Jaime Castellano: Approaching Race and Racism in the Classroom

By Jaime Castellano, author of Educating Hispanic and Latino Students 

Article originally published in Education Week.

Mistakes are bound to happen when approaching issues of race and racism in the classroom, considering that 80% of the public school teaching force identifies as White, and approximately 50% of the public school student population is not.

This human resources disparity often results in teachers not approaching the subject in an intelligent, engaging, and interactive way; whereas others make the mistake of thinking they know everything and become a bit overzealous in their approach to issues of race, ethnicity, and identity.

Understanding Relational Pedagogy

Culturally competent teachers and administrators who “get it” when approaching issues of race and racism in the classroom put themselves in a position to make a difference based on their ability to use relational pedagogy. Here, that means:

  • Using instructional processes, strategies, and activities that promote increased academic achievement and mastery of learning
  • Having a connection that empowers and encourages students to include any element of their culture, ethnicity, or language in demonstrating what they know and are able to do
Culturally competent teachers and administrators who 'get it' when approaching issues of race and racism in the classroom ... use relational pedagogy. -- Dr. Jaime Castellano Click To Tweet

When relational pedagogy is used effectively, teachers and administrators become better able to develop a positive, supportive, and responsive relationship with each student and to help each student take pride in his or her individual and cultural identity.

Empathy is Also Part of the Journey

The ability to share the feelings of another person is important, because each student comes to school with his or her own personal story. Therefore, teachers and leaders need to be attentive to (and understanding of) each learner’s personal perspectives.

Step one in programming for success is to build positive, meaningful relationships with students. When students know who you are and trust that you want to know who they are, they are more willing to team up with you to achieve academic success.

When students know who you are and trust that you want to know who they are, they are more willing to team up with you to achieve academic success. -- Dr. Jaime Castellano Click To Tweet

When it comes to approaching race and racism issues in the classroom, successful teachers and administrators need to ask questions when unsure. Victories need to be celebrated together. When these things occur, struggles can ultimately become problem-solving opportunities.

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With more than 30 years as an educator advocating for the educational rights of Hispanic/Latino students, he has served as a teacher of the gifted, assistant principal and principal supervising gifted education programs, district-level gifted education coordinator and director, and state department of education specialist/expert in the field. He also serves as a reviewer for the Journal of Advanced Academics (JAA), Journal for the Education of the Gifted (JEG), and Gifted Child Today (GCT). Castellano is a nationally recognized speaker and professional development trainer and continues to consult with school districts across the country on the education of Hispanic/Latino students, and the inclusion of low-income, racially, culturally, and linguistically diverse students in gifted education programming.