Your Classroom Looks Beautiful. How Is Your Instruction?

At the start of every year, teachers engage in the same activities before students arrive. Teachers meet with their departments and/or grade level teams; they discuss procedural matters, from purchase orders to payroll, and they partake in professional development. Of course, teachers are excited to do all of these things, but what teachers are most excited about doing is rebuilding their classrooms.

Whether one is teaching English to juniors and seniors or teaching kindergarten, teachers want to work on their classrooms. They want to put up their decorated posters of rules, and they want to post their posters of wonderful sayings and phrases to encourage problem solving, reading, or working together.

They want to position their colorful rugs in the right place for their restorative circles, place their bean bag chairs and lamps near the rug, and make sure their books are on the bookshelf properly. Teachers want to ensure they have the right amount of supplies, hand sanitizer, and water around to meet any and every need that may arise.

Teachers want to get their classrooms ready for a year-long journey with children. That’s a beautiful thing… and may I add that classroom preparation is just as important as lesson preparation. I applaud teachers who take the work of preparing their classrooms seriously. I applaud teachers for putting the time in to make their rooms inviting and safe for children to learn, play, and explore…

But I have a challenge for teachers. The very approach applied to preparing your classrooms; the thought that went into it, the passion with which you approached the task, and the excitement that kept you motivated through the task… take all of that and apply it to preparing or rebuilding your pedagogy for this year, because that’s just as important, if not more. Let me explain.

Pedagogy is defined as the method and practice of teaching. In other words, one’s pedagogy is how a teacher imparts knowledge and skills to students in a lesson. Often, more emphasis is placed on the content being taught rather than giving equal attention to how the content is being taught. That’s a problem.

It’s especially problematic in light of the ways we, as educators, speak and engage with Black children and their families… and like last year, as it was the year before that and the year before that, the vast majority of teachers nationwide are white. Here is the implication of that:

  • Pedagogy is often approached as a one-size fits all methodology.
  • Pedagogy is often believed to be absent cultural nuance—because we live in a colorblind society.
  • Pedagogical strategies for Black children are dominated from a deficit-led definition of Black life and culture.

Pedagogical framing of instruction in that way is totally incorrect.

Black children, like all children, do not learn the same simply because they’re Black. Using hip-hop to teach isn’t as simple as rapping the alphabet, especially when not of the culture and when done in an inauthentic and appropriative way. Also, we instinctively explain concepts (or teach them) in ways we relate to. Teachers certainly break down information in age-appropriate ways, but cultural norms aren’t homogenous. Yet whiteness tends to be the dominant norm as a result of schools and other institutions being white institutional spaces.

One way it shows in the classroom, for example, is the use of word problems or logic games that are crafted without cultural norms recognizable to students. Zaretta Hammond in her book “Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain” shares that students build new knowledge on prior learned knowledge. That means that if you want students to learn how to compute percentages in a word problem, utilize what they know—culturally—to reinforce the principle taught.

“The regular price of Nike Dunks at Foot Locker in the King of Prussia Mall is $120 [insert a picture of Nike Dunks]. This weekend they’re on sale: 40% off. What is the sale price of the Dunks at 40% off?”

That’s pedagogy, and it’s not rocket science. Use what the kids know to teach them what they need to know. Meet them where they are culturally; not only racially (and that’s important) but also according to their generation. Kids care about games, clothes, toys, and electronics. Utilize that and their cultural knowledge—respectfully—to teach new knowledge.

This might mean having to revamp your pedagogical approach… good. Approach it with the same vigor you approach changing your classroom each year before the school year starts. Because all of the décor and color and time that went into making your room what it is means nothing if the same energy is absent from your pedagogy.

If you haven’t started rebuilding your pedagogy, start now. It’s never too late. Students love a vibrant classroom… they love vibrant lessons (and teaching methods) even more.


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