Being a Culturally Responsive Teacher

Culturally responsive teachers recognize the beauty of the world they and their students live in and celebrate the cultures and land around them. Culturally responsive teaching brings the world that is all around the students into the classroom with them, which may also include physically bringing students outside of the classroom and into the world. I saw many examples of these characteristics at the cultural camp and heard about them from our visitors: Tlingit elders, and teachers such as Paula, Tina, and Angie. For example, at the cultural camp, high schoolers were brought into what my high schooler interviewee implied was a “simulated Tlingit village environment” to learn how to live in the land around them, as many of their relatives and ancestors have done. Students got in touch with their culture and learned how to prepare common Tlingit dishes by having to cook dinner for one another. They learned more about the Tlingit dances (which they performed so beautifully for us!) and how to speak the language.

Tina also brought us through a fabulous math trail that applied basic math concepts to the world around us. By asking us to measure one of the totem poles on campus and find the shapes in the formline design artwork in the UAS library, we used our mathematical knowledge in our environment. Both Angie and Paula continued this concept of culturally responsive teaching by showing us the importance of studying and using the resources available to us. Each teacher’s lesson was so unique and showed deep appreciation of the culture and world around us.

Guests, Scott, Alberta, and Ernestine also provided wonderful insights into how to not only involve culture in the classroom via activities, but also through attitude. Ernestine gave us a glimpse into what it was like to be of a minority culture in the classroom, whereas Alberta and Scott showed us ways to include the place and people around us in the classroom. I am walking away with so many valuable tools in those ways.

Culturally responsive teaching can be applied in any subject area, including music. This past year, I collaborated with the Tlingit specialist at our school to teach our students a popular Tlingit paddle song. While he taught the words and melodies, he also taught us the history behind the song. This concept also makes me think of the unit plan I taught with my fourth grade general music class as part of my teacher work sample last year (me with my class is pictured below, including one of the presentation’s final slides- they definitely got creative!). My students and I studied jazz music and its history and deep cultural influences. The final project was for students to create multimedia presentations about their own cultures and how music and culture inform one another in their lives. It was special to learn about the many different cultures in that one classroom and celebrate one another. In the future, I would love to take my students on field trips outside the room- whether it is performing for a significant community event or doing a nature walk that frames their thinking to inspire their music-making. The possibilities are endless, and that is the wonderful thing!

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2 thoughts on “Being a Culturally Responsive Teacher”

  1. I want to take your class! Learning Tlingit paddle songs and making a presentation about how my culture is informed by music sounds like so much fun. It is wonderful to hear how you incorporated these elements of culturally responsive teaching into your classroom.

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