Eliminating Opportunity Gaps through Culturally Responsive Teaching
More than just pinch hitters, well-prepared substitute teachers have a significant influence on student education. Seattle Public Schools (SPS) is equipping substitute teachers with strategies to help them carry on the work to eliminate opportunity gaps even when our educators need to take a sick day.
On Feb. 1, over 50 substitute teachers participated in a half-day workshop aligned with the district’s signature strategy to foster positive beliefs—part of our efforts to ensure each student is known, challenged, and supported.
The SPS Department of Equity and Race Relations is supporting that strategy by challenging educators to master the practice of culturally responsive teaching and become more aware of their own racial lens and implicit bias.
“Everyone definitely should take this training,” said substitute teacher Mashana Ausler, “so they can have an awareness of how they may or may not come across to students and how to interact with them in a way that they know we’re here for them and that we care.”
To paraphrase the work of Dr. Zaretta Hammond, culturally responsive teaching is a way of teaching that recognizes students as the center of learning and uses their cultures and experiences as an entry point for teaching and learning. This method also takes into consideration the varied learning and participation styles of students from different cultural backgrounds in order to make learning more appropriate and effective.
Seattle Education Association’s Center for Race and Equity and Seattle Substitute Teachers Association collaborated with Seattle Public Schools’ Equity and Race Relations and Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction departments to present the professional development titled “Institutionalizing Racial Equity” at Garfield High School.
With trainers Marquita Prinzing from SEA and Fran Partridge from SPS co-facilitating, the objectives were to equip substitute teachers with a foundational understanding of race and racism and provide strategies for teaching in a culturally responsive manner.
“This training helps teachers do three things: understand the racialized context in which we live, develop positive beliefs about each and every one of our students, and form positive, culturally responsive relationships,” said Partridge. “We have been fortunate to accomplish this with substitutes through a positive partnership with SEA.”
Workshop participants were led through group discussions, a study of terminology related to race and equity, a gallery walk through history where they reflected on major legal milestones, social movements, and historical events related to equity and race relations.
The trainers pointed out that 90 percent of communication is non-verbal, which led to a discussion of “micro-aggressions.” Micro-aggressions are daily occurrences of behavioral or verbal actions (unintentional or intentional) which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults against people due to their race or gender. This allowed the teachers to reflect on how their words and mannerisms might be influencing their students.
This training is a credit to Seattle Public Schools’ Policy 0030 - Ensuring Educational and Racial Equity. This policy, adopted by the School Board in 2012, makes clear the district’s commitment to each and every student as educators work to eliminate achievement and opportunity gaps.
In tandem with Policy 0030, one of the superintendent's performance goals (SMART goal number two) is “to transform the attitudes, beliefs, and behavior of every adult and educator in order to recognize the brilliance, genius, and beauty of every single child in Seattle Public Schools.”
Positive partnerships, positive beliefs, and positive relationships represent three out of the four signature strategies for eliminating opportunity gaps. The Substitute Teachers workshop, “Institutionalizing Racial Equity,” is one more example of district educators and staff working together to address what Superintendent Nyland passionately calls the issue of our time.
View photos from this recent professional development workshop below.