Leveraging Student & Family Voices to Operationalize Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0002-5243-990X
Griendling, Lindsay, Education - School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia
Kennedy, Michael, ED-CISE Department, University of Virginia

State educational agencies are responding to the need for promoting more equitable educational systems among Black/African American adolescents with high-incidence dis/abilities by incorporating aspects of culturally sustaining pedagogy within their accountability plans and educator performance standards. Yet, most states’ plans and standards lack actionable guidance to support educators’ implementation (Muñiz, 2019; Schettino et al., 2019). To promote culturally sustaining classroom and school environments and thereby improve schooling experiences among Black/African American adolescents with dis/abilities, school professionals must develop a more complete understanding of what culturally sustaining pedagogy looks like in practice for students who embody these multiple marginalized identities.

To accomplish this goal, a mixed methods case study design was employed in this study to leverage the voices of Black/African American adolescents with high-incidence dis/abilities and their families in describing how they experience culturally sustaining pedagogy from their personal cultural frames of reference, with a focus on ways in which their perspectives may converge and diverge within and between cases. Secondarily, I sought to understand students’ and parents’ respective perceptions of culturally sustaining pedagogy and family engagement within student participants’ current school contexts. The cases include three pairs of parent and student participants (Gwen and Maria; Cherice and Lenny; Ashley and Makayla), with student participants identifying as Black/African American adolescents with high-incidence dis/abilities. Parent participants in each case participated in a semi-structured interview, as well as the Family Engagement and Trust survey. Student participants were also asked to engage in two activities, including a semi-structured interview and the Culturally Sustaining Schools Student Report survey; however, one student (Lenny) did not participate in the interview.

Regarding how participants operationalize culturally sustaining pedagogy, findings from participant interviews highlighted a few substantive practices that may promote a culturally sustaining classroom/school environment for Black/African American adolescents with high-incidence dis/abilities: (a) engaging in genuine conversations to learn about students’ cultural identities and demonstrating understanding through culturally responsive actions; (b) incorporating inclusive representation within the school environment; (c) providing positive encouragement and creating space for students to encourage each other; and (d) implementing sensemaking activities within the classroom. However, divergence in participants’ perspectives, as well as findings in relation to parents’ and students’ survey responses illuminate the importance of individuals’ contexts in understanding, operationalizing, and implementing this pedagogical approach.

Future research centered around operationalization of culturally sustaining pedagogy should continue leveraging the voices of students and families who are traditionally marginalized by the systems and structures that are currently in place within the institutions wherein they operate. Furthermore, if operating in culturally mis-matched schooling environments, school staff must demonstrate allyship, develop an understanding of culturally sustaining pedagogy-in-practice for the students in their school contexts, and create social capital in these environments, in order to foster community cultural wealth and empowerment among students and their families. In so doing, culturally sustaining classrooms and schooling environments may be fostered, pushing Black/African American adolescents with dis/abilities and their families away from the margins and toward the center of their schooling experience.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
culturally sustaining pedagogy, intersectionality, student and family voice
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