This interview explores what it means to be a culturally responsive teacher educator in today’s world and why it is crucial to advocate for a culturally responsive and sustaining education for all students. It shares how on exceptional individual became a culturally responsive elementary teacher, and how she has become a culturally responsive teacher educator and educational consultant.
KC: Now that we’ve talked about how you consider yourself to be a culturally responsive teacher educator. Can you tell me how you have grown as a culturally responsive teacher educator throughout your career?
MBG: I’m glad that you’ve asked such a question. I believe that to be an effective culturally responsive teacher, one must be willing to be a lifelong and reflective learner. In doing so, one acknowledges that being a teacher requires on-going personal and professional growth. Over the years, as a culturally responsive teacher educator, I’ve grown in the following ways:
- Became more observant.
- Began using more evidence to base my teaching decisions.
- Attended conferences to stay abreast of research in different areas (not always easy when you are teaching 5-8 courses a semester on different topics/with different foci)
- Became more consciously skilled in modeling and being able to give examples to help students make connections.
- Learned to allow the wait time for my students to process information and give feedback on what they’ve understood about what was shared.
- Became more transparent with my expectations and grading.
- Developed analytic rubrics for almost every course assignment to eliminate the guesswork in how to get the A.
- Designed and implemented more socially conscious and culturally based assignments (e.g., such as WebQuests that examine crucial social issues).
KC: You mentioned earlier that you had grown as a culturally responsive teacher educator over the years. I’m wondering beyond yourself, your personal and professional growth, who benefits from culturally responsive practices?
MBG: That’s a powerful question that I believe all culturally responsive teacher educators should ask themselves. I believe schools are becoming increasingly more diverse (culturally, linguistically, racially, and ethnically), not just in urban areas. While everyone can be enlightened when they learn the value of treating others respectfully and equitably, it is historically marginalized people who benefit most from others learning about culturally responsive teaching practices.
Remember, culturally responsive teaching is all about embracing, respecting, and including students’ cultural references and lived experiences in all aspects of learning. Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings has been arguing this for years through her research and scholarship. Therefore, despite the social disparities and inequities that plague our schools, culturally responsive teaching provides our children and youth with the chance to develop their literacy, mathematical, technological, social, and political skills.
KC: Earlier, you described how you approach your teacher education curriculum through a culturally responsive educator's lens. At the moment, I'm wondering, and would like to know if you provide your teacher candidates with meaningful and professional learning experiences outside the classroom?
MBG: I’m glad you’ve asked this question. About three years ago, at my former institution, I helped students revive our Teacher Education Club and became their faculty advisor.
For the first time in the club’s history, members of the executive board and club members were able to fundraise money to attend the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) Convention in Atlantic City. That particular unique experience provided our teacher candidates with the chance to socially interact and learn from other New Jersey pre-service and in-service teachers. To me, culturally responsive teaching is also about providing teacher candidates with the opportunity to apply their coursework experience outside of the classroom—in a professional setting. They also need the ability to network and collaborate with their peers. Attending that conference opened opportunities for them.
The following year, someone else was asked to advise them; however, the executive board continued to seek me out. We spent many nights in my office discussing the state of education, and in particular, teacher education. Some members of the group decided to next lead our teaching honor society chapter, Kappa Delta Pi. Our conversations motivated them to organize our institution’s first-ever culturally responsive teaching conference. The conference gathered in-service and pre-service teachers and teacher education professors from nearby colleges and universities. This student-organized conference provided participants with the opportunity to learn from other experienced culturally responsive teacher education professors, such as Dr. Ana María Villegas and Dr. Monica Taylor from Montclair State University.
Teaching in a space where many espoused color blindness was not an easy experience; the micro and macro aggressions there … anyway, listening to the students use culturally inclusive language, witnessing the growth of their communication and leadership skills made me feel like a proud parent since I taught all of them since their freshmen year.
Being a culturally responsive teacher educator, I truly believe that it is crucial to provide our teacher candidates with meaningful professional learning experiences to nurture them as future educators.
KC: Based on your experience and expertise, should teacher educators, teachers, school leaders, and all other stakeholders advocate for culturally responsive and sustaining education for all urban children and youth?
MBG: I believe that today, more than ever before, as a nation, we need to recognize that our schools are becoming increasingly more diverse. For that very reason, advocating for culturally responsive and sustaining education for our children and youth is a must! We must acknowledge that they all possess meaningful knowledge and lived experiences that are crucial for their personal and professional growth, and most importantly, their academic success.
KC: In what other ways do you find yourself advocating for culturally responsive teaching and sharing your experiences and expertise?
MBG: Whenever possible, I share my experiences, expertise, and advocate for culturally responsive teaching at professional conferences held at my former institution (e.g., their annual Teachable Tuesday Conference for their pre-service teacher candidates) and through professional organizations. Many of those workshop sessions have centered on culturally responsive teaching. For example, I’ve led many workshops at the New Jersey Council for Exceptional Children (NJCEC) annual conferences.
KC: Earlier we’ve discussed why you believe that we need to advocate for culturally responsive teaching and sustaining education in our urban schools as a society. To end our conversation today, I’m wondering what your thoughts are on professional development opportunities for teachers? Can they serve as a way to advocate for more culturally responsive schools?
MBG: First, thank you for asking such a question. To me, it is a very personal and reflective question. As a culturally responsive teacher educator and educational consultant, I’ve led professional development workshops centered on culturally responsive teaching for early childhood school leaders in Newark, New Jersey, as well as for coaches, teachers, and assistants in New Haven, Connecticut, as a consultant through Bank Street College of Education. Last spring, this work also included coaching school leaders in observing and facilitating culturally responsive practices in their teachers through classroom visits with them.
This spring, I assumed a different role supporting culturally relevant and sustaining education under the mentorship of my dissertation sponsor at [Teachers College], Dr. Michelle Knight-Manuel. Authors of Classroom Cultures: Equitable Schooling for Racially Diverse Youth (2018), Dr. Knight-Manuel, and Dr. Joanne Marciano, led interactive, culturally relevant, and sustaining education professional development workshops for teachers, social workers, school counselors, and school leaders in Newark, New Jersey. Participants explored their lived experiences and how they impacted their interactions with students. Knight-Manuel and Marciano also shared culturally relevant practices they have observed in teachers through their work in New York City
During these workshops, I learned more about educators’ perceptions of culturally relevant pedagogy across the generations since participants were diverse in professional experiences. I believe it is essential to provide both veteran and novice teachers with opportunities to share their voices in safe spaces. In other words, share their knowledge and express their concerns they may have when it comes to implementing research-based, culturally relevant best practices, especially in these racially charged times. The timing of our workshops allowed us to process the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery. We also discussed the growing social justice movement around the world to end injustice when it comes to policing. Our conversations led to how to discuss social justice and inequality in classrooms with our students.
Participants worked in groups to develop action plans to implement culturally relevant and sustaining school-wide practices to increase student engagement and achievement. This fall, I am looking forward to witnessing how the schools enact those plans even in the midst of COVID-19.
For three decades I have been at the forefront of leading others to examine their practices as they interact with others. When you are doing the work, it is challenging to reflect on or document its impact. Through assisting Drs. Knight-Manuel and Marciano, I’ve become an observer, listening more to how the power of culturally responsive teaching and sustaining education can help our youth become more active participants and advocates in their own educational experiences. The field of education is finally moving forward in re-centering students as learners. Now that COVID-19 essentially wiped out standardized testing and leveled practices which allowed schools to suspend and expel students, we have hope.
Baron, L. (1981). The sun is on. Harlin Jacque Pubns.
Knight-Manuel, M. & Marciano, J. (2018). Classroom cultures: Equitable schooling for racially diverse youth. Teachers College Press.
Ladson-Billings, G. (1994). The dreamkeepers: Successful teachers of African American children. Jossey-Bass.
Ladson-Billings, G. (2001). Crossing over to Canaan. Jossey-Bass.
Nieto, S. (1999). The light in their eyes: Creating multicultural learning communities. Teachers College Press.
Nieto, S. (2015) Brooklyn dreams: My life in public education. Harvard Education Press.
Kevin Cataldo is a proud Brazilian-American and an urban educator in Newark, New Jersey. He is a passionate and lifelong learner pursuing a Master of Arts in Sociology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. He is interested in researching race, equity, diversity, culture, and culturally relevant pedagogy in K-12 school settings and in teacher education. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.