Misinterpretations of Anti-Racist, Culturally Responsive Teaching

antiracist education artsed creativity culturally responsive teaching liberatory ed loveledlearning social emotional learning transformativeteaching Dec 07, 2021

Misinterpretations of culturally responsive teaching and learning can and will happen! As teachers take on liberatory and or emancipatory pedagogy, a commitment to practice is required. Nuanced attention to complex ideas and questions requires critical and constant reflection. 

In the development of CRTLA work, distortions of the concepts and practices can happen. An excellent way to assess distorted responses, reactions, or feelings is to do a power analysis. Power analysis at our schools is done best when we understand both our own and others’ positionality concerning our students, colleagues, administration, and education system and seek to understand actual and perceived status within those relationships. 

Take this example: 

“As a young cis white woman at an elementary school, I was quite taken with Bettina Love’s work in an abolitionist teaching approach. I started leading for abolitionist work at my school, enlisting three black teachers at my site to join me. I made the abolitionist group a “club,” and members had to join to learn the practices from our book study. I then worked hard to prioritize abolitionist teaching as the primary focus for our school, bringing anti-racist conversations to my students in the classroom. I noticed my (predominantly black and brown) students were uncomfortable with the conversation and that the lessons weren’t working! While my intentions may have been good, my colleagues quickly let me know that I was actually disregarding the other culturally responsive structures already in place at our school, such as arts learning and collaborative curriculum design with students. I began to recognize I was centering my own white experience of ‘awakening’ to anti-racist work over the leadership already embodied by the lived experiences of my colleagues and students of color.” 

What can we take away from this snapshot? A historical racialized power structure in the U.S. has prioritized the leadership and experiences of the white or light-bodied person over the black or brown-bodied person. In the context of education, where over 80% of teachers identify as white and female, a particular complex relationship to power can be played out unconsciously between both colleagues and students. While none of us created these inequitable, inherited power structures, our collective responsibility is to understand, tend to, and dismantle them. This racialized structure has been perpetuated through many forms, passed on through generational attitudes, behaviors, and belief systems.*  

Misinterpretations can and will happen. As we advance our work, we can assess if our strategies or mind shifts are working or not by asking ourselves and our trusted colleagues: 

  •  “Is anyone being hurt?”
  • “What kind of feedback am I receiving?” 

 If we are in a relative position of power based on race, class, gender, or ability in particular, we can ask: 

  • “Did I center myself in this equation?” 
  • Did I exclude voices from the global majority or other marginalized identities?”
  • “Am I making decisions on my own or collectively with others?”  



*There are several books and scholars that can be researched more deeply around our shared lineages, biases, and blindspots based on our positionality.  Here is a list of our favorites: 

Key Books: 

Key Themes: 

Culturally-Responsive Education: 

Liberatory Pedagogy: 

 Abolitionist Teaching: 

Exploring Whiteness in Anti-Racist Work: 

Indigenous Perspectives & Histories: 

With Love, Mariah and Jessa