Skip Navigation
archived information
Skip Navigation

Culturally responsive practices bring educators together

Culturally responsive practices bring educators together

By Marguerite Huber
January 26, 2018

On a chilly morning in October, teachers and school district staff met in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, to begin a day filled with learning and discussion. Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest’s Midwest Achievement Gap Research Alliance and the Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA) 1—one of the 12 regional agencies serving Wisconsin’s schools—brought the educators together for Culturally Responsive Practices to Close the Achievement Gap. This day-long conference focused on culturally responsive practices that show promise in boosting educational opportunities for Black students and the research that supports those practices.

The presentation slides and agenda are available here.

Gathered at tables with their school districts, the participants listened to the following sessions and speakers throughout the day:

Laying out the challenge: Achievement gaps in Wisconsin

Courtney Reed-Jenkins, Co-Leader, Disproportionality Technical Assistance Network; Special Education Team, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
Deb Gurke, Ph.D., REL Midwest
Madeline Hafner, Ph.D., Minority Student Achievement Network, University of Wisconsin-Madison

A speaker from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction provided a summary of the opportunity gaps in wealth and unemployment that influence educational outcomes for Wisconsin’s Black students and the data on racial disproportionalities in discipline and special education. The presentation was followed by REL Midwest’s overview of the Midwest Achievement Gap Research Alliance (MAGRA) and its current projects. To wrap up the first session, the Minority Student Achievement Network prompted participants to reflect on the naturally occurring networks that could support racial equity work and presented five promising practices for closing racial opportunity gaps:

  1. “Right conditions” for closing gaps
  2. Sustained focus on building culturally responsive practices among all staff
  3. School-based equity teams
  4. Student equity leadership
  5. Clear equity-focused goals

Reflection and discussion: Digging into data with a risk ratio approach

Kent Smith, Regional Coordinator, Wisconsin RtI Center
Milaney Leverson, Regional Coordinator, Wisconsin RtI Center
Paula Kaiser, Professional Development Specialist, Wisconsin Information System for Education

Staff from the Wisconsin Response to Intervention (RtI) Center and Wisconsin Information System for Education introduced participants to the concept of risk ratios—the ratio of the probability of an event (such as high school graduation) occurring in one group to the probability of the event occurring in a comparison group. Risk ratios can be used to evaluate how well school practices meet student needs. The presenters helped participants analyze their own school district’s data on disproportionality using a risk ratio approach. Some participants found that the most helpful aspect of the day was being able to apply their own school’s data to the day’s conversations.

Culturally responsive practices to close the achievement gap

Andreal Davis, Culturally Responsive Practices Statewide Coordinator, Wisconsin RtI Center
Michelle Belnavis, Culturally Responsive Practices Regional Coordinator, Wisconsin RtI Center
Paula Fernandez, Culturally Responsive Practices Regional Coordinator, Wisconsin RtI Center

Additional staff from the Wisconsin RtI Center engaged the audience with a discussion on culturally responsive practices. Culturally responsive practice “empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using culture to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes” (Ladson-Billings, 1994). Displaying the Model to Informal Culturally Responsive Practices, the presenters showcased examples from three schools on what it looks, sounds, and feels like to bring the model to life. Attendees found that hearing about the specific examples and ideas was one of the most beneficial takeaways from the event.

Achievement gap research and resources

Kyle Fagan, Researcher, REL Midwest
Deb Kerr, Ph.D., Superintendent, Brown Deer School District

REL Midwest gave an overview of the continuous improvement process and how a plan-do-study-act cycle can be used as a reflection and planning tool as districts examine existing data and efforts to improve educational outcomes for Black students. Representatives from a suburban Milwaukee school district also shared their experiences with culturally responsive practices. For example, to have an innovative and engaged staff, the district supports life-long learning and professional development for teachers. To enhance school climate and develop life-ready skills, teachers focus on character education in all students’ classes. Listening to examples of culturally responsive strategies in other districts was helpful to attendees because it brought best practices to life.

As the day ended, the educators reflected on existing culturally responsive practices in their own districts and classrooms, identified gaps in efforts, made plans for integrating new practices, and shared next steps and goals with other participants. Those attending the event were enthusiastic about the day’s topics and agreed that the event increased their capacity to use research or incorporate data into decisionmaking.

Many participants planned to take action after the event was over, such as working with other schools on equity efforts, holding a cultural awareness training for staff, sharing what they learned with their school’s principal, adding data discussion protocols to meetings, and working with administration to determine how this topic can be embedded in their school culture.

More information and materials from the event can be found in our event archive.

< Previous PostNext Post >

Author(s) Information

Marguerite Huber Staff Picture

Marguerite Huber

Communications Associate | REL Midwest


Beating the odds (2)

Charter Schools (2)

College and Career Readiness (42)

Data Use (32)

Discipline (4)

Early Childhood (31)

Educator Effectiveness (36)

English Learners (10)

Literacy (11)

Math (1)

Online Courses (7)

Research Tools (2)

Rural (14)

Teacher Preparation (24)

Teacher Recruitment (2)

Teacher Retention (2)

Teacher Workforce (14)

Return to the REL Midwest Blog

Sign up for our newsletter to receive monthly updates featuring new posts from the REL Midwest blog!

Subscribe to Newsletter