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Student well-being and pedagogy by making learning contextual: Tapping into students’ life experience for learning

Exploring the integration of SEL and the Hāpara Instructional Suite

Join Hāpara’s Senior Director of Innovation, Rich Dixon and Shayla Adams-Stafford as they discuss how providing students with a sense of belonging, keeping them feeling safe and including culturally relevant material is critical for their success as learners.

Shayla Adams-Stafford, Founder and CEO of AdaptiveX (@adaptive_x)
Rich Dixon, Senior Director of Learning Innovation at Hāpara

What is culturally responsive teaching?

(2:02) Rich Dixon prompts Shayla Adams-Stafford on what it means to use culturally responsive teaching and common misconceptions. She explains that it’s about understanding where students are coming from, allowing them to create a partnership with families, bringing in aspects of the students’ culture or home to the classroom, and making those connections through instructions. It’s also about bridging school and community as well as literacy to make reading accessible. Educators can use scaffolds such as events happening in the community and artifacts that tie into the learner’s home life. These are great ways to engage students and make those deeper connections during learning. (3:38) A huge part of culturally responsive teaching and learning is for educators to have a strong sense of themselves and their students. By having that knowledge, educators can make and bridge those connections. 

What are some high-level ways that teachers can start their own journey?

(4:18) All educators need to think about their own identity and how it impacts the way they view themselves, their students and their respective families and communities. Educators need to take time to think about their own identities. They should reflect on how they view their students and themselves. This reflection isn’t a one-time event, but rather a continual process of recognizing those biases. It’s not enough to do it once. It should be a practice teachers continue to do and deconstruct to help interrupt the automatic assumptions they make about students and their families. 

Examples of culturally responsive teaching in action.

(6:43) Culturally responsive teaching in the classroom can look like taking a current event that’s happening within a community and bringing that to be the basis of a lesson. For example, when Adams-Stafford was teaching about the Reconstruction Era, she tied what had been happening historically in the area to present-day urban renewal, and how that would impact some of her students. (8:05) This scenario exemplifies how culturally responsive teaching can look. Educators can start by taking a standard, thinking about what’s currently happening in the region and how to link those two together to make it meaningful for students’ lives.

Examples of ways that culturally responsive teaching practices can link to learning outcomes and standards

(8:57) Adams-Stafford explains that culturally responsive teaching is 100% linked to student outcomes. When we think about how adults learn topics or concepts, we tie it to something we are familiar with and how we can apply it to a new situation. When educators create some sort of familiarity with a new concept, it makes it easier for students to unpack and understand. Learners can make a connection to something they already have a frame of reference for or understand.

Recommendations for educators to get started and tips.

(11:14) Adams-Stafford suggests that teachers can start out by exploring literature related to culturally responsive teaching and learning. They can also take time to reflect and consider their own educational journey, identity and biases. Educators can connect with one another to discover how they can improve their existing lessons to make them more culturally responsive and include specific strategies to engage all of their learners. 

Common challenges in culturally responsive teaching and learning

(12:24) There are so many issues that can happen, especially if you are a school leader, looking to raise the level of the professional development of your staff around this topic. Unfortunately, leaders often face resistance from educators. Sometimes teachers can fall into the stereotypes of their students and communities. Other times, educators feel that they already know their students or the lessons they have worked, so there’s no need to change them. Teachers need to have the time to do critical analysis and include student voices in the discussion so they can see another perspective. This space and feedback from students would enhance lessons.

(14:50) Another challenge is that educators don’t have a lot of time and space to dive deep into the topic of bias, so they feel underprepared when conversing with students. Adams-Stafford’s call to action for schools and districts to prioritize anti-bias training for educators. One of the biggest drivers of the opportunity gap is educators’ expectations of students, which directly ties into bias. 

Additional resources mentioned and webinar slides: 

Bios and social media: 

  • Shayla Adams-Stafford, Founder and CEO at AdaptiveX (LinkedIn, Twitter)
  • Rich Dixon, Senior Director of Learning Innovation at Hāpara (LinkedIn, Twitter)

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