Student Affirming Pedagogies
Classroom dynamics are a combination of the professor’s ideology, expectations, behavior and course design, as well as the students’ ideologies, expectations and behavior. Each instructor approaches their classes, syllabi, assignments and teaching style in individual ways that hopefully respond actively to their students’ identities and needs. However, the historical approach has been one of dominance, with the educator functioning from an elevated and often distant position of power, maintaining their authority and disseminating knowledge to the lowly students below. While many instructors may have resented this paradigm if they experienced it themselves as students, they often find themselves replicating the same patterns when they become “the teacher.” Numerous studies show how negatively these dynamics impact students and inhibit learning, yet it’s often the default classroom setting. Instructors also tire from the energy exerted in presenting themselves authoritatively or inauthentically, from low student participation and lackluster assignments.
Often, the personal bias and structural oppression that historically excludes, disempowers and disadvantages especially Black and Brown students and all marginalized groups, is the primary cause of such deficit-based and punitive approaches to education. Pedagogies that center students, honor and incorporate their voices and cultures into course design, delivery, and innovative ways to enhance and ensure student engagement are becoming more widespread and recognized as crucial and effective ways to approach teaching. Rather than forcing students to learn and behave in a way that matches their own often deeply biased vision of what an ideal student and classroom is, instructors have to be more vulnerable, think more critically about their students’ backgrounds and the cultures they embody, the injustice they and people like them experience, the epistemologies and behaviors that push students away instead of bringing them in. From the way one dresses, to the language in the syllabus, course materials, assignments and grading policy, an instructor is communicating messages and enforcing policies that determine who and what is valued in the classroom. These interactions have long-lasting repercussions on students and the way they view themselves and their futures.
Culturally relevant, responsive and sustainable pedagogies
Formulated by Gloria Ladson-Billings in the 1990s, culturally relevant pedagogy applies EDI principles, designed for educators who truly want to connect with multicultural classrooms full of students who differ from their own racial and cultural background. Developed in an era when globalization and multiculturalism were recognized as socio-economic and political realities that students needed to be prepared to excel in, she also wanted to ensure that under-appreciated and over-penalized cultures and intelligences of Black and Brown students were re-evaluated and celebrated as they were empowered to think critically about their worlds and the injustice they experienced. Ladson-Billings work has paved the way for newer teaching methodologies that build upon her foundation. Geneva Gee advanced the methodology with culturally responsive pedagogy in the early 2000s, followed by Django Paris and H. Samy Alim’s culturally sustainable pedagogy in 2012.
Read this brief article by on Culturally Relevant, Culturally Responsive and Culturally Sustainable Pedagogies by Madeline Will and Ileana Najarro.
Math and Science teacher, scholar, teacher educator and emcee, Chris Emdin argues, “Reality pedagogy is teaching and learning based on the reality of the student’s experience.” (8:39-8:43) This means not simply acknowledging student’s differences and intersectionality, but engaging with them in a way that recognizes and respects their uniqueness, positionality, and daily lives. This means creating space for students to be their full selves, recognizing the specific obstacles they face in the world outside of the classroom and including this in your approach to teaching and learning, finding ways to support their growth, empowerment, and critical thinking. The classroom is not a vacuum and the people students are, the challenges they face, the way they’ve been raised and what they’ve seen in the world do not disappear once they cross the threshold of your assigned room or virtual portal. Emdin’s methodology includes The 5C’s: Co-Generative Dialogue, Co-Teaching, Cosmoplitanism, Context, and Content (10:13-15:51).They are student-centered means of empowering students to lead classroom conversations, teaching and learning in a way that prioritizes and values their voices, intelligences, and cultures. Instructors are encouraged to engage students by connecting with them individually, asking for ongoing feedback from diverse perspectives on specific behaviors that promote and inhibit learning, allowing them to teach alongside you, providing ways to build strong relationships among students, and truly incorporating their “local cultures” and “life worlds” into the course design and environment.
Watch this video where Dr. Chris Emdin breaks down Reality Pedagogy for a group of educators.
Dr. Bettina L. Love, a teacher educator, activist and scholar argues that this broken educational system, which includes the individual instructors, can’t simply be remediated but requires radical re-thinking and action to build educational communities that function and serve with love. We Want To Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom (2019) presents an exclamatory provocation for individual and communal liberation that stretches far beyond the classroom and begins with a remembering of oneself, a recognition that Black (and all ) lives do matter, along the with foundational need and right to be free; to see into and beyond the violent patterns of erasure and annihilation in the classroom and world around us. Love calls us to look to and engage the indomitable agency of some of the most transformational and visionary people to have walked the planet–abolitionists–the Black folx and their White co-conspirators who dared to imagine and fight for our way out of legalized chattel slavery in the US.
Watch this brief video where Dr. Love introduces and explains why she wrote this book.
Dr. Love critiques “the educational survival complex” a business and system that deceptively purports to be a tool of equality and social mobility yet primarily continues to center Whiteness; marginalize, erase and blame dark folx for the widening gaps in educational and socioeconomic attainment; and, “make money on dark families’ dreams of thriving through education.”(27, 33) Also a former elementary school teacher, she addresses misconceptions regarding benefits of charter school expansion, national teaching preparation and placement programs, as well as the lasting impacts of ongoing intersectional oppression. Love utilizes her own educational experiences in the northeast, and the entire community of support it took to enable her success as an bright, talented, and empowered student prepared for college, resources she argues are vastly inequitable and unsustainable. Synthesizing data, theories, histories and geographies, Love asks us to reimagine a world where everyone is liberated and the classroom environment is an extension of a loving, supportive and empowering family.
As an instructor, who do you think you’re accountable to and why? How do you address the different learning styles, backgrounds, goals, interests, loves and fears of your students? How do you recognize your own positionality and implicit bias? How do you create an environment where each student is free to express themselves, be their best selves, learn the most from you and their classmates, grow individually and as a collective while they share their knowledge with you and others?
CCNY Teaching and Learning Center. Diversity and Equity-Based Pedagogy. https://ourtlc.commons.gc.cuny.edu/diversity-and-equity-based-pedagogy/
Emdin, Chris. For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education. Beacon Press, 2016, pp. 1-220, $22.00 US, ISBN 978-0-8070-0640-5.
—Ratchetdemic: Reimaging Academic Success. Beacon Press, 2021, pp. 1-272, $25.95 US, ISBN 978-0-8070-8950-7.
Love, Bettina L. We Want To Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom. Boston, Beacon Press, 2019, pp. 1-192, $16.00 US, ISBN 978-0-8070-2834-6.
—We Want To Do More Than Survive. Hutchins Center. 15 Oct. 2021. https://youtu.be/9hKfTBNcOKk.