How important is it to build a culturally responsive classroom?

The other day a friend of mine and I were walking in the park. I was telling him about a little boy I met while conducting classroom coaching for the culturally responsive classroom program in one of the districts our company has a contract with. This little boy Jasir (not his real name) is in the third grade. When I commented to the teacher about how much taller he was than his classmates, she told me that he is actually 10 years old but has stayed back twice. This little guy is quick to anger and he is constantly instigating fights with his classmates. The teacher explained to me that this little boy’s mother is in jail and his father was beating him resulting in the state removing him from his father’s home and putting him in foster care.

I was telling my friend about the struggles this student has with classroom behavior and some of the strategies his teacher and I were working on with him. When I paused my friend said, “Well you know most people who do foster care just do it for the money.” I literally stopped in my tracks.

I was shocked and angry that my friend would make a comment that was a generalization on an entire system. In my opinion, he was dead wrong.

You see I had a choice to make when my friend made this comment about foster care. I could either keep my thoughts to myself or I could have a respectful conversation about his comment. It is not uncommon for people to keep their thoughts to themselves when it comes to disagreements or controversy. Most of us don’t like the feeling of being in disagreement with others. It feels good when we all live in harmony.

When I was first getting to know this friend I was careful about expressing my opinions on certain issues. Sometimes he and I would be in a conversation and I would share my feelings on certain issues or talk of some of my passions. If he didn’t share the same feelings or opinions he would say, “Let’s not talk about politics”. In other words, he didn’t want to talk about important issues facing our community for fear that our disagreements would hurt our relationship. We have all heard the golden rule of how to conduct ourselves in social situations “Don’t talk politics!”

Eventually my friend and I built a trusting relationship where both of us could share our thoughts, opinions and passions. It has taken time to build a relationship where we can respectfully listen, disagree and have the opportunity to learn new things from each.

So what was my decision after hearing his comment about foster care?

I chose to interrupt our conversation and express my concern for what I felt was a “pre-formed judgement” regarding foster care. I suspected his comment about foster care was based on something that he had no personal experience with. I asked him if I could share with him about what I know about foster care.

I have never participated in foster care but because I have seriously considered becoming a foster family I have done a lot of research and interviewed many people who have participated in the foster care system. The people I know who have taken in foster children have done it out of love and an altruistic attitude. Foster care can be heart breaking for the foster family because eventually the foster child is returned to their family resulting in heartbreaking loss for the foster family. The stipend a family receives doesn’t even come close to fully providing all of the expenses required to care for a child. Raising a child is the hardest job I know of, it is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I helped raise my 6 younger siblings and now I have 3 of my own children. In my experience caring for children is not a business opportunity but rather a labor of love.

When I asked my friend about his personal experience with foster care I learned he didn’t have any. In his circle of friends and coworkers he does not have knowledge of any of these acquaintances having experience with foster care. My friend lives in a community where he has casual contact with people from other cultures. Both of the communities which my friend lives in and works in are middle to upper class and neither resembles the community or the culture of the people where I am working in which exposure to children who live in foster care is common.

I asked my friend why he thought that most people particpated in foster care for the money. After some additional probing he shared that this idea was formed based on something he had read in the newspaper.

At Generation Text Online our framework guides administrators and teaching staff

in how to establish a culturally responsive classroom.

Similar to the example with my friend, creating a culture where people can have respectful discussions does not automatically exist in a classroom. A classroom culture that is respectful and positive has to be developed. This process does not happen overnight but is built by participating in routine and consistent activities that allow for classmates to share their thoughts, feelings, successes and problems in their personal lives. These routines allow an opportunity for educators and students to actively listen to each other, feel empathetic and act compassionately towards one another. These routines allow for the development of a classroom culture that involves respect of others’ opinions and a trust that allows people to share without social and emotional consequences. At Gen Text, our program guides educators how to build that culture as well as developing an understanding of the importance of having thoughtful and compassionate discussion around controversial issues.

During the professional development portion of our program, Gen Text facilitates discussion on why it might seem better to ignore comments and ideas that have a “preformed judgement” or bias. Our discussions will address popular beliefs of why it is easier to provide a harmonious and positive culture by ignoring generalizations or assumptions and instead focusing on the exact lesson plan scheduled for that day. A culturally responsive classroom acknowledges and discusses comments and ideas that are generalizations or discriminatory against people of a certain race, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, religion, culture or community in a classroom. The Generation Text Online program helps educators understand the importance of having these conversations and discussions AND guides them on techniques on exactly how to address comments that are based on assumptions,or are bias in nature.

“But with all that our students are being tested on, our school district doesn’t have the time or the resources to teach students how to be culturally responsive or proficient.

As it is we barely have enough time to teach the curriculum.”

The Gen Text Program provides professional development for each classroom teacher that arms them with strategies to infuse discussions that are culturally responsive into their existing curriculum. The program provides routines that encourage students to share thoughts and feelings, allowing the opportunity to feel empathetic towards one another. Daily activities give teaching staff the opportunity to role model compassion and allow time for students to practice using and displaying compassionate words, actions and online posts. These Gen Text routines build trusting relationships within the classroom which allow for tough discussions, as well as considerate and reflective conversations.

For more information on the Generation Text Online professional development which includes online resources compete with videos, lesson plans and digital learning for your entire staff including for your administrators, teaching staff, as well as aides, contact us.

In sixth grade, Sierra received a text message identifying her as the slashed figure in the drawing above.

Jill Brown
Founder and President
Generation Text Online
Phone: 781-820-6629