Colleen Carmody is a first grade teacher at Mariana Bracetti Academy Charter School, in Philadelphia, PA. When she isn’t planning, grading, or celebrating her students she is often talking with colleagues about ways to increase awareness and interest in the field of education. Here is Colleen’s story:
Summer is a time of renewal, reflection, and fun for educators. Nothing encapsulates this spirit like a day poolside with a group of inspiring women who also happen to be my coworkers. Although we had our fair share of pop culture discussions and relaxation at the pool, some of my best times were discussing important issues in our collective world of education, specifically on the topic of culturally relevant pedagogy. These women inspired me to write a piece about this topic and I’m so grateful for their support and mentorship. As a first grade teacher at Mariana Bracetti Academy in the midst of my third year, these relationships mean so much to my own development.
I continue to be proud to work at MBA both for the relationships but also for the opportunities to continue our professional learning path. One resource related to the topic of culturally relevant pedagogy that I find inspiring comes from the Educational Leadership Journal. In a recent article, Villegas and Lucas, professor and dean of the College of Education and Human Services at Montclair State University respectively, tell the story of Belki Alvarez, a young girl from the Dominican Republic, who now lives with her parents in New York City. The story explains that Belki’s teachers did not view her as a capable learner because of the cultural differences, such as ethnicity and beliefs, between Belki and her educators.
According to Villegas and Lucas, teachers must fully immerse themselves in the culture of their students in order to be socio-culturally conscious and to perceive their students as capable learners. In order to facilitate instruction, teachers need to have knowledge of student perspectives and an understanding of effective strategies to meet individual needs. In order to achieve this goal, teachers must hold affirming views about student diversity, use appropriate instructional strategies, and advocate for all the students in their classroom.
The question then moves to how this cultural understanding can be achieved in the classroom. We cannot achieve this alone.
MBA has the unique quality of being a K-12 school filled with qualified educational professionals. MBA strives for a community of leaders not only for our students, but also amongst the staff.
We are provided with opportunities to have open conversations surrounding social justice issues and regularly collaborate and challenge one another on these important topics. However, it is our job as educators to enforce this culturally relevant mindset not only in the classroom, but throughout our lives. I have started to learn that it is okay to ask students questions about their lives and experiences and that it is important to celebrate our diverse cultures. Our work as culturally competent educators is completely ongoing!
MBA has provided us with opportunities to collaborate as a K-12 school through sports, academics, and social events, not only for staff but also for students.
A program I am currently involved in is the newly designed Future Teachers Program. The students involved in this program are learning how to effectively collaborate with each other and dive deeper into what it means to be a teacher in the 21st century. More and more educators are looking at data related to diversity among teachers specifically in the Philadelphia area and how this directly impacts students. Eventually, students who are participating in this program will shadow in elementary classrooms. This will help us develop a pipeline of home grown future educators.
This program is just one example of how MBA provides an opportunity for educators (and current students) to dig deeper into issues of diversity and how educators can collaborate to address these issues to benefit students. I am excited to continue to explore these ideas and contribute to a culture that values equity and inclusion in the years to come.
Villegas, A., & Lucas, T. (2007, March). The Culturally Responsive Teacher. Educational Leadership, 64(6), 28