6 ways to create a culturally responsive classroom

A culturally responsive classroom is an encouraging and nurturing place for diverse students with different backgrounds and experiences

The U.S. reached an important milestone several years ago—minority students now comprise the largest demographic group in our nation’s public schools. While there is great diversity within our student population, the majority of educators still do not share the same cultural experiences with the diverse students they serve.

However, many effective teachers have consistently been sensitive to and culturally aware of student backgrounds. These educators intuitively understand that the more inclusive their classroom is, the more engaged their students will be, and that engagement ultimately leads to achievement.

Related content: How does culture impact our ability to learn?

Culturally relevant teaching respects the traditional backgrounds of students as an asset in the classroom. In my own experience as a young child, I grew up in the U.S. with my parents having just arrived from Cuba, speaking no English. At the time, my teacher had very limited resources to help English learners, but she connected with me, and made a sincere effort to communicate with my parents and my family—and that made all the difference. My teacher made it clear through her words and actions that she was invested in me and my success. Just as my teacher did for me all those years ago, educators can all invest in the success of bilingual and multilingual students.


Sustaining curiosity, collaboration, and connectedness in a pandemic

Digital learning is a critical part of education in 2020 as districts navigate the COVID-19 pandemic--here's how one school keeps students engaged

Real-time polling, original instructional videos, virtual conferences, and live on-screen annotation are just a few new skills teacher Jonathan Delgado is adding to his teaching toolkit this school year.

When Delgado begins his high school Spanish class at The Village School each day, he’s learning to manage many new things simultaneously in this year’s hybrid learning environment. With some students on campus and others at home, his classroom looks a lot different. He starts the Zoom meeting and welcomes students as they enter his classroom, whether it’s with a physical elbow bump or a wave on the monitor. He then shares his computer screen so everyone has access to the instructions as he splits students into small groups and fields questions from raised hands and in the online chat box.

Related content: 5 ways flexible learning environments boost student engagement

Regardless of how your school responds to COVID-19, teachers and students are at the heart of it all. One of the most valuable lessons we can learn during these times is how we think beyond a traditional education to transform learning. What are some ways teachers are ensuring meaningful student engagement in this new era of digital and mobile learning?


3 ways to actually promote equity in education

These key imperatives for moving forward in the fight for equity in education can help guide teachers and school leaders

In 2018, I had the opportunity to meet Minnijean Brown-Tricky, one of the Little Rock Nine. Minnijean and the eight other students who integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas were encircled by an angry mob who assaulted and hurled insults at them as they walked into their first day of high school; she was only fifteen.

As the mother of two young boys, I couldn’t even begin to imagine how their parents and family members must have felt, left behind to do little more than pray for their safety. That day, Minnijean was not trying to make history–she was simply trying to attend a school she thought would help make her the very best person she could be.

There’s a lesser-known side to the story of the events of 1957 that helped shape my life, my career, and my focus as an educator and policymaker. At the same time that Minnijean and eight other teenagers were walking into their new high school, a private citizen named Mrs. Smith wrote a letter now famously referred to as, “The Charlottesville Letter.” The letter outlines with masterful detail how the superintendent and school board of Charlottesville could use assessment, IQ tests, and the development of a gifted program to “prevent a disturbance of our present [all white] public-school system.” In doing so, the state could limit integration, undermine federal legislation, and circumvent Virginia state legislation to close any school that followed the federal legislation.

Related content: How equity strategies improve student outcomes

Since the era of desegregation, there are those who have conspired to deny equal opportunities to BIPOC students. The inequities within the education system today are not an accident; they are the result of conscious choices and policy decisions designed to foster inequitable opportunities and achievement gaps for students of color.

In Testing America’s Freedom, a new podcast produced by NWEA, I recount the history of policies and laws that have created, perpetuated, and exacerbated these inequities. I also speak with leaders within the field of education to explore solutions to the issues impacting our current system and discuss how we as education leaders can pave the way towards a more equitable future for all students.


3 reasons social-emotional learning is of paramount importance

Teaching students the skills to express their emotions and modeling healthy relationships helps shape a future of transformational leaders

These are certainly unprecedented times, and as we close out 2020, it is of the utmost importance to ensure that relationships are top of mind for everyone.

With the abundance of disruptions this school year, one important component of learning remains critical: social-emotional learning. The benefits have always been evident. Social-emotional learning provides educators the means by which they create strong and compassionate relationships while tending to the needs of each learner.

Related content: 3 steps for returning to school with social-emotional learning

The importance of social-emotional learning is threefold during this time. First, students are reporting that they are more alone, anxious, and depressed than ever before. The pandemic has forced learning to look different this year, with students not having the same amount of social connection from which they have previously benefited. Above all else, we need to be intentional about building and maintaining relationships that will help support students through difficult times.

Second, we as educators need to model what healthy relationships look like. In a time of division and polarization, students need to see adults modeling compassion, respect, and empathy to cultivate strong relationships.


The challenges of remote reading instruction

Many students in Jessica Everett’s kindergarten class don’t yet know how to hold a pencil, The 74 reports.

It’s one of those foundational skills of literacy — like turning pages, following the left-to-right direction of sentences — that many forget they once had to learn. It’s a starting point, and from there, Everett will dive into phonics: teaching the sounds associated with every letter, writing them down, practicing sight-reading and putting words together.


AI chatbots are helping students navigate college admissions

With the help of AI chatbots, high schoolers in Texas can work their way through the college application process with a bit more ease

High school students across the state of Texas have a new resource to guide them through the college application process in the form of an AI chatbot.

Thanks to a public-private partnership announced by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), the new initiative will tap AdmitHub’s technology to enable students to access ADVi, a conversational AI chatbot that offers proactive, personalized guidance to help students navigate their way to and through college.

ADVi can communicate with students 24/7 via text message, and if students need additional support, it directs them to a cohort of live advisers who are trained and funded through a partnership with the College Advising Corps.

Related content: How can high schools better prepare students for college?

Texas students may access ADVi by texting “COLLEGE” to 512-829-3687 or starting a freshman application in ApplyTexas. The THECB launched the text messaging tool this month to 60,000 high school seniors who opted into receiving messages in their ApplyTexas applications. High school juniors may also opt-in to ADVi to start receiving messaging in November.


Helping teens open up about their mental health

Using the right approach, along with an SEL program, could help teenagers become more transparent with their mental health

Despite what kids believe, their main support system is not within their friendships. As a parent or counselor, you can allow them to believe their friends are their support providers. However, their fellow 14-year-old friends are not equipped with the maturity and understanding to help them with the big problems. Kids need a sounding board–a connection with their family to help them with feelings of depression, anxiety, fear of failure, and other related concerns.

Before trying to help your child “open up” emotionally, remember it’s developmentally appropriate for them to close you off to some degree. They are developing a sense of self and individuating. They’re more private with their friendships and getting them to engage with you means they need to trust you and your intentions.

Related content: 3 steps for returning to school with SEL

Developing this dynamic is best done on the teen’s terms. It’s not going to happen the way the parent wants, unless they adapt with some new strategies and shift expectations. There’s a payoff with this approach, because teens will learn they have a source of guidance and unconditional support—two critical elements of getting through the teen years safely and positively.

Find the right time and place

Parents wanting deeper conversations with their kids need to set aside enough time. Don’t pop into your teen’s room and say, “Hey, let’s talk!” if you only have five minutes. If they open up to you and then drop a bombshell, but you have to go on a Zoom call in a minute, then you’ve wasted the opportunity. Avoid the “big talk” when you can’t both be present and in a clear state of mind. If either of you are stressed or angry, then you need to find another time to chat.


Why student safety tools are essential during a pandemic

During COVID-19, students are more isolated and may feel increased depression and unease--making a student safety solution a valuable tool for administrators

Interventions into student safety, prompted by technology used to help school leaders prevent students from harming themselves or others, increased dramatically after COVID-19 landed in the U.S. and caused schools to close physical classrooms.

In its annual Student Safety Report, Gaggle, which uses artificial intelligence and trained safety experts in a student safety solution designed to prevent student suicide, bullying, inappropriate behaviors, school violence, and other harmful situations

According to the report, which analyzes incidents detected using Gaggle’s solution, during the 2019–20 school year, school and district educators were able to save the lives of 927 students.

This number represents a general increase of 28 percent over the preceding school year, but a significant difference emerged after the COVID-19 pandemic began. The pre-pandemic increase in lives saved was 11 percent, but during the pandemic, the increase rose to 32 percent.

Related content: 6 reasons we’re using a student safety platform

“We’re able to have a presence in a space that normally we wouldn’t be part of. We’re not in their homes with them, but when students are creating these calls for help, we want to be able to act and provide the necessary support,” said Dr. Adrian Palazuelos, superintendent of the Fillmore Unified School District, in the report.


Wearable devices are increasingly central to a safe return to the classroom

Technologies such as IoT and wearable devices are among the best practices making it possible for schools to move forward with reopening plans

Technology has played a central role during COVID-19, enabling educators to continue teaching remotely, with both students and staff ensconced in the safety of their kitchens or living rooms. Remote learning technology has become mission-critical for education.

But as the pandemic stretches out far longer than we could have imagined, evidence suggests that remote learning is falling short in a number of ways.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, approximately 20 percent of students nationwide don’t have access to the technology they need for remote learning. Further, the Economic Policy Institute said that “children’s academic performance is deteriorating during the pandemic, along with their progress on other developmental skills.”

Related content: Could two pandemics (yes, two) change schools forever?

For these reasons and more, school systems across the nation have been returning to the classroom. Each district is charting its own path to keep students and staff safe in ways similar to what other industries have successfully done. They’re reducing class sizes, employing staggered shifts, alternate days and varied stop/start times, and are implementing self-reporting protocols when parents drop off children–all in an effort to reduce the number of people in close contact with one another.


Free Thanksgiving video lessons from The Character Tree

As families celebrate Thanksgiving, The Character Tree is providing teachers and parents with free access to two of its popular video lessons about gratitude.

The lessons for first and second grade students teach the character trait of gratitude through short, engaging online videos and printable resources. The lessons can be used at home or in a classroom making them a great activity for in-person learning, distance learning, homeschooling, and for parents seeking supplemental activities for their children.

To access the lessons, visit: https://www.charactertree.com/#sample-episodes. The lessons include:

  • Gratitude & Oprah Winfrey – Children learn about television personality, producer and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey and how she cultivated an attitude of gratitude through her show and her charity work.
  • Gratitude & Veterans – Children learn about the history of Veteran’s Day, different jobs in the military and how to show gratitude for veterans and active duty military.

In the episodes, teacher and host Sara VanderWel, who plays “Miss Sara” in the videos, leads conversations with puppet characters “Katie,” “Jose,” “Bobby,” and “Sierra” as they discuss what gratitude is and how children can demonstrate it at home and at school. Both lessons include printable resources to support skills such as word recognition, handwriting and lesson comprehension.

For families of kindergarten-aged students, The Character Tree also offers a free sample lesson about the character trait Perseverance. To subscribe to a full year of episodes from The Character Tree visit https://www.charactertree.com/subscriptions/

About The Character Tree

The Character Tree is an educational video subscription series designed for K-2 students. The subscription includes 36 character education videos for either kindergarten or first/second grade, 36 sets of supplemental resources, and 36 teacher’s guides. Every episode, hosted by a real first-grade teacher, discusses classroom citizenship or an important positive character trait exemplified by prominent figures like Kindness & Jane Goodall or Perseverance & Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. For more, visit https://charactertree.com/.