To bolster culturally responsive practices, UW–Madison’s Ashley White focuses on ‘Reaching back to reach forward’

UW–Madison’s Ashley L. White is the author of a paper that proposes a new framework for preparing future teachers to better connect with and educate the nation’s increasingly diverse student population.

The article — published earlier this year in the journal Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies — is titled, “Reaching Back to Reach Forward: Using Culturally Responsive Frameworks to Enhance Critical Action Amongst Educators.”

White, an assistant professor with the School of Education’s Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education, notes that much of the important work she examines in her paper is not new. Instead, she explains how much of it is a compilation of work that’s informed first and foremost by stalwarts in the field.

Ashley White
Ashley L. White

“That’s why the title focuses on ‘reaching back,’ ” says White. “This work and these ideas aren’t new. But we have to find ways to make better use of this very important research that has been gifted to us.”

White explains that culturally responsive practices (CRP) have long been identified as a holistic and evidence-based method for improving the educational outcomes of culturally diverse student populations.

In her paper, White draws upon this research to map a conceptual framework that reflects enhancements through the consideration of language choice and her own application of work previously done by leaders in the field.

Such efforts are necessary because studies continue to find that diverse student populations, in particular Black American, Indigenous, Latina/o/x students, and students with disabilities, receive the brunt of inequitable instructional experiences, including: disproportionate discipline practices; disparate graduation, employment and college entry rates; and increased rates of incarceration.

White writes that to better implement culturally responsive practices — and, ultimately, to witness improved outcomes for diverse student populations — teachers must first “develop an individual and collective understanding of students, including the ways in which social, economic, and political factors impact teaching and learning.”

She adds: “Educational stakeholders cannot expect majority pre-service teachers to comprehensively utilize CRP if these teachers have not grappled with their personal beliefs and perspectives related to teaching, ideally during their preservice education preparation.”

White started her education career in the classroom, spending 15 years teaching, nine of which she served as a special education teacher. She explains that her current work is grounded not only in scholarly perspectives but in experiences as a pre-kindergarten through 12th grade educator.

“I think about CRP research in the context of where I excelled as an educator, the inequities that I’ve experienced as a student, and also where I fell short as a teacher,” says White. “After reflecting, my goal is to look forward and try and use this framework to continue this important research and make it our own and implement these ideas in a way that pushes the field forward.”

Finding ways to implement culturally responsive frameworks and practices more effectively is imperative in efforts to dismantle oppressive education policies, practices, and outcomes, White explains. This vital work also requires ongoing reflective practices. She writes: “Reflection should include consideration of theory and practice, strict attentiveness to the process of critical thinking/consciousness development, and an intentional reckoning with the ways in which we as teachers and teacher educators impact student outcomes.”

White goes on to add in her paper’s conclusion that “preservice teachers must remember that although the purveyor of traditional content knowledge, they are not the keeper of all valuable knowledge. The aim should be a knowledge of self, students, and external factors. This knowledge should be working and ever evolving, reflecting a depth and breadth of understanding the self not only as teacher but as learner; demonstrating an understanding of our students as cultural educators within the classroom; and exchanging totalitarian teaching and instruction for the building of collaborative relationships and environments with our students, families, and communities.”

White is bringing her knowledge into her current work with both pre-service teachers who are students at UW-Madison, and with current teachers working in Madison. She explains that this essential work in the realm of culturally responsive practices must be embedded across teacher preparation programs and within professional development opportunities — and can’t be a one-off or a stand-alone course.

“This work is not an aside — it has to be part of every single conversation,” she says.

White also notes that she is constantly thinking about the potential policy implications related to such efforts — at the federal, state, and local levels.

“We need to be thinking about how we can best translate our conceptual work into policy and practice that results in favorable changes for all students, teachers, and educational stakeholders,” says White. “This work must extend beyond the research realm, or it is useless.”

To learn much more about this important but nuanced topic, access the full report via this webpage.

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