Carlow Culture

Culturally Relevant Teaching

Written by Guinevere Stearns

On Feb. 13, Crystal Rose, Director of the Pre-Apprenticeship Program at Carlow University, and Dr. Tammi McMillan, Director of the Apprenticeship Program at Carlow University, hosted a presentation on Culturally Relevant Teaching Practices in Early Childhood Education.  

Photo of virtual meeting between Ms. Crystal Rose, Dr. Tammi McMillan, and Guinevere Stearns
Pictured from left to right: Ms. Crystal Rose, Dr. Tammi McMillan (top corner), Guinevere Stearns (bottom corner)

This presentation highlighted the importance of Anti-Bias Education (ABE), which is an active approach in challenging stereotypes, and it discussed the four goals of ABE: identity, diversity, justice, and activism. Rose said that she originally learned about anti-bias education and teaching from one of her graduate professors, Dr. Judith Touré who has since retired from Carlow.  

Identity is children’s self-awareness, and part of an educator’s job is to teach students about their identity. Diversity, the second goal, is about children expressing comfort and joy with human diversity and celebrating the differences around them. Justice is what educators teach children to enable them to identify bias and unfairness and have the words to describe it. Activism, the final goal, means that educators will work to cultivate the child’s ability and confidence to stand up for themselves and demonstrate empowerment.  

McMillan and Rose both brought their personal experiences with racism and bias to their presentation. McMillan and Rose talked a lot about “courageous conversations” and “brave conversation,” which are those discussions you have with children who are curious about a culture they don’t understand, or who bring up stereotypes or racism in the classroom that educators need to discuss further. 

McMillan said, “I always enjoy encouraging people to have those courageous conversations, and I talk about it in all of the presentations that I do around culturally relevant pedagogy…it is damaging when we don’t have the conversations.” Rose said that she had “brave conversations fatigue” when she was in her student teaching classroom because she was talking daily to her students about not being biased or racist towards other students or to her as the teacher. 

Anti-Bias Education graphic showing three hands of different skin colors holding up the earth together
Anti-Bias Education graphic

The presentation argues that the most important goals for children to learn are the justice and activism goals. McMillan said that it is important for children to learn how to stand up for themselves at a young age because then they are more comfortable with that as they grow older. Rose said, “We can tell kids that it’s okay to speak up, but until they feel that they can do it, and the reaction that they need after doing it is one that is healthy and sustainable,” they need proof that it is okay to speak up for themselves. 

Rose explains the importance of addressing curiosity while building an anti-bias program. “When a student does not understand a culture or has questions about another culture, it’s best to address that curiosity and figure out the answers to their questions rather than try and dismiss their questions,” she says. If there is a family in a classroom who participates in a different religion, maybe they are from a different country, or maybe they speak a different language, the best way to encourage diversity is to ask the family if they would be willing to discuss their culture to the class in order to promote the diversity and answer any questions that the students may have. 

McMillan and Rose agreed that, “One of most important aspects of teaching is to be intentional.” By this they mean that everything that one does as a teacher should be done with purpose and intent. A teacher cannot be intentional if they do not know their students or the families because they do not truly know who they are or what they need, so building those relationships is vital in providing a good education and an anti-biased education in the classroom. 

The presentation also explains that although it is important to celebrate Black History Month, there should not be only one month to educate children on black history. 

You can visit the website Prodigy for some wonderful classroom activities to incorporate into the school year, no matter what month it is to educate your students on black history. The website is filled with trivia and games, guidelines for how to best promote diversity and avoid bias, quotes of the day that are relevant to black history, and relevant media to show your students.  

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