Angela Brown, project director for BCPS's TIF-funded Leading Excellence and Achievement in Performance (LEAP) project, shared insights into the district's concerted efforts to implement cultural competency professional learning. BCPS, a TIF4 and TIF5 grantee, is the largest fully accredited K-12 school district in the nation, serving 268,836 students by 14,088 educators in 339 schools.
LEAP efforts have targeted 32 high-need schools in the district, which prompted the district's decision to focus on cultural competency. Angela explained, "Because we serve so many families who fall below the poverty line, which ranges from 78 percent to 100 percent in the identified 35 schools for TIF 5, it is imperative that teachers are properly trained and equipped to recognize their own biases, account for cultural diversity in the classroom, and employ effective teaching strategies and methods that will reach all students."
Through LEAP's cultural competency professional learning opportunities, BCPS aims to support teachers, coaches, and administrators in providing equitable learning opportunities for all students, particularly those who live in poverty. Angela said these cultural competency professional learning opportunities
- encourage introspective reflection surrounding current pedagogical practice, cultural bias, etc.;
- challenge educators' traditional classroom practices that often silence or marginalize groups of students;
- introduce equity pedagogy and an inclusion model of working with diverse learners;
- provide practical techniques and strategies for classroom teachers and administrators to effectively teach in multicultural settings; and
- offer practical techniques for educators to promote the success of all students through active engagement and case study models.
Implementing cultural competency professional learning for educators in BCPS has not been without challenges. Angela described barriers like educator uneasiness with including critical topics such as racism and discrimination in the classroom, their fear of backlash from parents or administrators, and lack of training on how to facilitate conversations around these topics in the classroom. Her advice for combatting these issues? Focus on offering ongoing professional learning opportunities that provide practical examples of how cultural competency can be achieved, rather than one-and-done training that just tells educators what needs to be done.
Angela emphasized, "Teachers should feel supported, and not judged, through the process. Critical dialogue should be encouraged where participants are invited to speak openly, respectfully and honestly about the topics being introduced."