It’s not my Classroom: Reflecting on Cultural Responsive Pedagogy


If you’re a teacher, my sincere hope is that you can appreciate the need to serve students as individuals; recognizing that each child is shaped by a personalized narrative that can very much determine, or at least help shape, their success in a classroom. In working with students, its important for teachers to recognize their own philosophy of education. Mine, is quite simple: I want students to be active and mature citizens who value education as an extension of themselves. In my classroom, my concern isn’t merely the curriculum but rather that students leave with a critical sense of how my particular course can enrich their continued growth as a person. As such, the classroom space is grounded in the student and not curriculum. It may seem too sentimental, but students are the curriculum; their growth as human beings is the end goal and the focus in which teaching and learning is founded upon. This growth isn’t merely academic but importantly humanistic.

  • How has the student evolved as a person?
  • Do they see themselves or their world in a new way?
  • Have they been able to share their voice?
  • Have the been able to show what they know?
  • Have the been able to challenge or provoke thinking?

It’s with these questions in mind that I recently attended a conference on Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, where Karen Murray an administrator with the Toronto District School Board challenged teachers to embrace the reality of diversity and equity and to teach from and to it. Born out of or perhaps inspired by Constructionist Educational Theory, Cultural Responsive Pedagogy, recognizes the importance of the classroom and school as an adaptable and welcoming setting; recognizing individual students or the collective and ensuring, with intentionality, that the culture of the community (or the individual narrative) is embraced or leveraged in teaching and learning. Importantly, this notion of culture goes beyond such realities as race and gender and includes other cultural pillars such as GAMING.

A major industry that cannot be underestimated in his cultural depth and reach, “gamers,” of today are often active within collaborative or world building games that differ from the structures of their everyday. A world, with its own rules, regulations and language, the gamer verse is grounded not just in game, but connectivity, hardware and the perception of social connectivity and the potential success that potentially, does not extend to the “real world.” A film like Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One speaks to this so intimately. A narrative filled with avatars and conflict between the lived world and the gaming world, the film speaks to the challenges of “escaping reality” and the need to embrace not just reality but balance. It’s because of deep and complex emotional and psychological layers to gaming that teachers can’t easily displace its shaping of students, just like we can’t pretend that issues of race, gender, class, ethnicity and sexuality don’t play major roles in the lives of our students and that we as teachers don’t need to be responsive in our classrooms – we do.

As suggested by a fellow teacher at the conference, the classroom belongs to the teachers and students must adapt to the educator. In part this is true, as students must be resilient and adapt to expectations, but as public servants, the students as real people are the priority and teachers in the public trust must be adaptive themselves; responding to their “audience” and ensuring that education is immersive. As a teacher, I truly don’t see my role as “preparing students for the real world.” Although, I want them to be active learners who are resilient, responsible, disciplined, collaborative, creative, empathetic and innovative, I recognize that the “real world” that teachers often speak of, is not one that they’re necessarily a part of. For teachers, who refuse the open mindedness to embrace such thinking as Cultural Responsiveness (or PD in general), I wonder if they would be able to adapt to a corporate non-unionized structure that provides a mosaic of challenges.  As educators, specifically Ontario educators, we are guided by the Ethics and Standards of Practice above all else – this means we are responsible to the public trust. We can’t be non responsive.

In my own experience, I have grown so much from my intimate embrace of such principles of being responsive. As part of my Communications Technology course, the goal is to provide context as to why the study of popular culture holds critical merit. At the onset of the course, students engage in the critical screening and reading of popular film. In one particular course, I recognized that cultural grouping of my students and rather than watching a film that I traditionally teach to as an opener, I screened Jordan Peele’s Get Out and welcomed the opportunity to have real and pressing conversations about not only genre but race, representation and the colonization of body and mind. Furthermore, recognizing my limitations in addressing the African-American (and in my ways Canadian) experience, I leveraged Twitter to reach out to an authentic voice; Tananarive Due who teaches Black Horror Cinema at UCLA. As an African-African woman with a personal connection to the Civil Rights Movement and as a social advocate addressing today’s pressing issues, she not only educated me but spoke directly to the students in the room from a personal voice – something I couldn’t do. Also, not only did she speak to the politics of Get Out but she contextualized our future screening of Black Panther – providing a framework for Afro-futurism and why Black Panther is such an cultural responsive film in so many ways. It was in this experience that the classroom was not about me but rather the students and providing them all with an opportunity to see their world through a different lens and for many,  to see someone from their community, speak to the past, present and future; a future in much need of allies and advocates.

Here is an excerpt from our in class conversation where Tananarive Due addresses the notion of the “black erasure” in Horror Cinema.

In the end (or rather beginning), a teacher being Cultural Responsive is preparing students for the real world; a world that is layered with issues and one of much needed equity, justice and dignity. As such, perhaps the greatest goal we can achieve with including the actual student as a person in our teaching and learning is nurturing students to be cultural responsive themselves; good people who recognize their own lens and value the experiences of others.

Ultimately, the classroom doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to my students.

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