Equal Education through Culturally Responsive Teaching

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Superintendent's Report to the Halifax Regional School Board, April 2016, p. 1.

Our culture represents our beliefs, values and perceptions - the things we consider to be our norms. When asked, "where did you get your norms?" most people respond with the following: from my parents, how I was raised, or from my community. Just as we, the educators, have our norms - our culture; so do our students. If is very important that as the adults, we do not expect students to think and work as we did. What is normal for us may not be the same in the communities in which we teach. Once we have a clear understanding of what our culture is and take the time to learn our students' culture, we can begin the journey of being culturally relevant - using that culture to build culturally relevant instructional activities.

-Superintendent's Report to the Halifax Regional School Board, April 2016, p. 3.

Culturally Responsive Teaching helps provide quality education to children and youth of all the racial ethnic, and cultural groups that make up a given classroom. BlackSPAN focuses specifically on how Culturally Responsive Teaching creates space in which Black students can demonstrate their academic excellence.

As in many places, Nova Scotia's education system, whether consciously or unconsciously, is based upon the values and culture of people of European descent. This means that middle class white students are most likely to feel welcome - and to be welcome - in our schools. It also means that, overall, middle class white students experience fewest barriers to academic success. Black students, on the other hand, often do not receive the equitable education to which all Canadian children and youth have the right.

All school boards in Nova Scotia have begun implementing culturally responsive teaching. Culturally responsive teaching has the power to help correct educational inequities, while benefiting all students.

Four Ways Nova Scotia Schools Can Become Culturally Responsive

1) Building on the knowledge and experiences of African Nova Scotians: Effective teaching builds on the knowledge and experiences students bring to the classroom (Gay, 2010). Culturally responsive education recognizes that Black students, aboriginal students, white students, and other cultural groups bring unique sets of knowledge and experience

2) Including African Nova Scotian history, culture and language: In Nova Scotia, culturally responsive teaching would consistently include the "language, history, and culture" of African Nova Scotians. Encouragingly, Nova Scotia's 2015 Action Plan for Education commits to these inclusions (Province of Nova Scotia, 2015, pp. 16, 29, 40). While Culturally Responsive Teaching is about how to teach rather than about what to teach, we note that African Nova Scotians remain dramatically under-represented in the course content offered by our schools. We cannot expect students to be motivated by materials that make their existence invisible.

3) Including Black families and communities: Family involvement is vital to student success. However, expensive childcare and transportation, as well as hectic work schedules, can make it difficult for low-income parents to meet with teachers. In addition, parents who have experienced racism at school are often uncomfortable returning, for example, to attend parent teacher nights. Culturally responsive teachers arrange meetings at various times and places in the community. Community presence also helps teachers gain respect from students' communities and, crucially, knowledge of students' experiences (National Education Association, 2006; LRTS, 2016).

4) Nurturing the brilliance of Black students: Many African Nova Scotian students report they are treated by teachers as if they were less intelligent than white students. For example, teachers converse less frequently with African Nova Scotian students, and encourage African Nova Scotian students to take courses that will not qualify them for university. To correct this imbalance, teachers in Nova Scotia must interact in a way that demonstrates recognition of Black students' brilliance. For example, teachers should call on Black students during classroom discussions and provide detailed responses to Black students' assignments (The Education Alliance of Brown University, 2008).

Equitable Education through Cultural Responsiveness

Providing culturally responsive education does not mean providing marginalized students with extras. "Children whose language and culture correspond more closely to that of the school have an advantage in the learning process. Children whose experiences are devalued or unrecognized become alienated and disengaged from the learning process" (The Education Alliance of Brown University, 2008). According to the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (2012), "the rights of students to be free from discrimination encompass not only access to education, but also the quality of the educational experience itself" (p. 2). Culturally responsive teaching extends the benefits that white students have long experienced to students of other backgrounds. Moreover, this method in no way compromises the education received by students of European descent. Instead, it benefits all students by enhancing their abilities to connect with the diverse perspectives that make up our world (LRTS, 2016).


Introduction to Culturally Relevant Pedagogy
Education experts Jackie Jordan Irvine, Geneva Gay and Kris Gutierrez explain how to make culturally relevant pedagogy a reality in your classroom. Uploaded 17 Jun 2010 - 4:39 min.

Culturally Responsive Teaching
[video file]. Province of Nova Scotia.
January 28, 2016 - 46 min.


The Education Alliance of Brown University (2008). Culturally Responsive Teaching.
Excerpts from The Knowlege Loom
46 pages

Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (2012).
Promoting Equality of Educational Opportunity
56 pages

Ontario Ministry of Education (2013, November). Schools. ISSN: 1913 8482 [Print] 1913 8490 [Online].
Culturally Responsive Pedagogy: Towards Equity and Inclusivity in Ontario
8 pages

Province of Nova Scotia (2015). ISNN: 978-1-55457-658-6.
The 3Rs: Renew, Refocus, Rebuild - Nova Scotia's Action Plan for Education
47 pages

BlackSPAN: Black Students Parents and Allies Network