Author: Karla Vigil and Emily Abedon

Designing Equitable and Culturally Responsive Learning Spaces

January 27, 2020 by

Karla Vigil and Emily AbedonTruly supporting the needs of all learners requires intentional planning and design. In our recent session on designing equitable learning spaces at the Aurora Institute Symposium, the Equity Institute explored how culturally responsive teaching and leading pushes us to reimagine what is possible in our schools. Placing student voices and identity at the forefront of our work helps ensure that those we serve help to define what counts as successful. It challenges us to build student-centered, actionable strategies to support our vision for an equitable education system.

The workshop took its participants on a journey, rooted in equity and focused on becoming culturally responsive educators. We begin with identity development and understanding how educators’ individual identities are intrinsically connected to our students’ identities. Using uniquely designed tools, such as the Equity Institute’s “identity bonds,” participants gain skills necessary for engaging with their communities. Identity bonds provide educators with the opportunity to reflect on their own personal identities and ask critical questions like:

  • Which identity are you most proud of?
  • What part of other people’s identities do you notice first?
  • Which identity gives you power?
  • Which part of your identity do you see having the most effect on your interactions with your students?

Educators At TableWhen educators have the opportunity to think about their identities and have critical conversations with their colleagues, they gain crucial awareness about themselves. This awareness can, with practice, enable them to connect to the larger community and ultimately their students in more authentic ways.

We may think of ourselves as individuals, but each one of us is operating as a member of larger groups in society, depending on how we have been socialized. As Sensoy and DiAngelo (2017) have stated, “Our socialization is the foundation of our identity. Thus to consider that we have been socialized to participate in systems of oppression that we don’t condone is to challenge our very sense of who we are.”[1]  For example, I may have been socialized to think of gender as binary. Today, we know that gender identity is not fixed and falls along a continuum. Recognizing how we have been socialized and how this process impacts our beliefs today is critical when trying to build connections with students who may have been socialized differently. The work with the Equity Institute is informed by the knowledge that our identities and our students’ identities are profoundly impacted by culture and socialization.

Our goal is that the participants begin to develop a deep understanding of how life experiences, values, assumptions, and identity influence the way we see the world around us. When teachers can understand their own identity, they can develop the characteristics needed to effectively teach their students who may have different cultural backgrounds.

A section of the workshop is dedicated to developing and maintaining relationships with students by empowering their cultural identity. If teachers start the school year by building a responsive classroom community and understanding who their students are, where they come from, and how they learn, then they can begin to build trusting relationships. The goal during this process is for teachers to understand how their own experiences and backgrounds impact their day-to-day practice in the classroom. This daily practice can lead to forming connections with all of their students. The teacher can then leverage students’ cultural identities to create units and curricula that reflect students’ passions. Additionally, teachers will begin demonstrating a greater appreciation for diversity and building a strong learning community. We aim for educators to strengthen their understanding of how relationships are a cornerstone of culturally responsive teaching and personalized learning. (more…)

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