Making Connections With Students through Culturally Responsive Images

If you’ve heard the term culturally responsive teaching (CRT), you know the importance of creating a culturally rich classroom environment. However, if you’re an educator who is new to CRT (also known as culturally relevant teaching), it can seem overwhelming.

Prior to 2019 I really had never heard of CRT.  It wasn’t until our district put on some professional development on this topic that I became aware and extremely interested in the topic.  In addition, I was able to read Dr. Rachael Mahmood’s work on CRT and see what I could incorporate into my teaching.  Dr. Mahmood provides in depth detail on how to create a CRT classroom on her website: https://equityteacherleader.com/.

When I first started out teaching 21 years ago my classroom was not what it is now.  It has completely changed and the demographics have completely changed.  In order for me to keep up with the changing demographics I needed to change how I taught and how I assess students at my school. I tackled my uncertainty by making a list of the CRT strategies I’d learned about so that I could pick just one to focus on. I knew that over time I would be able to integrate new ideas into my practice and that CRT would radically transform me as an educator, but I needed to start by dedicating myself to a single idea.

I decided to focus on one concept: being intentional about the images I chose to share with students.

The use of images of real people

What kinds of images should you use? Start answering these questions by looking at the pictures in your teaching materials (slide shows, worksheets, webpages, and other resources) and asking yourself if those images reflect the students who are sitting in front of you every day, as well as those across the country.  I had to really think about the images I show in my class.

When I did an inventory of what I had been using in terms of imagery, I saw that some of the images I used weren’t perfect in that respect. I went to work updating all of my supplemental visual aides such as slide shows that included only images of white people to make sure that people of color were represented, and I focused on using photographs over clip art; I’ve found that photographs foster a sense of connection with the image among my students.

Being intentional about the images you use in class is an easy thing to do, but it has a profound impact on classroom culture. When students see themselves reflected in the lesson, they are more invested in what they are learning.  Let’s be honest we would think the same way as well.

Do an image search

I like to use Google images or Pixabay to find new images for my resources, and I find that playing around a bit with the search terms can yield better results. For example, a Google Images search using the term “group of students” displays results that are different from those from the search term “diverse group of students.” The first term does yield results featuring students of color, but the second term shows more students of color in the front and center of each image. Making small adjustments to your image search terms will help you choose better pictures for your classroom resources.

On Pixabay, you can type in the search box the images you want and the library has many free images that can be downloaded or you can upgrade to the “Sponsored Videos” if you ware willing to pay the small fee.

KNOW THAT WE ALL MAKE MISTAKES

Once you start to build your awareness of CRT, you might look back on mistakes you’ve made in the past and wish you’d caught them earlier, or you still might blunder now and then even if the concept of using carefully chosen images in CRT isn’t new to you. As our culture continues to change we need to understand that we might need to update our material more frequently in order to be sensitive to other culture.  There is nothing wrong with making mistakes as this is how we all learn.

Once you have a better understanding of how to create a culturally sensitive classroom you than then teach these skills to your students.  Dr. Mahmood gives plenty of examples on how this can be accomplished via her videos or her website.  It takes all of us working together to change how we teach our students especially with so many things going on at once.

Although CRT encompasses a wide range of strategies, it isn’t necessary to change your teaching practice all at once. That will happen over time as you begin to make small shifts in your daily interactions with students. Being more intentional with classroom images is a great place to start because it’s manageable for someone who is new to CRT, and it makes a difference in the lives of your students.