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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  K-12 education

Culturally responsive curriculum to be part of Spokane teacher training

Nov. 16, 2021 Updated Tue., Nov. 16, 2021 at 8:56 p.m.

The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street.  (JESSE TINSLEY)
The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street. (JESSE TINSLEY)

On the agenda at Wednesday night’s meeting of the Spokane Public Schools board is a topic that’s sure to raise some eyebrows: Culturally Responsive Curriculum.

If that sounds like something akin to critical race theory, it’s not, a district official said Tuesday.

Rather, said Heather Bybee, the district’s chief academic officer, Culturally Responsive Curriculum is about bridging the gap between student and teacher by training the latter to understand cultural nuances.

“It’s about looking through our materials and making sure that all of our kids are seen,” said Bybee, who was elevated to the position last year after Adam Swinyard was promoted to Superintendent.

“We want our kids to see material as a window and a mirror,” said Bybee, who will review the program with board members. “It should allow kids to see themselves and also provide a window to the larger world.”

If that sounds a bit abstract, Bybee recalled a conversation a few years ago with a group of students at North Central High School.

During a discussion about the district’s English curriculum, a Black student discussed her only two assignments: a narrative about slavery and the inauguration address of former President Barack Obama.

The message was clear: “We are more than those extremes,” Bybee was told.

That led to some introspection.

“What are the stories that aren’t being told, and how do we get access to those stories,” Bybee said.

The concept is relatively new, and based partly on the book “Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain,” published in 2019 by teacher Zarette Hammon.

Hammond wrote that “by third grade, many culturally and linguistically diverse students are one or more years behind in reading.”

Culturally Responsive Teaching is seen by some educators as a way to empower students to find their way out of that achievement gap.

In a practical sense, the program is expected to create tools to audit the district’s materials “to make sure that we are meeting that interest with our students,” Bybee said.

Officially, according to district documents, that means continuing “the equitable integration of culturally responsive curriculum and staff training to support diverse representation in learning experiences and the creation of an anti-racist environment.”

For curriculum, that might mean offering more representation of difference perspectives.

For example, while many students have studied “To Kill a Mockingbird,” few have had the option to read “Just Mercy,” the award-winning memoir written by Bryan Stephenson that documents his career as a lawyer for disadvantaged clients.

“This is about adding more materials, not taking away,” Bybee said. At the same time, broader offerings will ease classroom anxieties for many students of color.

Professional education in Spokane will focus on what it calls “Teaching Hard History:” the sharing of culturally responsive lesson plans and strategies. It will be co-facilitated by Scott Finnie, a history professor at Eastern Washington University.

Teachers also will study the Universal Design for Learning in Social Studies series, which is focused on instructional models that are designed to meet individual student backgrounds, interests and needs.

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