It Sometimes Takes ‘Trial and Error’ to Get to Culturally-Responsive Teaching


Culturally responsive practices, teaching in particular, are less about racial pride as a motivator but about understanding and aligning instruction with the strategies that your students immediate persons in their communities use to teach life skills and other concepts. You don’t have to rap or bring hip-hop into the classroom to spark interest and engaged learning. Instead, you simply need an understanding of the primary forms of knowledge transfer. For example, African-American students come from oral cultural traditions. Story telling is both oral and active, and cuts across many other racial groups as well.
Strong oral cultures turn information into usable knowledge by using strategies that make learning ‘stick’. Connecting what you need students to remember to that rap or hip-hop verse or reciting concepts in fun ways like poetry make learning stick. Both oral and active makes ideas stick. Remember the ABC’s? How and why do we still remember that song? Oral, musical and active!

I remember spending a lot of time teaching my ‘special needs’ 6th graders the parts of speech, and they just weren’t getting it, until I turned a lesson into a game. A devoted Jeopardy fan, it was almost natural to make that transformation by bringing it to school. No, not the game itself, but an adapted version.

My students weren’t Jeopardy viewers. But, the basic concept still appealed to me, and I thought that it could be made appealing to them. So, I created a version for them to play in class. Categories were the parts of speech, vocabulary, spelling, and sentence structure.

As the game is constructed, the value of each answer in a category becomes harder to as you move down the list.  They were placed in teams of 5, and in a class of 15, we had 3 teams, just like the show. Collaboration was also on the menu, which itself was challenging for my students-peer learning and cooperation.
Collaboration seems naturally conducive to learning n the classroom, especially since students know how to cheat off of one another anyway. Why not make cheating strategically. My kids were not well-liked in the school and were known as behavior problems. They challenged even the most seasoned teachers, but when you tap into their world, so to speak, you can reach them. Thus WE can teach them ‘where they are’, as we love to say.

I came to school one day with index cards in hand, clues written on each with values on the other side of each card and began constructing this game on my blackboard, before whiteboards and smart boards. Entering the classroom with their usual antics, they were all prepared to disengage. We were going to cover language arts in a different way, fortunately.

I announced that their writing skills were atrocious and that their grammar usage was awful but their ideas were genius. I said that to them all, because their writing samples made me see so much more in them than probably any other teacher to date. I told them that I appreciated every one of them and knew that they were much more than a label.
They were intelligent, smart and funny, but in ways in which nobody saw or looked for. I wanted them to be better, do better, show better and more importantly, feel better about themselves. But I wanted them to have fun while learning concepts and ideas which would help them in every other class in school and take them into life after school. They sat still, quiet and at attention. They were listening actively. Had no one ever told this to these children before, ever?

This classroom, filled with diversity, black and brown children-adolescents- from the ‘hood’, and considered ‘at-risk’, were only placed at as much risk for failure as we allow them to be. That does not and should not define them, their potential or nullify their dreams. Every child dreams of him or herself having a secure place in this world, and not one child wants to be poor, un[der]educated, un[der]employed or in jail.

It is up to caring adults, to present positive possibilities before them. We shouldn’t blame them if they fall by the wayside or fall short of their dreams. We should look to ourselves and know that one thing is for sure: either we are part of the solution or part of the problem. My choice was clear.

If that one year with this group of students taught me anything at all about at risk students, it taught me that they face challenges which most have no awareness. Many blame and point fingers at these children. They have low expectations of them, look at the surface level only, and thus under-appreciate who they are or who they can be as adults. THEY [children] are the problem-with education, schools, communities and society as a whole. That couldn’t be farther from the truth! We ARE the solution!

Anyway, the gamification of learning proved a total success. Students who were reading and writing at levels far below the  grade level norm, by year’s end had improved drastically. Most students went from  2nd and 3rd grade reading levels to approaching grade level. That was phenomenal!

My principal came into my class to observe a lesson, and on that day, we were playing that game. By this time, my students were completely in sync with grammar, and they could boast that competency, if nothing else. He was unimpressed, visibly shocked, and uncertain of what to make of this. “This is a lesson?”

If a game is what it took to reach them, then so be it.  My students made me proud despite any doubts possessed by any other. So, without textbooks supplied by the school for almost a full school year, gains were made in Language Arts and they became more confident students.
Be different as are the students in our classrooms. Be innovative as we are teaching and preparing students for tomorrow’s world. Think outside the box since no child should ever be pigeon-holed and categorized. They don’t live inside of a box, so we can’t rightfully support their success if they are taught standard or thought substandard. Each has strengths, and each can achieve. Teach beyond the textbooks and occasionally, gamify it for maximized engagement. Shake things up a little.
Gaming is a powerful strategy for culturally-grounded learning, because it grabs attention and requires active processing. We can’t learn or understand that which we don’t first pay attention to. Call and response get the brain’s attention to begin the learning process, as did my form of Jeopardy. Besides, most games employ a lot of the cultural tools found in oral traditions like, repetition, solving puzzles and making connections between that which on the surface don’t seem to relate.

Think about what makes these children ‘tick’, at home and in their community. Consider what they do outside of the classroom to capture insights on how they learn. Please develop meaningful relationships to partner with families. Parents are underutilized resources, and can be amazing allies who will bring in key pieces of the puzzles we want to solve….fostering growth and facilitating academic achievement for all children.

My Vision for Public Education


With so much divisiveness in this country, and the lack of respect for our cultural pluralism:

I envision a day when public education becomes the true equalizer that it is supposed to be for all who enroll their children into a system designed to prepare them for life, college and career success. Educators will no longer view ‘different’ as deficient, but just as determined as all others to live the American Dream and realize their own dreams as global citizens.

I envision a day when educators will teach, not to the test, but to the students and with relevance to instill cultural pride, self-love and respect for diversity. Children will learn with purpose and determination and will each be presented with sufficient ‘mirrors’ and ‘windows’ that will encourage each to pursue their own excellence. Schools don’t employ short-sighted persons who lack confidence necessary to show respect for anyone who doesn’t look, live or believe as they do. Schools are the environments where safe, supportive exploration of ideas and concepts aren’t dictated, but presented for thorough examination, comparison and contrast for deeper meaning, and only empirical data is deemed right or wrong. Students are encouraged to exercise their natural curiosity and ask intelligent questions and act as independent thinkers.

I envision a day when going to school is a daily excitation FOR ALL CHILDREN. Learning is interesting, relevant, challenging, thought-provoking. Educators acknowledge that everyone has a gift-an intelligence and make it their mission to uncover, discover and develop them in class. Educators authentically engage parents within the community and everyone sees the bigger picture…. It is all about the ‘village’. Educators do not fear making home visits and they meet parents where they are, as equally valuable educators with shared interests.

Parents are empowered as advocates, leaders, and decision-making partners with schools, and schools are linguistic & culturally-responsive community hubs. Food insecurity is mitigated, medical needs are addressed, behavioral health services are accessible, and comprehensive family supports are provided in a village collaborative. In fact, some schools have designated space for laundry, and babysitting services are regularly provided to parents with young children. Parents have a space to learn with flexible hours while acquiring work readiness skills, resume writing, interview skills, and parenting enhancement groups in school. Multi-generational strategies exist and parents are involved in all matters pertaining to learning.

I envison a day when teachers no longer over-discipline students because they don’t ‘get’ them, because educators possess empathy, insight and cultural proficiency. Before assuming, they will ask questions to engage students authentically and restoratively. Social justice takes place in the classroom, and not the police precinct.

key to success

I envision a day when, whether African-American, LGBTQ, Puerto-Rican or Sudanese, instruction is responsive to the cultural background, complementary to the unique identities of students and aligned with the standards. The core curriculum, responsive to student demographics, is individualized according to student interests, strengths and in preparation for meeting the demands of a tech-rich, information-driven global workforce. Students are prepped for the future, realizing their potential as change makers, culture creators, and compassionately global citizens.

I envision a day when Black History Month is not just celebrated during February, but throughout the school year, as educators dutifully endeavor to teach beyond the texts…in every class, every subject, because there are countless resources that align with instructional content and resonate with students. Teachers expose students to their own cultures as well as the cultures of others. That is only just and fair. Students respond to it.  After all, it is what students need to feel they belong in that environment.

wonder child - Copy

I envision a day when teachers understand that every child needs a hero. Whether parents, neighbors or someone from the past, there is a hero for everyone in every subject. Heroes are positive people who inspire others, motivate, mentor, encourage, and enlighten, and they don’t have to be alive; just relevant and relatable.

I envision a day when teachers are not afraid to expose children to cultures and they yearn to learn as much as the children. Teachers are unafraid to learn along side the students, invite opinions, perspectives and seek understanding but respect all, whether agree or disagree.Teachers have become literate in Emoji, students’ native language

I see a day when we have abandoned the biased textbooks that are given to students, developing minds, and teach without them, with relevance and inclusively to affirm and engage every child. On that day, teachers will have experienced their ‘aha’ moments and have had their breakthroughs to eradicate the gaps, disparities and disproportionalities. These former barriers to achievement were remnants of implicit bias and inequity. Educators are aware that the privileges they have been afforded are not afforded to all. They understand that their role is to give students the tools and skills to afford equally accessible opportunity for success.

I envision a day when teachers understand that when people feel they have little to no agency or control in their lives, that the illusions of control they do possess is exercised in choice of names, slang-language, dance, musical expression, and that each provides clues to their worldviews. What is noise to you is perceived as melodious self expression to others. Educators have a keen awareness that everyone has different experiences and one person is not indicativeof an entire group, race or culture..

On that day, teachers realize that expecting student achievement, good conduct and engagement is fruitless on the larger scale, if nothing is relevant to them. Teachers understand that ELA was never relevant with only Chaucer and Hemingway, but perhaps Alice Walker, Dumas,[Three Musketeers], Richard Wright[ for high school ], or if Gershwin and Porter are not sprinkled with Parker, Joplin, Marsalis[either brother]. Science with Edison, and not including Ponce DeLeon. Mlk accompanied by Andrew Young, Percy Sutton, Nikki Giovanni, Hughes, Jones, Tupac, and teachers brought these people to life in the classroom. No one is invisible in history or life and anything that tells that version is not in children’s best interest and not quality education but quasi-education.

Huey Long is explored with as much depth and meaning as Huey Newton. Gordon Parks is explored alongside Hitchcock. Vuitton is introduced with Bentley Farnsworth, Dorothy Dandridge with Marlene Deitrich and Lena Horne. Ella Fitzgerald and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hemingway and Sally Hemmings. Paul Robeson and Paul Simon. Maya Angelou and Margaret Sanger. Flying Tigers and Tuskegee Airmen.


I envision a day when children, adolescents, make mistakes-poor decisions/choices, and are not taken out of that learning environment ONLY TO BE ARRESTED. Children will not be placed in handcuffs and shown the pipeline to prison. Instead, the pursuit of potential and practices which are restorative. Acquiring the capacity and mindfulness that when maladaptive behaviors emerge, educators will reframe, redirect and respond less punitively. This is an environment in which appropriate and adaptive behaviors are also learned.

I envision a day when educators are mindful of the differences between intent and impact of behaviors instead of taking offense by these expressions, understand that their students’ range of emotional literacy skills is still developing and incomplete and can be unreliably appropriate.

The education that I envision is one in which all children enter the classroom as gems and each is valuable. Teachers focus on strengths, and build upon them. Pedagogues take a captive audience and captivate them with challenging, and relevant knowledge with which students carry into the world as life long learners.

I envision a day when teachers’ salaries match the magnitude of their roles in shaping our future, and there is no more cognitive dissonance regarding diversity in the educator community. No longer will slang phrases, clothing styles, music genres, and physical characteristics of blacks be appropriated by whites and at the same time an underlying air of superiority is also held. For these conflicts, at the subconscious level, emerge in attitude and behavior, and blacks have so eloquently described it as being ‘two-faced’-you know, smiling in my face and hating me when not in my presence. It shines brighter than the words or deeds. This day, we have fully learned to respect and appreciate one another.

On this day, the love of teaching and the love of learning collide, students do less sitting and more doing. Educators greet each student with delight, and not disappointment that a student is in his or her class. Teachers invite the challenges and also collaborate with the school community to support learning and achievement of all students.

tree huggers

On this day, learning at school is deeply digital, actively experiential, intensely engaging, family-friendly, futuristic, future-focused and future-ready. Parents are empowered and equally engaged in the learning process. Their children, our children are the future-your future, my future, our future, and educators understand that. Moving forward, no matter where we start, the focus is on where we are going, and where we take them, because soon they will be in the driver’s seat moving forward into the future.

On this day, that day will never end, for it will be the change that we wish to see. It will look like the future and it will be a daily reality in future-focused 21st Century education!

task teacher

When We Imagine “Life Without Black People”



A very humorous and revealing story is told about a group of white people who were fed up with African-Americans, so they joined together and wished themselves away. They passed through a deep dark tunnel and emerged in sort of a twilight zone where there is an America without black people.

At first these white people breathed a sigh of relief. At last, they said, “No more crime, drugs, violence and welfare. All of the blacks have gone!”

Then suddenly, reality set in. The “NEW AMERICA” is not America at all — only a barren land.

1. There are very few crops that have flourished because the nation was built on a slave-supported system.

2. There are no cities with tall skyscrapers because Alexander Miles, a black man, invented the elevator, and without it, one finds great difficulty reaching higher floors.

3. There are few if any cars because Richard Spikes, a black man, invented the automatic gearshift, Joseph Gambol, also black, invented the Super Charge System for Internal Combustion Engines, and Garrett A. Morgan, a black man, invented the traffic signals.

4. Furthermore, one could not use the rapid transit system because its procurer was the electric trolley, which was invented by another black man, Elbert R. Robinson.

5. Even if there were streets on which cars and a rapid transit system could operate, they were cluttered with paper because an African American, Charles Brooks, invented the street sweeper.

6. There were few if any newspapers, magazines and books because John Love invented the pencil sharpener, William Purvis invented the fountain pen, and Lee Burridge invented the Type Writing Machine and W. A. Love invented the Advanced Printing Press. They were all, you guessed it, Black.

7. Even if Americans could write their letters, articles and books, they would not have been transported by mail because William Barry invented the Postmarking and Canceling Machine, William Purvis invented the Hand Stamp and Philip Downing invented the Letter Drop.

8. The lawns were brown and wilted because Joseph Smith invented the Lawn Sprinkler and John Burr the Lawn Mower.

9. When they entered their homes, they found them to be poorly ventilated and poorly heated. You see, Frederick Jones invented the Air Conditioner and Alice Parker the Heating Furnace. Their homes were also dim. But of course, Lewis Latimer, enlightened Edison and Bell and invented the Electric Lamp, Michael Harvey invented the lantern and Granville T. Woods invented the Automatic Cut off Switch. Their homes were also filthy because Thomas W. Steward invented the Mop and Lloyd P. Ray, the Dust Pan.

10. Their children met them at the door-barefooted, shabby, motley and unkempt. But what could one expect? Jan E. Matzelinger invented the Shoe Lasting Machine, Walter H. Sammons invented the improved Straightening  Comb, Sarah Boone invented the Ironing Board and George T. Sampson invented the Clothes Dryer.

11. Finally, they were resigned to at least have dinner amidst all of this turmoil. But here again, the food had spoiled because another Black man, John Standard invented the refrigerator.

Now, isn’t that something? What would this country be like without the contributions of blacks and African-Americans?

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “By the time we leave for work, Americans have depended on the inventions from the minds of Blacks.” Black history includes more than just slavery, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Dubois, etc…….

Here are a few more relatively unknown, yet everyday HEROIC contributions that will confound anyone’s vision of life without Black people:

Some of the world’s most popular inventions were created by African-Americans, dating back to 1820, when Thomas Jennings, believed to be the first African-American inventor to receive a patent, created a more efficient dry cleaning process. Many years later, Judy W. Reed became the first African-American female inventor with her hand-operated dough kneader and roller. Reed, who was illiterate, signed the patent with an ‘X’, as did many others, both during and post-slavery. That ‘X’ gave rise to many falsely claimed ‘ownership’ of early inventions, that to date, we either credit to whites or assume belong to any others except African-Americans. The powers of mis-education!! Yet, we prefer to not think about these facts omitted from history.

Sidebar: If blacks were originally slaves in this country, then it is safe to assume that they were the laborers. Thusly, isn’t is common sense to conceive that without possession of rights as citizens, they could never claim rightful ownership of anything innovative?

Policies, practices and preferred perspectives disallowed such facts to become common knowledge. Therefore, public education could not allow these discoveries to be taught to school children-black or white.

Lesson: Teach outside and beyond the textbooks, as they still promote a Eurocentric version of history.

No more Black History Month? Every month should be embedded with black history in educational settings, if we taught and sought to tell the complete and logical truth!

Here are other little known and sadly, untaught inventions by African-Americans:

Potato Chips
George Crum (1822-1914)

Chef George Crum spent the summer of 1853 working at the Moon Lake Lodge resort in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where thickly cut, French fried potatoes were a popular menu item. When a customer complained that their fries were too thick to eat and sent them back to the kitchen, Crum became agitated and reacted by slicing the potatoes as thin as he possibly could, frying them and sending the crunchy brown chips back out to the guest. The guest loved the crisps and other guests began asking for them as well. They soon gained popularity and were called Crum’s Saratoga Chips. In 1860, when Crum opened his own restaurant, Crumbs House, each table came with a basket of potato chips. Crum never patented or attempted to distribute his potato chips, but has been credited as the creator of the widely popular snack.


The Blood Bank
Inventor: Charles Richard Drew M.D. (1904-1950)

Dr. Drew was a medical doctor and surgeon who created the idea of a blood bank and a system for the long-term preservation of blood plasma. His doctoral dissertation at Columbia University covered the condition of blood stored in blood banks and the method of storing blood as plasma to increase storage life. He later supervised the blood-plasma division of New York City’s Blood Transfusion Association, which was involved in collecting blood for the British Army. When America went to war in 1941, Dr. Drew was named as director of the blood bank for the National Research Council, collecting blood for the U.S. army and navy, and setting the groundwork for the Red Cross collecting and banking procedures. The storage of blood in plasma form has saved many lives since Dr. Drew brought the process forward in the 1930s.


Gas mask
Year patented: 1912
Inventor: Garrett Morgan (1877–1963)

In 1912, Morgan created a Safety Hood and patented it as a Breathing Device, which later came to be known as the Gas Mask. Morgan’s Gas Mask consisted of a hood with two long tubes, one allowing in clean air and the other allowing the user to exhale air out of the hood. Fire and police departments across the country began placing orders. With the outbreak of World War I and the use of poisonous gases, Morgan’s Gas Mask was utilized by the United States Army, saving the lives of thousands of soldiers.


The Supersoaker
Year patented: 1991
Inventor: Lonnie G. Johnson (1949- )

After a successful career as an Air Force and NASA scientist, Lonnie G. Johnson conceived his most famous invention in 1982, when he conducted an experiment at home on a heat pump that used water instead of Freon and as a result, his homemade nozzle shot a spray of water across the room. Johnson and his partner, Bruce D’Andrade, created a workable prototype of the SuperSoaker® in 1989 which became the world’s first high-performance, pressurized water gun. They filed for a joint patent, which was granted in 1991, and the SuperSoaker became the number-one selling toy in the country with more than $200 millions dollars in sales. Overall, Johnson has earned more than 80 patents, with more than 20 pending. He continues to invent in the areas of thermo and fluid dynamics, as well as toys.


Shoelasting Machine
Year patented: 1883
Inventor: Jan Ernst Matzeliger (1852–1889)

As an apprentice in a shoe factory where he operated a sole-sewing machine, Jan Ernst Matzeliger was responsible for attaching different parts of a shoe together. At the time, no machines existed that could attach the upper part of a shoe to the sole, therefore it had to be done by hand. “Hand Lasters” were able to produce approximately 50 pairs of shoes a day. In 1882, Matzeliger perfected a shoe lasting machine that was able to complete 150 to 700 pairs of shoes a day. By 1889 the demand of the shoe lasting machine was overwhelming and The Consolidated Lasting Machine Co. was formed, where Matzelinger was given huge blocks of stock for his invention. His machine had revolutionized the entire shoe industry in the U.S. and around the world.

If there are any facts that you dispute, or doubt, then fact-check it. You will be , hopefully, pleasantly surprised. Continue to perform research of inventions/inventors, and you will discover widely and definitely, strategically hidden knowledge of Black people, in America and around the world. Make a promise, not to me, but to yourself, that the more you learn, the more you will teach, and as culturally proficient equity-driven professionals, you can consider yourselves parts of the solution. Educate unafraid, and children will become better global citizens. Teach to diversity with respect for diversity. If not, we will continue to serve as parts of the problems we see. Be the change, teach the change, model the change and life will change!

How can we imagine life without Black people??!!!

How to Ensure Smooth Transitions within the Pre-school Classroom

Transitions are powerful teaching tools and learning opportunities. They guide children gently through the day, provide special attention to individuals, and help children move from one area of the classroom[or the home] to another smoothly. The following transition ideas should help you reduce the number of interruptions and encourage activities to flow from one to another with ease.


Cues for Moving From Free Selection to Organized Activities

  • Flash the lights.
  • Strum an instrument.
  • Play pre-recorded tunes.
  • Sing a song that tells children what they are to do or where they are to go.
  • Move to the area where you would like the children to gather and talk quietly, they will notice and come to
    see what you are doing.

Preparing the Environment

  • Place carpet pieces on the floor to designate a personal space for each child.
  • Write each child’s name on a piece of tagboard and position it on the floor to create a personal space for
    each child. (Children are more connected to their name plate if they decorate it themselves!)
  • By personalizing the tagboard, you can manage the environment more closely because you are not only
    designing the space where children sit, but also by whom they sit.
  • Put a blanket on the floor and invite children to sit around it. The blanket makes a great rectangle for
    large group time. If you want the children to be closer together, ask the children to sit on the blanket
    instead of around it.

Grabbing Children’s Attention

  • Decorate a bag or box and place various props inside. As you use the box on a regular basis, the
    children will look forward to seeing what you have brought along for the day’s activities.
  • Gather boxes of various sizes. Place an object that is a clue to the activity inside the smallest box. Place
    that box inside of the next smallest box. Continue to nest the boxes, so that only the largest box is visible.
    As a child or pair of children open each of the boxes, the excitement about the planned activity will build.
  • Introduce the planned activity with an interesting puppet. Be sure to allow time for the children to “meet”
    the puppet.
  • Pose a problem or challenge to the children by using interesting questions and riddles. They will try to
    figure out the answer by the clues you give them with your voice and the smile on your face. The answer
    will smoothly “lead-in” to the planned activity.
  • Sing new or familiar songs and fingerplays to capture the children’s attention. By placing the words on a
    poster in the classroom, you can reinforce the words of the songs and the children’s concept of print.
  • Change the words to a familiar song to fit the theme. Some children may begin to create songs on their

Dismissing the Children

  • According to physical or clothing characteristics.
  • According to their likes and dislikes
  • By asking them to answer a question or create a rhyme individually.
  • By the initial letter of their name or telephone number.
  • By inviting them to say “good-bye” to a puppet.
  • By giving them each a turn with an interesting gadget.

There are endless ways to guide children through the day, yet both beginning and seasoned teachers constantly
think about ways to make the day go more smoothly. The ideas in this article make transitions easy. Simply
provide clear directions for the children to follow and present your ideas in a manner that is interesting and
meaningful to the children and you will make every day terrific!