Culturally Relevant Pedagogy

The ability to reflect and analyze individual actions or attitudes and behavior can have a significant positive influence on personal and professional growth.  Howard (2003) discusses the importance of having teachers participate in honest self-reflection and critique of their own thoughts and behaviors as it pertains to race in cultural contexts (2003). The goal of critical teacher reflection would be to give pre-service or practicing teachers a space to reflect on and analyze important issues such as race, ethnicity, and culture and recognize how their own attitudes and beliefs can dramatically impact outcomes for students. The act of reflection gives attention to one’s own experiences and behaviors. The meaning that is developed from the act of reflection can help inform future decision making (Howard, 2003).   Through this process, pre-service and practicing teachers can develop pedagogical practices that are racially affirming, culturally relevant, and socially meaningful. This type of awareness and development of culturally relevant pedagogy, I feel will help teachers provide equal access to education for all students regardless of their cultural or ethnic background. In the article, Howard (2003) discussed how Ladson-Billings (1994) argued that one of the key components of culturally relevant pedagogy is the authentic belief that students from culturally diverse and low-income backgrounds are capable learners and if students are treated in that manner, then they will ultimately demonstrate high degrees of competence.

I personally place a high value on teacher self reflection in all areas of teacher pedagogy for both pre-service and practicing teachers. When I think about my teaching experience over the last 13 years, I believe that my success has had a lot to do with natural reflection in my teaching experiences. While I feel that it is innate for most people to reflect on experiences, I think the real skill that brings reflection to life is the ability to honestly engage in reflection in a way that takes a critical look at personal beliefs or actions and makes use of the success or failure of them to make changes that will improve future experiences. Sometimes it can be true that a teacher may not recognize the key areas in their teaching where reflection is needed. This is where mentoring comes into play. Having a mentor to guide the reflection process is crucial for active reflection to be successful. My research interest is in the area of looking at the translation of knowledge and experiences from teacher preparation programs into successful teaching experiences for beginning teachers. For many of the student teachers I have mentored, the act of reflection seems to be a bit unfamiliar. Sometimes pre-service teachers place “blame” on factors that are seemingly out of their control when discussing a lesson that was taught or an interaction with students that may not have gone as planned. As a mentor, I attempt to help student teachers reflect on how their beliefs or actions may have impacted the lesson or the situation. In the area of culturally relevant pedagogy, and awareness of how your beliefs have an effect on your expectations and interactions with students of different ethnic or cultural backgrounds can help pre-service and practicing teachers avoid deficit based-thinking when teaching. It will also allow students to have access to an education that views each individual as equally capable regardless of background and sets a level of high expectations for success for all students.


Howard, T.C. (2003). Culturally relevant pedagogy: Ingredients for critical teacher reflection. Theory into Practice, 42(3), 195-202.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 465-491.

Best Practices for Researchers – Be(a)ware of Yourself!

The readings for this week seem designed to initiate us to the reflexive, multi-faceted look at educational practice that our program aims to inculcate in us.  I strongly agree with this approach. I applied to this program so that I can be a better teacher – more reflexive, more culturally sensitive, and better educated about best practices and how to design and assess innovations.  In Intersectionality as a Framework for Transformative Research in Special Education by Garcia and Ortiz (2013), they write “…educational questions beg to be conceptualized and analyzed through more than one axis” and “…categories of difference are dynamic and produced by the interaction of individual and institutional factors.”   To help students be successful will take acknowledgement of various intersecting aspects of their culture and abilities.  Designing a curriculum and/or a program to help students will take consideration of multiple factors such as race, generational cohort, familiarity with college environment, language acquisition, and institutional assumptions.  That suggests to me that a cookie-cutter approach to designing a program or teaching a class will not suffice.  That is why I don’t want to simply copy a program or syllabus from another college or teacher; I want to learn more about the intricacies and intersection of factors that can lead to student success.

In addition, I will need to continue developing awareness about how my language, instructional practices, grading practices, and casual interactions with my diverse community college students might influence them.  In Culturally Relevant Pedagogy by Howard (2001), I read that “reflection is never-ending” and “teaching is not a neutral act.”  Howard’s proposal that pre-service teachers need to engage in on-going reflection is consistent with training for counselors.  As a graduate student in counseling, my training included written and guided reflection with a supervisor after each encounter with a client in my counseling practicum.  Years later when I was supervising interns in clinical practice, I continued the process of written and verbal reflection with my interns.  In order to come up with a thoughtful treatment plan for each client, interns examined what they knew about a client, we uncovered and challenged assumptions, and examined possible approaches and potential outcomes for dealing with each individual.  Like education, therapy is not a neutral act and calls for continual reflection.  Because culture continues to evolve, so does theory and best practices.

As evidenced by the chapter from Gould’s 1981 publication of the Mismeasure of Man, as scientific observation/tools become more sophisticated, ideas will evolve and there will be missteps as scientists attempt to provide reasonable theories to support new evidence.  However, there is the danger that the questions asked and the data examined will unconsciously support the prejudices of the one asking and looking which is how Gould explains the seemingly scientific data gathered by Morton that supported a theory of racial hierarchy based on skull size.  Gould writes that he re-examined Morton’s data and describes the seemingly unconscious mistakes Morton made.  I believe contemporary practitioners have the same danger of seeing data through the lens of our biases which is why I am devoted to the practice of on-going reflection, being as transparent as I can, and discussing with others in hopes of minimizing my unconscious biases.

Reclaiming Education’s Doctorates by Shulman et al (2006) presented a history of doctorates in education of which I was unaware.  I read about the Carnegie Initiative when I was exploring doctoral programs and the ASU Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College commitment to action research for practitioners was part of the draw to this program for me.

Finally, I have questions about Value-Added Measures from the The random assignment of students into elementary classrooms by Paufler and Amrein-Beardsley (2013) article.  I look forward to Dr. Beardsley’s visit to our class this week so that I can gain a better understanding of her work.


Garcia, S.B. & Ortiz, A.A. (2013).  Intersectionality as a framework for transformative research in special education.  Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Learners, 13(2), 32-47.

Gould, S.J. (1981).  The mismeasure of man.  New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company.

Howard, T.C. (2003).  Culturally Relevant pedagogy:  Ingredients for critical teacher reflection, 42(3), 195-202.

Paufler, N.A. & Amrein-Beardsley, A. (2013). The random assignment of students into elementary classrooms: Implications for value-added analyses and interpretations.  American Education Research Journal, 51(2), 328-362.

Shulman, L.S., Golde, C.M., Conklin Bueschel, A., & Kristen, J. (2006).  Reclaiming education’s doctorates:  A Critique and a proposal.  Educational Researcher, 35(25), 25-32.

Culturally Relevant Pedagogy – Self-Reflection is Hard Work

Eric Leshinskie

Tyrone C. Howard’s article, “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection,” resonated for me as  the article addresses a potential focus for research with developmental education student success rates – professional development for developmental education instructors.  The topic of culturally relevant pedagogy has been part of my work for the Maricopa Community Colleges in some form or another in the past ten years.  I had the privilege of working with a small team of faculty members to design a professional development workshop entitled, “Beyond Content Integration: Developing a Multicultural Learning Environment.” My experiences in collaborating to develop that workshop provided significant context for me as I read this article.

One area of uncertainty for me focused on the notion that in order to create a culturally relevant learning environment, instructors must reject “deficit-based thinking about culturally diverse students” (Howard, 2003, p. 197).  I do not question the notion that instructors must reject this type of thinking; I question how pervasive deficit-based thinking is with newly hired instructors, or even instructors who have engaged in professional development on this matter. As I think of the landscape of community college instructors I have encountered in my 11 years with the Maricopa Community Colleges, I anecdotally come across fewer instructors who may harbor a deficit-based thinking approach, compared to instructors who view all students as having the capability to achieve.  Possibly my experiences are not of enough depth to make such a statement, but the optimist in me hopes that instructors across all levels of the education spectrum are rejecting the deficit-based thinking model about diverse students.

One point of emphasis from the article is that self-reflection is critical to culturally relevant instruction, and self-reflection is difficult for many instructors.   Self-reflection involves asking hard questions, and as Howard writes, “An honest and thoughtful reflection on these types of questions often becomes painful” (p. 198). My take-away is not the sample questions themselves.  Those are valuable, but ones that do not necessarily shed any new light on the process.  But, his statement that, “It is critical for teacher educators to provide spaces for preservice teachers to express their uncertainties, frustrations, and regrets over prejudiced notions” (p. 199) caused me to evaluate my own work and experiences.  Merely asking instructors to self-reflect is not enough.  Providing them with a framework for the self-reflection is also not enough.  But, it is incumbent upon teacher educators and leaders to create the space for this reflection; this is what struck a chord for me in my current role at Glendale Community College.  Too often, those who support teachers do not provide the space, or in other words the time, for instructors to meaningfully reflect with colleagues on matters of effective teaching.  If we value the culturally relevant instruction, then we must create both the culture and the space for self-reflection.

Furthermore, just as space is not created for self-reflection, the courage to have such critical conversations around race in the classroom is not prevalent either.  This lack of courage can occur for many reasons. One, instructors may not be willing to engage in such discussion.  Two, the pace of the instructional cycle is so rapid that taking time to self-reflect is not a priority. Or three, teacher educators themselves may not be prepared to facilitate such a discussion, as this first calls for a high level of self-awareness, as well as a strong facilitation skills to engage in what could be challenging dialogue.  As educators, we must develop the courage for this dialogue.  As Howard concludes, “the stakes we face as a profession and as a nation are too high to fail in this endeavor” (p. 201). Finally, I related to Howard’s statement that instructors must recognize that “teaching is not a neutral act” (p. 2oo).  I appreciate this statement as it is one that I think all effective instructors must realize.  You do not necessarily need to separate who you are as a person from who you are as an instructor.  But, you must fully realize who you are (through self-reflection described above) and how that impacts and influences your teaching.

This article relates to my research as I believe a key element to increase the success rates for those students who come to college underprepared is to have instructors who practice a culturally relevant pedagogy.  To do so, these instructors must continuously practice self-reflection, and as an institution, we must create the space and freedom for them to do so.  This will only benefit them as instructors, and in turn, will benefit our students.

Howard, Tyrone C. (2003). Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection.  Theory Into Practice, 42(3), 195-202.