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Culture is central to learning and motivation. It flavors all of our lives, shaping our communication and thinking processes. Thinking, speaking, listening and teaching with only our own culture in mind disenfranchises those who are not members of our culture. In today’s multicultural classrooms, effective teachers embrace the ideology of culturally responsive teaching. They relate content to students’ cultural backgrounds and leverage their students’ cultural capital. To do this, they must build strong relationships with their students and families and develop a pedagogy that acknowledges, respects, responds to, builds on, and understands different cultures. Doing so offers full, equitable access to education for students from all cultures. All students, including American Indian students, deserve culturally responsive instruction. It is vital to our American Indian students’ success.

“Culturally Responsive Teaching is a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of including students' cultural references in all aspects of learning.” (Ladson-Billings,1994, The Dreamkeepers, Successful Teachers of African American Teachers).

Cornel Pewewardy, Professor and Director of Indigenous Nations Studies at Portland State University, urges that teachers be reflective practitioners that have an “attitude of respect for cultural differences, know the cultural resources their students bring to class, and be skilled at tapping students' cultural resources in the teaching-learning process (Pewewardy, 2003, p. 5).” These attributes minimize cultural incongruence in the teaching-learning process and address classroom inequity. So when there is cultural congruence and educational equity, American Indian/Alaska Native students benefit from culturally responsive educational settings that are designed to meet their needs for school success and achievement. When there is cultural incongruence and classroom inequity with the students’ cultural learning style preferences and cultural values, there is cultural unsynchronization between students and their teachers. This cultural unsychronization is a miscommunication between students and teachers that results “in hostility, alienation, diminished self-esteem, and eventual school failure (Pewewardy, 2002, p.28).”

Cultural competence is the ability to successfully teach students who come from cultures other than our own. It entails developing certain personal and interpersonal awareness and sensitivities, developing certain bodies of cultural knowledge, and mastering a set of skills, that, taken together, underlie effective cross-cultural teaching (Diller and Moule, 2005). There are four basic cultural competence skill areas:

  • Valuing diversity
  • Being culturally self-aware
  • Understanding the dynamics of cultural interactions
  • Institutionalizing cultural knowledge and diversity (King, et al., 2007)

The SACIE recommends strategies, philosophies and guidelines found in Becoming Culturally Responsive Educators: Rethinking Teacher Education Pedagogy (pdf, 2mb), 2006 as well as their own Annual Reports on Indian Education, specifically from:

All of the following resources for Culturally Responsive Teaching embrace principles that apply to American Indian students as well as those from other cultures:

  • ASCD. A Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching
  • Alaska Native Educators. Alaskan Standards for Culturally Responsive Schools. and Guide to Implementation (pdf, 2mb)
  • Brown University. Culturally Responsive Instruction
  • Davis, Bonnie. How to Teach Students Who Don’t Look Like You. A guide to reflective practice for working with students of different races and cultures from your own.
  • Delpit, Lisa. Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom. A seminal and critical look at how race and culture impact schooling. The book is especially helpful for examining why educators so rarely talk openly about race.
  • Equity Alliance.Culturally Responsive Teaching Matters! (pdf, 274kb)
  • Hanley, Mary Stone and Noblit, George. Cultural Responsiveness, Racial Identity, and Academic Success: A Review of the Literature. A thorough overview of the research connecting race and student achievement commissioned by the Heinz Foundation.
  • Howard, Gary. We Can’t Teach What We Don’t Know: White Teachers, Multiracial Schools. Howard gives us a very personal look at the complexities of being a white educator trying to address racial issues.
  • International Journal of MultiCultural Education. The Positive Impact of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy: Montana’s Indian Education for All (pdf, 93kb)
  • Ladson-Billings, Gloria. The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African-American Children. Describes how some teachers (of all races) have been successful with African-American children.
  • Loewen, James. Lies My Teacher Told Me. Revitalizes the truth of America’s history, explores how myths continue to be perpetrated.
  • Loewen, James. Teaching What Really Happened: How to Avoid the Tyranny of Textbooks and Get Students Excited About Doing History.
  • Montana Office of Public Instruction. Indian Education website
  • National Education Association. Online Resources for Culturally Responsive Teachers
  • Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. Culturally Responsive Practices for Student Success: A Regional Sampler (pdf, 303kb)
  • Perry, Theresa, Hilliard, Asa and Steele,Claude. Young, Gifted, and Black: Promoting High Achievement Among African American Students. Perry advances a theory about how and why African-Americans excel in education. Steele discusses the impact of “stereotype threat.” Hilliard examines how we can close the achievement gap by using tools, skills, and knowledge that we already have in our possession.
  • Singleton, Glenn and Curtis Linton. Courageous Conversations about Race, A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools. A field guide for educators who want to explore race and equity in a professional context. Includes staff development activities.
  • Tatum, Beverly Daniel. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? An excellent primer for understanding racial identity development of all students.
  • Teaching Tolerance. Being Culturally Responsive

Pewewardy, C.D. (2002). Learning styles of American Indian/Alaska Native students: A review of the literature and implications for practice. Journal of American Indian Education, 41(3), 22-56.

Pewewardy, C.D., & Hammer, P.C. (2003). Culturally responsive teaching for American Indian students. ERIC Digest. (ERIC Document Reproduction No. ED 482325)

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