A Conversation with Donald Easton-Brooks on Culturally Responsive Practice

AACTE board member Donald Easton-Brooks is widely known as a scholar of educational policy and culturally responsive teaching. This year, he released his book Ethnic Matching: Academic Success of Students of Color. In a recent Q&A with AACTE President and CEO Lynn M. Gangone, Easton-Brooks talked about the book and how his research shows diversifying the teaching profession will ultimately improve student’s success. The following summary highlights the conversation.

Donald Easton-BrooksHow would you describe the concept of ethnic matching and its importance to student learning?

What ethnic matching initially suggests is that teachers of color can play a significant role in enhancing the academic experience of students of color. As this research and other research progress, findings have shown that teachers of color can play a significant role in also enhancing the academic experience of white students and can assist in enhancing a more culturally responsive profession as a whole.  Therefore, the concept and research related to the concept suggest that we need to diversify teacher education. Mainly because as our communities are becoming more diverse, we are seeing our public schools also becoming more diverse. Yet what is happening is that our educator profession is not growing at a similar rate as these communities of students. The research around the concepts shows that perceived knowledge or knowledge from a preceptive culturally lens can play a role in students’ understanding of concepts, learning, and processing of information. This often can lead to these students being misinterpreted by teachers and feeling somehow misunderstood by teachers if they do not have that cultural lens to understand them. That is what teachers of color can bring to the table that can be of assistance to educational systems.

Most of the work on culturally responsive practice, mainly by scholars of color, is presented from a valuable qualitative lens. Yet, policymakers and decision makers miss this impactful work because the work is not presented in a quantitative framework. So I was determined to make sure we looked at what happens with students of color from the lens of scholars of color, by looking at the practice from a quantitative approach to help prove them accurate. I think what Ethnic Matching has done more than anything else is to show what we have been talking about over the last two to three decades and that the work of qualitative scholars actually has weight and holds true.

Cover - Ethnic Matching: Academic Success of Colored StudentsFor me, the motivation of the book was to take that quantitative conversation and move it into something more accessible, and then to build on the work of ethnic matching to find out why it is effective. I interviewed 450 teachers—white teachers and teachers of color. I wanted to find out from teachers “how intentional are you about engaging in culturally responsive practices?” In another lens, I wanted to interview teachers of color to find out what are the attributes they bring to the table that make it effective? I started with about 150 teachers of color, and of those, 25 that I found to have to be effective students in improving the academic lives of students of color. With these 25 quality teachers of color, I asked them to give me attributes that contribute to working with students of color, and there were seven or eight of these attributes where there was agreement. These were pieces I never really saw before. Yet these were pieces that correlated use the prior work of others.

How do we help teachers become better at engaging in culturally responsive practice?

I recently shared an infographic on social media that illustrates findings that show white teachers who work in a school where at least 30% of the teachers were of color are better able to engage in intentional culturally responsive teaching than those who have fewer than 30% of teachers of color. This shows the impact of diversifying teacher education. We have to find a way to make cultural responsiveness more relevant to teachers by getting them into schools that are more diverse and then helping them with intentional means of interacting and connecting with students from different cultural backgrounds.

However, we really cannot talk about culturally responsive practice on the teacher level until we get it right on the administrative level. My feelings is that when you talk about this type of challenging topic, you need the support of leadership to understand what it is teachers are trying to do. When teachers have questions, leadership can help them find the answers to these questions, but it is impossible if these leaderships do not engage in or understand culturally responsiveness themselves.

One of the things I really want people to understand is that engaging in culturally responsive practice has to be as intentional for teachers as content practices. In order to engage in equitable teaching, it takes all of us to work together for what is best for all of our students. Try to find ways to have teachers be reflective of what they bring to the table and to correct the things that cause barriers so students can be successful … even if the teachers may think the student’s response seems to be the most dysfunctional way in which a student can react, ask “how do I step back and understand this student’s perception, reaction, or way of thinking to help the student move forward?”

Donald Easton-Brooks is the dean of the College of Education at the University of Nevada in Reno.

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Katrina Norfleet

Content Strategist, AACTE