Academic journal article Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin

Professional Dyads and Culturally Relevant Literacy through the Eyes of a Beginning Teacher Leader

Academic journal article Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin

Professional Dyads and Culturally Relevant Literacy through the Eyes of a Beginning Teacher Leader

Article excerpt

"I remain [in the classroom] because I feel that I have knowledge of content that my students need. I remain because I feel that I can help my students successfully navigate the educational system. I remain because I care about those I instruct, and I have a responsibility towards them"

Chinyere Harris, beginning teacher

Introduction

Teacher attrition rates substantiate the difficulty of sustaining quality teachers. Although actual percentages of teachers leaving the profession within the first 5 years vary between 5% and 50%, little uncertainty exists that attrition rates are elevated among beginning teachers. Coupled with the unique challenges associated with teaching in urban schools, the attrition rate of teachers in more diverse settings surpasses those of teachers in schools with lower rates of poverty (Gray & Taie, 2015). Supporting new teachers in these culturally and linguistically rich environments can lower the number of beginning teachers who leave the profession each year (Gray & Taie, 2015). Beginning teachers who are assigned mentors during their first year are less likely to leave the teaching profession than teachers who are not given the support of a mentor (Gray & Taie, 2015).

In 2013, reflecting this need for effective mentors, the Early Childhood Education Assembly (ECEA) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) established the first cohort of the Professional Dyads of Culturally Relevant Teaching (PDCRT). The purpose of the project was to

create a space within NCTE for supporting early childhood educators of color and educators who teach children of color, English Language Learners, and children from low-income communities in...generating, implementing, documenting, evaluating, and disseminating culturally relevant pedagogies in early childhood literacy. (ECEA, 2013, para. 4)

In this case study, an outgrowth of the PDCRT initiative, a beginning teacher of color and a teacher educator formed a professional dyad aimed at exploring culturally relevant literacy practices within an urban Grade 2 classroom. The pair worked in tandem to research, develop, and implement culturally relevant literacy practices aimed at improving literacy achievement rates, increasing the rates and types of parent involvement, and enhancing school-wide awareness of culturally relevant pedagogy. The research focused on the following research questions:

1. In what ways does working in a professional partnership influence a beginning teacher's perspectives on teaching and learning?

2. In what ways does working in a professional partnership impact a beginning teacher's pedagogical practices?

Culturally Relevant and Sustaining Pedagogy

Culturally relevant teaching is a theoretical framework that promotes the design of school curriculum based on students' cultural backgrounds and experiences (Gay, 2000). Culturally relevant teaching draws on the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, and performance styles of diverse students in order to make learning more appropriate and effective for them (Gay, 2000). Ladson-Billings (1994) identified three key components of culturally relevant teaching: cultural competence, academic success, and sociopolitical consciousness. Cultural competence implies that students appreciate and celebrate their own culture while being knowledgeable about and fluent in at least one other culture (Ladson- Billings, 2014). Academic success is a description of the progress students make based on their educational experiences, and sociopolitical consciousness integrates academic learning with problems that occur in the real world (Ladson-Billings, 2014). Ladson-Billings (1994) defined culturally relevant teaching as "pedagogy that empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally, by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes" (pp. 17-18).

Culturally relevant teachers intentionally make connections between students' home experiences and their classroom experiences (Durden, Escalante, & Blitch, 2014). …

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