What does it mean to be culturally competent? What does culturally responsive teaching look like? And most importantly, how can teachers and administrators determine when it's being done right? On May 8, I attended a talk titled Hip-Hop/Hip-Hope, in which Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, an international speaker around the topics of diversity, cultural competency, and critical race theory, and former president of the American Education Research Association, addressed these questions.

Dr. Ladson-Billings began by making a clear distinction between being culturally competent and culturally responsive pedagogy. The former centers around reading material and content. The latter is about using culture as a teaching tool to foster positive relationships with students. According to Ladson-Billings, culturally responsive pedagogy is comprised of at least three components: 1) supporting students by teaching for mastery and not coverage; 2) being firmly grounded in one's own culture and fluent in at least one other culture; and 3) helping students be directly engaged in their communities and schooling through a socio-political consciousness. She has created an assessment to measure a teachers' culturally responsive pedagogy.

  • Visibility: As a teacher are you visible and assessable to your students? This is largely about acceptance.
  • Proximity: Do you get close to your students in a way that affirms your acceptance of them or do you shy away from interpersonal contact?
  • Student voice: Are the opinions and concerns of your students made relevant in your classroom?
  • Ability to talk about race: Is race a topic open for discussion in your classroom or do you "not see" race, therefore do not see the differences of the students in front of you?

The ability for teachers to talk about race is, according to Dr. Ladson-Billings, one of the most powerful definitions of a teacher who uses culturally responsive pedagogy. By intentionally moving past the idea to not see color, students feel more accepted and affirmed when they are not made to feel invisible. Dr. Ladson-Billings also suggested that Hip-Hop can be a positive tool to engage students. Hip-Hop was created by students, so it naturally speaks to students. For educators who may be reluctant to use Hip-Hop or Hip-Hop language in the classroom for fear of losing their identity, Dr. Ladson-Billings assures listeners that learning about Hip-Hop is similar to learning about any other aspect of a specific culture and serves to only enrich the learner, not displace one's own culture.
There are a myriad of ways to implement culturally responsive pedagogy to support all students' opportunity to learn. In addition to Hip-Hop, Detroit schools can find additional resources at the Alkebu-lan Village Community Center in Detroit, Michigan, and Lansing area schools can find additional resources at the Magic of Reading program in Lansing, Michigan.

 Alkebu-lan Village Community Center: A Great Resource for Teachers and Parents!
Energetic, optimistic and exciting. This was the overwhelming feeling at my visit to Alkebu-lan Village Community Center in Detroit. Their motto is, "Building Community One Brick, One Building, One Block at a Time!" and they believe it! While not strictly created to support males of color, the Alkebu-lan Village Community Center has plenty of experience working with male students in Detroit for 35 years. In fact, Alkebu-lan Village has programs that would be of interest to many young men. They offer martial arts classes, building positive leaders programs, youth assistance support, afterschool programs, mentorship training, after-school tutoring, summer camp, African dance/drum classes, multimedia training, computer labs, entrepreneurship classes, internships, and alternatives to school suspension programs. How does it do all of this? Well first, Alkebu-lan Village has three floors worth of facilities and a dedicated staff under the Founder and CEO Marvis Cofield. For any Detroit kids who are looking for something to do this summer or are in need of a little additional support after school, the Alkebu-lan Village is a great place.

The Magic of Reading
If you are an educator looking for an organization in Lansing that supports your students in becoming successful readers, the Magic of Reading program might be for you! Between 4:30 and 5:30 on Mondays and Wednesdays at the Foster Community Center, you can find community members and families sharing the magic of reading and the wonder of books.

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