Teach Plus PA Reaffirms Support for Culturally Relevant & Sustaining Education

Teach Plus PA Reaffirms Support for Culturally Relevant & Sustaining Education

Outstanding teachers from across Pennsylvania call for continued implementation of competencies to guide educator training in culturally responsive practice

Harrisburg, PA, April 24, 2023 ― In response to several Pennsylvania school districts’ efforts to block implementation of the new culturally relevant and sustaining education competencies, Teach Plus teacher leaders from across Pennsylvania reaffirmed their support for the competencies and reiterated the necessity of ensuring that all teachers are prepared to deliver culturally responsive instruction.

The Pennsylvania State Board of Education added new requirements for teacher training in culturally relevant and sustaining education as part of the ten-year review process for Chapter 49, the state’s regulation on educator certification. Teach Plus was one of hundreds of stakeholders who contributed feedback and input into the updated regulation as part of the standard multi-year regulatory process, which also included approval by the Pennsylvania House and Senate Education Committees and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission. The Pennsylvania Department of Education then developed and finalized culturally relevant and sustaining education competencies with input from multiple stakeholders, including Teach Plus. In addition to testifying before the State Board of Education in support of culturally relevant and sustaining education, submitting written comments on the proposed Chapter 49 updates, and providing feedback on the final competencies, Teach Plus teachers have also developed multiple resources related to the competencies, including Preparing Culturally Affirming Educators, a report on supporting educator preparation programs to implement the competencies, and Building Culturally Affirming Schools, a toolkit for local communities.

Research suggests that culturally responsive teaching – which draws upon knowledge of students’ identities and lived experiences to design learning experiences that are relevant and equitable for all students, especially those from historically marginalized backgrounds – improves student engagement, attendance, and academic achievement. “As Pennsylvania becomes more diverse, with 37% students of color compared to only 6% teachers of color, ensuring that all teachers are trained to be culturally responsive is more critical than ever,” said Ebonie Lamb, a teacher in Pittsburgh Public Schools. “In no way do the competencies tell students or teachers what to think; instead, they help educators to critically think about and examine their own implicit and explicit biases as they show up in the classroom and school when teaching a diverse population of students. All students, regardless of their background, deserve to receive instruction that sends the message, ‘We see you. We hear you. You matter.’”

“We must ensure that the nine competencies are reflected earnestly, implemented intentionally, and used effectively by teachers and administrators. For teachers, this means proactively familiarizing ourselves with the competencies, asking administrators for opportunities for professional development on them and working to implement them in our classrooms and in collaboration with colleagues,” said Michelle Lockette, a teacher in South Fayette School District whose op-ed on the importance of supporting her students’ identities was published in TribLive.

In addition to the documented benefits for students, culturally relevant practices are also beneficial for teachers, particularly teachers of color. In If You Listen, We Will Stay: Why Teachers of Color Leave and How to Disrupt Teacher Turnover, a 2019 report from Teach Plus and Education Trust, culturally affirming school environments were identified as a solution to improve retention of teachers of color. “The culturally relevant and sustaining education competencies are a game-changer for me as a Black male educator and for students who look like me,” said Treci Butler, a teacher in Upper Merion School District. “The implementation of the competencies will ensure that I can live out my passion for teaching in an environment that affirms and respects every individual, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or cultural background.”

The competencies – which are not student-facing or curricular, but are guidelines for teacher professional learning  –  support educators in reflecting on their own cultural lenses and deepening their understanding of their students’ backgrounds and experiences. “As a white teacher and a lifelong learner, I have a responsibility to continuously develop my own cultural proficiency so I can best serve all my students,” said Dr. Paul Walsh, a teacher in Bethlehem Area School District whose op-ed on the importance of racial competency was published in Ed Post. “My students have explicitly asked me to connect my teaching to their lived experiences, and the competencies will equip all teachers with the tools to be able to meet our students’ needs and prepare them to live in a diverse and complex world.”

The competencies also provide teachers with a roadmap for intentionally and authentically communicating, engaging, and collaborating with families. “Research shows that a positive parent-teacher relationship demonstrates to a child that they can trust their teacher because their parent does,” said Tracey Fountain, an instructional coach in Allentown School District. “In my time as an educator, I have found that frequently communicating with families, using a translator often, and attending school- and non-school-related events have helped me develop bonds with families and strengthen my relationships with my students and meet their academic and social-emotional needs. If the student wins, the family wins, and vice versa.”

In light of recent challenges to culturally relevant and sustaining education, Teach Plus calls on schools, educator preparation programs, and the Pennsylvania Department of Education to remain committed to training current and future educators using the competencies. “As educators, we should embrace, not fear, the culturally relevant and sustaining education competencies,” said Ben Hodge, a teacher in Central York School District. “Implemented thoughtfully, they will help create healthy and courageous learning communities in a world where more understanding is desperately needed.”

About Teach Plus

The mission of Teach Plus is to empower excellent, experienced, and diverse teachers to take leadership over key policy and practice issues that affect their students’ success. Since 2009, Teach Plus has trained thousands of teacher leaders across the country who are driving policy changes and improving the instructional practices of teachers to create an education system driven by equity, access, and excellence for all students. Teachplus.org