The self work behind culturally responsive education

Updated: Dec 7, 2021

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In November, ParentCorps began a new professional learning series for NYC early childhood educators focused on culturally responsive education (CRE). In this eight-week series, a small group of teachers join weekly with ParentCorps Educators to share, discuss and deepen culturally responsive teaching practices. We sat down with ParentCorps Educator Laura Tauste to learn more about how she and her team designed these sessions, and why teacher self-reflection is key to culturally responsive classroom environments.

The CRE series begins with teacher self-reflection, and then moves into practice and skill building. How did you land on this structure for the series, and why?

Focusing on teacher self-reflection has always been an important part of our work at ParentCorps. We consider self-work an important first step and a positive influence on the way educators teach.

We started our series thinking about our own identities, the impact of our power and privilege, and the key role we have as early childhood educators in promoting the positive ethnic and racial identity of our students.

We started our series thinking about our own identities, the impact of our power and privilege, and the key role we have as early childhood educators in promoting the positive ethnic and racial identity of our students.

Why was it important to provide opportunities for the teachers to think about their own personal positive racial ethnic identity? Did you anticipate any resistance to these reflection activities?

Reflecting on and discussing our different journeys and developing our positive (or not so positive) ethnic and racial identities as a group can help us gain different perspectives. Being aware of our own experiences growing up, and the impact of our environment and society in the way we see and value ourselves, can make a difference in the way we teach and interact with our students and families.

These are topics that can be difficult and uncomfortable, and we anticipated some resistance around them. We accept this is a common and natural response for some people, and we try to show up with compassion, empathy and curiosity.

There are many opportunities for conversations during the CRE sessions. How do you see the role of conversation in this work?

It is essential. Our goal was to create a space for discussion and reflection. It is wonderful to see how much we can all learn from each other by sharing experiences, different perspectives, and teaching practices.

After each session, I personally feel I’ve learned a lot from the teachers' contributions and their feedback.

Did you feel it was important to try to create a community when doing this work?

It certainly is. This was one of the main reasons why we decided to have a closed group with the same people for the eight week learning series.

We wanted to create a space for connection, community building, and support, where we all felt safe and comfortable to share our perspectives and experiences -- knowing that they would be listened to, valued, and respected.

As facilitators, we try to be part of the conversation and share our own personal experiences. I think day by day we are together creating a good learning environment.

How were your own racial and cultural identities reflected in your classroom experiences over the years?

I am from Catalunya, Spain, and growing up everything I was, everything I celebrated and experienced in my daily life was reflected in my classroom: the content we studied, the songs, the foods, the traditions… even my teachers, since most of them were from Spain. I was “the norm” and there was not much space for other identities or cultures.

I was never aware of this growing up. It wasn’t until I started studying psychology and working with kids, and especially since I moved to the United States and I got some perspective (i.e. I wasn’t the norm anymore), that I started thinking about how unfair it was for the kids and families that belonged to other racial and cultural identities, and how much we were all missing.

What do you hope teachers will take away from this series?

I want them to remember how important their role as early childhood educators is, and value all the amazing (and hard!) work they are doing and the positive impact they are making in their children’s and families’ lives.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Lisa Ellrodt is a ParentCorps Educator.

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