When we think about the cultural diversity of our classrooms, we often think about the people within the classroom: the teachers, students, and support staff. But how often do we stop to think about the physical classroom environment itself? Does our classroom showcase cultural diversity? Does it provide a safe and inclusive place where students see themselves represented? The classroom environment – The Third Teacher – provides a physical space that can either foster or hinder the cultural diversity of the people learning within it. A strategy that teachers can use in their school communities to foster an approach of culturally responsive teaching and learning is to reimagine The Third Teacher.
The first step that we can take when reimaging our classroom environment is taking an audit of our classroom materials. Let’s start with our classroom libraries: Can each of our students see themselves portrayed in the books? Are there books with characters of various genders, cultures, races, physical abilities, and orientations? Or have our own implicit biases led us to stock our bookshelves with reading materials that only reflect us?
We can also look around the room at the posters and bulletin boards we display. Do these posters hold value and reflect the diversity of our students? A great way for the diversity of our students to be showcased in their learning environment is to have them create displays around the classroom. This could be student work that they are proud of, art pieces that reflect the diversity of their interests, or even family photos to remind us of the various value systems, languages, religious beliefs, and ways of life that also contribute to their self-identity. Students need to see themselves reflected in their classrooms in order to feel that they belong and are accepted.
After considering the physicality of our classrooms, we should also reflect on how we use our classroom space to be more culturally responsive. It is so important to empower students to take ownership of how their learning environment should function. Community circles are a simple and effective platform for students to learn while building positive relationships with their classmates and teachers. Early on in the school year, community circles can be used to discuss with students what they feel they need in order to be successful in their learning and how they can make those needs a reality. This essentially takes the place of a teacher outlining the rules and guidelines of the classroom, providing ownership to the students and asking for their voice in the ways in which they want to feel respected, heard, safe, and included in the classroom. The responses can vary greatly based on the diversity of student needs, but it ensures that each student voice is heard and valued, and that their environment is reflective of the student population.
We can learn so much about each other and our own cultures through respectful communication and interactions. Our classrooms should foster an environment that promotes sharing and listening. Welcoming and encouraging conversations about feelings, beliefs, and values are not only a great way to develop student voice, but it also provides an opportunity to learn from the varying perspectives and experiences of our classmates. Activities that allow students to celebrate both their cultures and those of their classmates within a safe and welcoming classroom environment are crucial in culturally responsive teaching.
In summary a strategy that teachers can use in their school communities to foster an approach of culturally responsive teaching and learning is to reimagine The Third Teacher. We can do this by completing an audit of our classroom supplies (books, posters), having students showcased in their learning environment (student work, pictures of families), and encouraging a learning culture rooted in student voice and collaboration.