Welcome to the Turnaround for Children Toolbox! Please tell us about your professional role so we can learn about our community and provide you with the most relevant tools and resources.

My role is:

WHOLE-CHILD DESIGN

Using the science of learning and development to design practices that support the whole child

WHOLE-CHILD DESIGN > SUPPORTIVE ENVIRONMENTS

Culturally Affirming and Sustaining Practices

Creating a strong sense of belonging and safety in the school community means doing more than just celebrating diversity. Practices that actually affirm students’ multifaceted identities and sustain cultural knowledge and ways of being are critical as we seek to reimagine a system of education that has systematically oppressed, silenced, and erased groups based on race, ethnicity, gender identity, disability, language, etc.

Culturally affirming and sustaining practices happen at all levels and throughout a school – from designing curriculum to setting up empowering dynamics within classrooms, to capacity-building for leaders and staff, and more. These practices serve ALL students and school communities, including those who hold privilege and power, as it sets students up to engage as curious, critical thinkers on topics of identity, culture, and equity in the world around them.

CONTINUUM OF PRACTICE

Adult Capacity Building and Collaboration

Professional development opportunities around topics of culture and identity may be limited or non-existent (e.g., a one-time session on implicit bias). Educators may do some reflection and learning on their own, but there is no schoolwide commitment or coordination to engage together. Because of this, students may experience adult mindsets and/or practices that are harmful and do not create physically, emotionally and identity safe spaces (e.g., color blindness).

Staff do not have support to collectively address social and political issues affecting their classroom community (e.g., an incident of racialized violence in the news). Therefore, they may be ignored or avoided in class or in conversation with students and families (e.g., deemed too “controversial,” “political,” or difficult to discuss.)

There are also rarely opportunities for staff to interrogate the systems, structures, policies and practices of their school and district/system to identify barriers, biases and inequities for students (especially those based on race, ethnicity, gender identity, disability, language, etc.) and advocate for change. Therefore, students may be inadvertently blamed for lack of engagement or achievement, while systemic factors are not being addressed.

Curricular Design, Materials and Assessments

Educators use curricular designs, materials and assessments that rarely create opportunities for students to capitalize on and demonstrate their own cultural knowledge and ways of being. They represent limited identities, cultures and experiences, which may or may not include their actual students and school community.

These curricular designs, materials, and assessments might focus primarily on the histories, works and perspectives of dominant groups (e.g., white supremacy, patriarchy) as the standard, with few exceptions (e.g., during Black or Women’s History month). These resources may therefore represent incomplete, inaccurate or stereotype-driven narratives (e.g., an oversimplified story of Thanksgiving). Conversely, curricular materials might use surface-level multiculturalism or multilingualism to engage students (e.g., a lesson that uses hip-hop), while at the same time reinforcing institutional oppressive power dynamics (e.g., misogyny, homophobia and racist stereotypes).

Classrooms as Critical Spaces

Educators maintain top-down power dynamics in the classroom, their primary roles being giving information and directions, evaluating performance, and monitoring behavior. Students’ roles are to listen, follow directions, learn basic academic skills and receive knowledge. There are few, if any, opportunities for students to give input or feedback on what or how they learn. They are also expected to respect rules, power structures and authority figures as they are.

Goals for students are focused only on meeting standards and performing well on assessments. Learning may occasionally connect to current and historical social and political issues, but it may be surface-level or may even perpetuate inequity (e.g., avoiding controversy, oversimplifying progress, promoting a savior mentality).

Use of Language and Cultural Practices

Educators have very limited understanding of the diversity of language and cultural practices in their school community (e.g., languages spoken, communication styles including tone and gesture, social norms, forms of self-expression), which may result in limited communication or miscommunication, exclusion, biases and a lack of trust-building interactions.

Educators only use and validate dominant-group language and cultural practices in their classrooms (e.g., Standard English, accepted hairstyles and clothing), framing different ways of speaking and being as “incorrect” instead of important and valid for different purposes and spaces.

Educators may provide some access and support for families and the school community (e.g., a school newsletter in both Standard English and Spanish), but efforts may be limited or only include some of the community.

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Adult Capacity Building and Collaboration

Periodic professional development supports educators in reflecting on their own identities and cultures, actively working to uncover potential bias or blind spots, and providing and receiving practical support. Educators are willing to reflect and learn about culturally affirming and sustaining practices, but there may be some resistance to participating when the work is uncomfortable or too disruptive to their current practice.

Staff are given some support to collectively address issues affecting their classroom community, but typically only following a major social or political incident. Educators may try to address issues in class or in conversation with students and families, but they may not always have the skills or resources to do so effectively.

There are also some opportunities for staff to interrogate the systems, structures, policies and practices of their school and district/system to identify barriers, biases and inequities for students (especially those based on race, ethnicity, gender identity, disability, language, etc.), but it may be more of an intellectual exercise without significant action toward change.

Curricular Design, Materials and Assessments

Educators sometimes (or for some subjects) create, select, edit and/or supplement curricular designs, materials and assessments to create opportunities for students to capitalize on and demonstrate their own cultural knowledge and ways of being, and to engage with representations of their own and others’ identities, cultures and experiences.

These curricular designs, materials and assessments represent the histories, works and perspectives of many cultural groups, but may sometimes oversimplify them. For example, they may only partially illustrate traditional and contemporary aspects of cultures, may depict largely monolinguistic/monocultural and single-dimensional perspectives, or may tend to highlight certain groups through the lens of their oppressor/the “other” (e.g., an isolated discussion of Japanese-Americans only during the study of WWII).

Classrooms as Critical Spaces

Educators work to empower students in their classrooms where they can, their primary roles being building community and facilitating effective learning experiences. Students’ roles are to be curious, critical thinkers and problem-solvers, to gain knowledge and understanding, and to build academic and some SEL skills. There are some opportunities for students to give input into what or how they learn. They are also able to give some feedback on rules or to authority figures, but only when invited.

Goals for students may sometimes be restricted by mandates around meeting standards and performing well on assessments, focusing occasionally on preparing students to be agents of change (e.g., building real-world skills, a positive sense of their own identity, and a social-political consciousness). Learning is sometimes situated within current and historical social and political issues, providing opportunities for students to begin to examine topics of culture, identity and equity.

Use of Language and Cultural Practices

Educators have some knowledge of the diversity of language and cultural practices in their school community (e.g., languages spoken, communication styles including tone and gesture, social norms, forms of self-expression), which supports more effective communication and builds trust among staff, students and families. There may still be some missed opportunities for collaboration or miscommunication based on linguistic/cultural differences or biases.

Educators create access to the dominant culture (e.g., Standard English) in order to create access to power for all students, while valuing and validating linguistic/cultural diversity along with students’ flexibility, fluidity and pluralism (e.g., code switching).

Educators also provide access and support for families and the school community by providing things like translation services, resources in multiple languages, etc.

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Adult Capacity Building and Collaboration

Ongoing professional development supports educators in reflecting on their own identities and cultures, actively working to uncover potential bias or blind spots, providing and receiving practical support, and holding one another accountable to action. All educators are fully committed to the critical and continuous reflection, learning and action required to implement culturally affirming and sustaining practices, even when it is uncomfortable or difficult.

Staff are consistently given dedicated space and support to collectively address social and political issues affecting their classroom community (e.g., laws or policies that restrict voting in their community), preparing them to engage authentically with students and families on the same topics.

There are also ample opportunities for staff to interrogate the systems, structures, policies and practices of their school and district/system to identify barriers, biases and inequities for students (especially those based on race, ethnicity, gender identity, disability, language, etc.) and advocate loudly for change.

Curricular Design, Materials and Assessments

Educators consistently (and across all subjects) create, select, edit and/or supplement curricular designs, materials and assessments to create ample opportunities for students to capitalize on and demonstrate their own cultural knowledge and ways of being, and to engage with representations of their own and others’ identities, cultures and experiences.

These curricular designs, materials and assessments represent the histories, works and perspectives of many cultural groups, while showing how individuals are multidimensional (e.g., can embody more than one ethnicity or language, have intersecting aspects of identity that affect their experiences). They depict both traditional and contemporary aspects of culture along with pluralistic and intersectional identities, affirm the positive contributions of diverse cultures and communities, and make sure to avoid reinforcing inaccuracies and stereotypes.

Classrooms as Critical Spaces

Educators radically empower students in their classrooms, their primary roles being co-creating community and facilitating meaningful and relevant learning experiences. Students’ roles are to be curious, critical thinkers and problem-solvers, to construct their own knowledge and understanding, and to build increasingly complex social, emotional, and cognitive skills. There are many opportunities for students to give input or feedback on what or how they learn. They are also invited to analyze and critique rules, power structures and authority figures in their school and in the local and global community, and to reimagine and innovate around what is possible.

Goals for students go beyond just meeting grade-level standards to prepare students to be agents of change (e.g., building real-world skills, a positive sense of their own identity, and a social-political consciousness). Learning is often situated within current and historical social and political issues, providing opportunities for students to critically examine topics of culture, identity and equity.

Use of Language and Cultural Practices

Educators continuously work to understand the diversity of language and cultural practices in their school community (e.g., languages spoken, communication styles including tone and gesture, social norms, forms of self-expression), which fosters constructive communication and builds trust among staff, students and families. Educators always use language that is respectful to groups’/individuals’ identities, such as their preferred pronouns, person-first language, etc.

Educators create access to the dominant culture (e.g., Standard English) in order to create access to power for all students, while valuing, validating and including diverse linguistic/cultural practices in students’ learning experiences. This not only affirms students’ flexibility, fluidity and pluralism (e.g., code switching), but also sustains those practices and avoids forced assimilation.

Educators partner with families and community members to co-create opportunities for authentic collaboration through supports such as translation services, resources in multiple languages, support for families to develop student literacy in multiple languages, etc.

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REFLECT AND REDESIGN

Explore the following resources to reflect on and redesign the culturally affirming and sustaining practices at your school

Exploring Perceptions About Identity Through Self-Portraits

How does this educator affirm students’ unique identities and experiences?

How might an activity like this shape classroom culture – the way students and adults act and interact?

[Video credit: Edutopia]

Cultural Curriculum Audit

REFLECTION TOOL

This audit is an exercise in thinking more deeply about how curriculum design, materials and assessments are culturally affirming and sustaining for students, through reviewing “look-fors” and “red flags” around four key questions.

Download

Deeper than Icebreakers: Activities to Know Your Students

REDESIGN TOOL

These three activities (Community Walk, Shadow-A-Student Day, and Student Spotlight) are designed to for educators who are doing the active work to more deeply understand the identities, cultures, and experiences of their students, from a place of openness, respect, and empathy.

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