit all of our students.

One final note, as Plotts points out, the COVID experience offers an opportunity for a deeper recognition of our global communities along with the tools necessary for us to connect. OneHE is an amazing platform that has the potential to support our growth as educators and to bring us together in the vital work of education.

*You must have an active OneHE Subscription to access the content. CSUCI Faculty have a paid subscription through May 2023.

  • If you have an active OneHE subscription, you can access Dr. Plotts’ course from Courses & Resources > All Content > Diversity, Equity and Inclusion cateogry > An Introduction to Culturally Responsive Teaching.
  • If you need to activate your OneHE subscription, complete the OneHE interest form to request the OneHE registration form. Once you’ve activated your account, you’ll be able to sign in to OneHE and refer to the same path mentioned in the bullet point above.

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