The most easily understood and compelling definition of culturally responsive pedagogy turned up in an unexpected place. Mathew Lynch, posting on huffingtonpost.com explained culturally responsive pedagogy as being a student-centered approach to teaching in which the students’ unique cultural strengths are identified and nurtured to promote student achievement and a sense of well-being about the student’s cultural place in the world (2011).” For me, the strength of this definition is the fact that it places the student firmly in the centre and focuses on both education and wellbeing. The idea that all students are individuals seems to me to be implicit in the definition and this removes the possibility of an essentialistic bi- or multicultural interpretation of culture and what it means to belong to a specific culture.
Another key development in my understanding of culturally responsive pedagogy was becoming aware of the connection between engagement and culture through the writing of Wlodkowski and Ginsberg. These two authors argue that engagement, the observable outcome of motivation, is deeply connected to culture because of the way that individuals’ emotions are a product of the socialisation that occurs within their cultural context. Therefore learning experiences are likely to elicit different responses among learners depending on their cultural background. Teachers need to understand the way in which students’ attitudes toward learning experiences is a product of their culture. This idea links back into the strong emphasis that Lynch’s definition of culturally responsive pedagogy placed on it being a ‘student centred approach.’ As teachers, we must understand the culture of students to the greatest extent possible in order to be able to work with students to maximise their engagement and achievement. Developing a student centred understanding of culturally responsive pedagogy and the connection between engagement and culture is one practical way in which some of the current disparities evident in New Zealand education can be addressed in a manner which does not position students and their families as the problem.
When I began to reflect on the current state of my school’s ongoing efforts to introduce a more culturally responsive pedagogy using the Mauri model, I was surprised that we had made significant progress. Steps taken to lift the cultural intelligence of the staff had most likely contributed to this shift. Over the past eighteen months our PD and staff meetings have devoted a significant time to examining the idea of a cultural lense, looking at events such as Parihaka from more nuanced perspective, raising awareness of local as well as global issues, and deconstructing the relationship between both historical and current power structures and different cultural groups. While these discussions have been challenging for many, they seem to have created a greater openness to the idea of creating both a classroom curriculum and an environment in our school that acknowledges and validates the culture of our learners.
This progress, however, has been greatest in the area of our vision, goals and core values and significant change still needs to occur in the area of learning activities and assessment. This different rate of change does appear quite natural in the sense that developing the former would seem to be a prerequisite to moving the latter forwards. Using the Mauri model, our commitment to incorporating Maori language, customs, and values while actively seeking to understand and acknowledge a Maori world view would suggest that we are Te Taunga o te Mauri Moe – the state of being of Mauri Oho. This assumption is based on my observation that our school is working in this area in a proactive manner. Time and effort is being dedicated to developing a more culturally responsive mindset and this is resulting in significant change in our school culture.
If we shift the focus to nature of learning experiences in the classroom, then Level 1 or 2 of Te Taunga o te Mauri Moe – the state of being of Mauri Moe seems to be a more accurate reflection of where we are at. Teachers seek to acknowledge the value of different cultures but do not yet teach “to and through [students’] personal and cultural strengths, their intellectual capabilities, and their prior accomplishments (Savage, Hindle, Meyer, Hynds, Penetito, & Sleeter, 2011).” Teachers still exhibit a degree of ‘shyness’ or limit themselves to ‘expressions of possible interest’ when asked to do so. Hopefully, the transition into a more active, participatory and engaged approach to creating implementing a culturally responsive curriculum will occur in the near future given our school’s commitment to realising this goal.
Lynch, M (2011, December). What Is Culturally Responsive Pedagogy? Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/matthew-lynch-edd/culturally-responsive-pedagogy_b_1147364.html
Savage, C., Hindle, R., Meyer, L. H., Hynds, A., Penetito, W., & Sleeter, C. E. (2011). Culturally responsive pedagogies in the classroom: Indigenous student experiences across the curriculum. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 39(3), 183-198.