In our work, particularly through the IDRA EAC-South, IDRA has framed current research around culturally sustaining education into four quadrants that represent practices at the following critical levels: (1) culturally sustaining schools, (2) culturally sustaining leadership, (3) culturally sustaining educators, and (4) culturally sustaining pedagogy.
These four leverage points represent components of the educational ecosystem that can be transformed by culturally sustaining practices to better serve marginalized students of color. Defining what culturally sustaining practices look like in these four levels also aids in identifying data points, situating student outcomes through an equity lens, identifying capacity building needs, and creating spaces for continuous community input and support. Simply, framing leverage points as critical levels gives educational stakeholders a way to quantify steps for successfully implementing culturally sustaining practices.
Culturally Sustaining Schools
Culturally sustaining schools address fundamental equity concerns by holding high expectations for students and providing the highest levels of support for all students to succeed. Success in a culturally sustaining school is defined by preparation for college and career readiness in an environment that is supportive, is asset-conscious and fosters positive cultural identity.
The school also is responsible for placing the histories of all students and families in the context of academic awareness of the contributions, struggles and individual experiences of racial/ethnic groups formerly underrepresented in curriculum and historical narratives.
Ultimately, the culturally sustaining school seeks the highest levels of achievement in an environment that transforms education to recognize that the history, struggles, achievements and contributions of the racially underrepresented populations it serves are fundamental to economic progress, cultural heritage and social dynamics of this country.
Culturally Sustaining Leadership
The culturally sustaining school leader creates policies and coaches faculty to facilitate successful implementation of culturally sustaining instruction.
This leader also sets and monitors standards and expectations for high academic success regardless of perceived performance abilities. This means that the campus leader addresses implicit biases toward racial/ethnic groups. This leader also centers marginalized families and communities as important in decision making, solution-seeking and key to cultural histories.
A culturally sustaining leader does not simply provide a better multicultural education but transforms the educational environment where all students succeed, and their identities are seen as integral to our history, progress and economic future.
Culturally Sustaining Educators
Educators are the first adult faces students see as they walk into an early childhood setting and are important influences throughout their school lives. It is the experiences that educators provide that have the most impact on students and ultimately define the nature of that relationship. And in the case of students of color these experiences must be provided by educators who understand the entirety of students’ experiences.
The research on what educators must provide and what they must understand has grown over the past 30 years. The culturally sustaining educator moves curriculum, pedagogy and practices forward from the least effective multicultural practices of the past to those that center democratic principles and activist practices in the context of marginalized student experiences and their struggles.
Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy
In the spirit of expanding the definition of best teaching practices and pedagogy, this leverage point is based on the Culturally Responsive Instruction Observation Protocol (CRIOP) (Powell, et al., 2017). It provides a framework for identifying observable behaviors of a culturally sustaining education.
It is important to note that, in and of themselves, many of the practices described in the protocol have the possibility of impacting educational practices only if they are situated in the racial and ethnic context of students’ lived experiences. Instructors must explicitly understand that these practices are responses to systemic racism, implicit and explicit biases and power dynamics of underrepresented and oppressed groups.
IDRA recommends the following CRIOP indicators found in the quadrant: classroom relationships, family collaboration, instructional practices and curriculum practices.
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Paula N. Johnson, Ph.D., is an IDRA senior education associate and director of the IDRA EAC-South. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at email@example.com. Hector Bojorquez is IDRA’s director of operations and educational practice. Comments and questions may be directed to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2022, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the April 2022 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]