Hammond’s Culturally Responsive Teaching

Culturally responsive and relevant pedagogy (CRRP) is becoming more and more spoken and written about within teaching and learning communities. In a fast-changing world, educators are challenged to question their own beliefs, values, practices, and pedagogy while remaining in a system that supports and fosters a specific worldview. 

In an effort to connect with like-minded educators who wanted to explore these ideas, I joined an equity, diversity and inclusion focused book club. The book club offered an opportunity for any 20 staff members from the board to receive a copy of the book and engage in monthly discussions of the text. Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students by Zaretta Hammond is written for educators who want to understand the science and research behind culturally responsive teaching, reflect on their thinking about why we do what we do and challenge the status quo.

While reading this book, I really appreciated the inclusion of an in-depth explanation of the structural functions of the brain involved in learning and the background knowledge required in order to foster a deep understanding of the role culture plays in learning. Being a reflective teacher, I loved that the author challenged the reader to explore their personal worldviews, core beliefs, and group values and that she described the necessity to go beyond surface (i.e., observable elements such as food and music) and shallow (i.e., social norms such as unspoken rules around personal space or eye contact) levels of culture. This is a concept that resonates with me because many people think of the surface and shallow levels of culture, but to effectively engage in CRRP we need to go beyond that and focus on the roots of culture. As members of an organizational structure I believe it is all of our responsibility to reflect on dominant cultural practices and the explicit and implicit messages these practices convey.    

This book assists educators who are ready to dig deep and reflect on their own beliefs and values. In order to understand the worldviews of others, we must first have self-understanding, knowing our own worldview, beliefs and values as well as their origins.  Hammond fosters the development of self-understanding by including a set of inquiry questions following each chapter summary. Furthermore, additional resources for further exploration are also included at the end of each chapter. While I did not access these resources yet, they may be useful for additional supportive information as I revisit the text.

Additionally, our book club included educators with different backgrounds and in varying roles and members expressed that some of the concepts were helpful and being utilized in their professional practice. The ideas presented are adaptable for varying grades and the contents of the book suitable for all classroom and school settings. This book would be appealing for any educator ready to rethink traditional teaching practices. 

Although some readers may feel the book fails to provide specific examples or lessons, Hammond does a thorough job of creating opportunities for educators to reflect on and shift their mindset about students’ capacities, especially in regards to working with dependent learners. A change in our thinking or expanding our worldview is more valuable to me than a specific lesson plan, and a mindshift fosters CRRP becoming embedded in our practice. Our ever changing classrooms require educators to not only understand the necessity of CRRP within education, but to question the origin of the views, values and beliefs on which our current practices are built. If you are looking for a resource to support your own professional development or that of a group of educators, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain may be just what you are looking for!

Hammond, Z. L. (2015). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain. Corwin Press.

Rethinking Celebrations

Winter Solstice is a time of reflection as we appreciate what darkness brings and celebrate the return of the light, through longer days. After years of not being able to gather together and celebrate the changing seasons and other holidays, the opportunity to do so this year sparked a greater appreciation in doing so. It also allowed me to reflect deeply on what is truly important and what I will choose to focus on during 2023. 

In reflecting on celebrations, I thought of June, the end of the school year for us here in Ontario. What a joyous, transitional time for us to celebrate our school year, our students’ success and ready ourselves for a time of rest and relaxation as we anticipate summer break. 

The past three “Junes” were not quite the same as what we’re used to. Although this year, we will not likely endure drive-by graduations, individual photo-ops, social distanced chairs or other modified year end celebrations keeping us more than just physically apart; It is hoped we will finally be able to celebrate the successes of our students, together, in ways we have in the past. 

This opportunity to gather and celebrate student resilience and growth should be a celebration in and of itself. Perhaps though, the pause button during the peaks of the pandemic combined with the COVID-19 restrictions we were following, may also provide us with the opportunity to consider the past celebrations and rethink how we view student success and what we choose to highlight, honour and celebrate.

Last June, as the music teacher, I was asked to select one grade six student to acknowledge for their individual music achievement. To many, it seemed a simple enough task. Selecting the student who obtained the highest achievement or grade, showed the greatest improvement, was determined most valuable, or was the hardest worker were some suggestions to narrow down the recipient. 

But still I struggled. And in the end because I could not choose just one student, a music award was not given. 

Like many good teachers, I had spent the better part of the school year encouraging cooperation, interdependence and group success; I promoted group interaction and dialogue. And by the end of the year, my students, for the most part, became a unit. A group. A community. They were a community of learners: Where everyone tried their best; Where each student improved in some way; Where every single student felt valuable; And many attained high grades. 

Students supported and helped one another. In my eyes that was the success. What else could I want from a heterogeneous group of eleven and twelve year olds from varying backgrounds, strengths, challenges, and capacities? A community of learners. Could our year end celebrations recognize the collective success of students rather than honour only those whose individual achievements stand out? What message do we want to send our learners as they move into the world and become our future leaders? That of individualistic achievement and getting ahead of another or do we want to emphasize the sense of community, collaboration, collective growth, and group wisdom? 

As we move into 2023, and old traditions reemerge, I will continue to reflect on and challenge our traditions, their origins, and the messages they send by asking myself:

Whose philosophies are these practices built upon?  Whose worldview do they highlight? Do my current practices and past traditions align with my teaching philosophy, classroom makeup and community values?  I urge you to pause and ask yourself the same.

Joyti De (Give Light)

For many educators, December can be a fun, albeit busy, time of year. It is also a time of the year that brings about much controversy in regards to how we celebrate the season. While many people around the world celebrate Christmas in a similar way, many do not. And with an ever changing population, it is imperative that we, as educators reflect on our past and current practices.

We might ask ourselves:Whose traditions, values and worldviews are we highlighting in the classroom?
When I reflected on that question, I realized that for many years of my career, I emphasized colonial and Western traditions with my students. Many writing and reading lessons previously centered around a jolly man with a red suit, his elves, and of course his famous reindeer.
In an effort to promote cultural diversity and increase feelings of inclusion amongst students, I have been making a conscious effort to avoid work, games or activities surrounding Santa, elves or Rudolph this season.

In addition to rethinking past activities, I have also sought out materials I could use to highlight worldviews that are different from Western or colonial worldviews. If you want to utilize culturally oriented techniques and generate excitement, foster learning and create community, music is a well-known strategy. As a starting point, I utilized a resource I have found useful for teaching music virtually and in-person over the past few years. Joyti De published on Musicplay Online in the Holi unit is sung in the Hindi language. Because I do not speak (or sing) Hindi, I really appreciate that India-born, educator Manju Durairaj partnered with Musicplay Online to offer this song to educators. If you are interested in accessing this content and do not subscribe to Musicplay Online, the lesson can be found on YouTube as well.

Joyti De is often sung during Holi (Festival of Colours, Hindu religious) and is a call and response song in which the students’ response is Joyti De. I explained that Joyti De translates to Give Light in English. With Manju’s guidance, the other lyrics were explained too. My students were also recently familiar with the book I am Love by Susan Verde which focuses on sharing the love and light within us with our friends, family and community. In the follow up activity I connected the song with the book. Students coloured and cut out three candles. Students kept for themselves to remind themselves to be self-compassionate, loving and kind to themselves. The remaining two they gave to others to symbolize giving their light or sharing their love.

I cover teachers’ preps and therefore am in a number of classes throughout a week. What resonated with me was that my Hindi speaking students could connect with the lesson. In one Grade 3 class, a student new to Canada proudly stated “I know that is Hindi”, and translated the song for me and his peers. In another primary class, a young girl heard the song and said, “I hear that (language) in my country, Pakistan”.

Give Light (Joyti De) is a good reminder for all of us at any time of the year and because this song is traditionally sung during Spring, I look forward to revisiting it with my classes later in the year.

Pay Attention!

“Pay Attention!”

I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve said that to my students over the years. I’d bet many of you can say the same. We often think that our students come to school ready to learn and have all the necessary skills to be good learners. The reality is they don’t.
In today’s world, we are all inundated with stimuli. Although many of us as adults have the capacity to decipher what it is we want to pay attention to and how to redirect our attention when it drifts, we need to teach our students the skill of paying attention. We need to teach them how to learn.

So, how do we teach students to pay attention?

Paying Attention in Action:
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I love a good read aloud book! I hope you check out one or both of the great books highlighted and/or try the activities described below:


Puppy Mind by Andrew Jordan Nance is a picture book that tells a story of a young boy learning how to pay attention by becoming friends with, and subsequently training his active, wandering mind. Nance correlates the training of our minds to the process of training a puppy – with gentle, consistent effort.
In Breathe Like a Bear, author Kira Wiley uses animals, story and imagination to offer readers ways to explore different mindfulness skills including paying attention. In the “Focus” section of her book different animals describe activities that could be used at school or at home to increase breath and present moment awareness, an easily accessible and widely utilized method of learning to pay attention.

Classroom Activities:

Using natural and created sounds teachers can strengthen students’ listening skills. Listen For One Minute is a low risk activity I use often and also doesn’t take a lot of preparation or planning. In this activity, students simply sit still for one minute and listen to the sounds they hear. They are encouraged to only note the sounds they hear such as “creaking door” or “coughing” and to avoid labeling the sounds as pleasant or unpleasant; and not to generate a story about the sound. Following the activity, we discuss the sounds we each heard. Listen For One Minute is very repeatable, as sounds around us constantly change. It is a gentle way of introducing and strengthening the skill of paying attention through mindful listening. You could try it too; Simply listen to the sounds around you for one minute wherever you are reading this.
Another simple activity to cultivate mindful awareness is called Change Five. Change Five requires one or two students to leave the classroom for two minutes and change five things about their appearance. Students love the challenge of being the trickster by taking off a sweater; trading shoes with another trickster; tucking in a t-shirt or taking off earrings. When the tricker(s) return to class the other students have an opportunity to hone their observation skills by trying to identify the changes made.

Paying attention is a skill that can be learned; And as such, it must be explicitly taught and practiced in order for it to be strengthened. These short, simple practices and books I’ve shared here today can be utilized throughout the school year and can help your students to

“Pay Attention!”

Remembrance and Reconciliation

As we approach Indigenous Veterans’ Day, November 8th and Remembrance Day, November 11th I will proudly wear my handmade poppy by Anishinaabe beader and artist, Erin Gustafson of Couchiching First Nation.

The poppy serves as a reminder to take time to reflect on the courage of those who fought and many who died to protect our rights. In doing so, I vividly recall the story of one particular soldier.
The day a typically soft spoken, mild mannered, young girl presented her Heritage Fair project and stood in front of her classmates and proudly and confidently shared a story about a man she admired was a day I wouldn’t forget. It was about ten years ago when I, along with her classmates, first learned about Francis Pegahmagabow, my student’s grandfather (in hindsight, perhaps it was her great or great-great grandfather). Nonetheless, the sense of pride she felt while speaking of her hero was evident.

While some stories of Sergeant-Major Francis Pegahmagabow or the lives of others like him can be easily found with a quick internet search, the resonating effects of hearing these stories from direct ancestors are astonishing.
Still today, I remember the smile that crossed that young girl’s face and the pride that oozed out of her as she spoke about her family. What stood out to me then, and still today is the fact that Pegahmagabow fought to protect Canada at a time when Indigenous People were denied the rights held by most other Canadians. Can you imagine being denied the rights your partner, child, sibling, family member, or friend risked their life to protect? That is the case for many Indigenous People of that time. And when Pegahmagabow returned from war, he continued to fight for the rights of his people. He fought for civil rights for Indigenous People within Canada.

In 2016, many years after his death, a bronze statue was unveiled in Parry Sound, Ontario honouring the Anishinaabe World War I sniper, Francis Pegahmagabow. Another pride filled moment for my former student to share stories about her ancestor. These stories and others like them must be highlighted within our classrooms, painting a more accurate picture of the contributions Indigenous People play in our country’s history.

As we move through the time of remembrance and reconciliation, please seek out opportunities to honour Indigenous Peoples by sharing stories like those of Francis Pegahmagabow. Go Show the World is a fabulous book written first as a rap song by Wab Kinew. In it he describes some of his Indigenous idols, allowing others, especially young people to see themselves represented in their heroes. I urge you to share your story and provide opportunities for students to do the same. It’s incredible what we can learn from one another.

Truth and Reconciliation Part 2

Boozhoo, Aanii, Amanda Hardy ndizhinikaaz; N’Swakamok ndi-daa, Teme-Augama ndonjiba; Mukwaa Dodem, Anishinabekwe nda’awi.

Identifying myself in my language acknowledges my family, my clan, my culture and my history. It fosters a strong sense of belonging, something I sought for so long. This is not something I have always had in my life. I feel immense gratitude for the people, experiences and lessons that have afforded me the confidence, pride and the capacity to identify as an Anishinabee Kwe (Native woman).

When I introduce myself in my language, I am honouring the work of those before me who made this possible for me and so many others. Those who preserved and shared our language and culture successfully resisting acts of genocide committed against Indigenous Peoples.

Learning and sharing the truth of the impact of residential schools and other horrific acts committed against Indigenous People is a vital first step in reconciliation. Additionally, deepening our understanding of how intergenerational trauma occurs and how it manifests in our students may help us in developing a broader understanding of the current barriers our students experience. These can seem overwhelming or even unattainable tasks.

For me, I try to look at one piece at a time. I ask myself, “What is one action I can take today that might make a difference?” Speaking my language, learning and sharing my culture, and acknowledging my Indigenous identity is not something that Indigenous People across Canada have been always able to do. This seemingly simple act of identifying myself holds deep meaning for me and many others, illuminates my sense of pride and supports community healing. It is incredibly powerful to acknowledge who I am, and to speak my truth as we work towards reconciliation together.

As a suggestion for addressing difficult conversations, I’d like to offer one of my favourite ways ~ picture books. Picture books offer teachers opportunities to introduce topics, generate thinking amongst their students and to teach many concepts over the course of a unit. Below you will find the titles of some from my personal collection. Check them out:

Go Show the World: A Celebration of Indigenous Heroes by Wab Kinew
When We Were Alone by David Robertson
Not My Girl and When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokaik-Fenton
I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kasser
Shi-shi-etko and Shin-chi’s Canoe by Nicola I. Campbell

In the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation I continue to develop my self-understanding and I hope that as an Anishinabee Kwe, an educator and a mother, I may encourage Indigenous and non-Indigenous students and educators to embrace who they are and reflect on the actions they may take towards reconciliation, however small they may seem.

Truth and Reconciliation Part 1

As I reflect on the meaning of Truth in relation to the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, I recognize the privilege I have had in being able to discover, understand, speak and align with my truth. I am left to wonder though: 

How many remain silenced? And What can I do to help others uncover and align with their truth? 

Where do I belong?

As a young girl of mixed heritage, growing up with my mother, father and one older and one younger sister in a modest home in Northern Ontario, I felt out of place amongst my maternal Indigenous family, with my white skin, blue eyes and blond hair. My sense of belonging was also challenged amongst my French Catholic paternal family, as my English tongue and questioning beliefs screamed that I did not belong. Accordingly, for most of my life I tried to find my place.  Where did I belong?  

As a white passing person I have often overheard racist, stereotypical remarks made by people, further challenging my sense of identity. I did not feel Indigenous enough to retort. Even I questioned my Indigeneity.  

They belong

Early September is often spent on Getting to Know You activities. We ask our students about who they are, what their interests are, favourite subjects and much more. We strive to create learning environments centred around students feeling as though they belong. We aim to foster feelings of safety and care. We spend countless hours throughout the school year talking and connecting with our students. We decorate our classrooms in ways to create comfort and foster positive feelings. Our class becomes a family for ten months. And they all know we belong. 

Hands On: 

Over the years I’ve used a variety of methods attempting to create a sense of community and helping students get to know one another. The following is one of my favourites. It allows students to reflect on their interests and express themselves in a non-threatening way. The activity is ongoing throughout the year and highlights a number of abstract concepts we want our students to grasp.  Self-awareness, self-esteem, and interconnectedness are just a few. 

In this activity each student writes their name on an envelope then decorates it with favourite colours, interests, family members, or anything that is important to them. Students then take turns telling their classmates about their envelope. We notice things that make us unique and some things that are similar. Afterwards the students each write a note about something they like about themselves or draw a picture. Examples could be I am kind, I am a good friend, I like to help my teacher or a picture of a heart showing they are loving. The notes are placed into their envelope. Next, we hang a rope across a wall and use a clothespin to attach each envelope. A conversation about how we, just like the envelopes, are all different, but there are some things that are the same too follows. We notice that all the envelopes are connected to one another on the string; just like we are all connected. Finally, we talk about the feelings that came up while we were doing the activity. Students generally express positive feelings arising and as class we come to understand that we can generate more positive feelings every day by reminding ourselves of all those great things we wrote about ourselves. As the year goes on, we write more notes to ourselves, fostering a strong sense of self-esteem; and also to one another, building positive relationships and a strong sense of community. 

We belong too.

As educators we strive to ensure the optimal environment for student growth. By creating and working in a loving, positive environment, our students aren’t the only ones that grow. In all the nurturing we do, we sometimes forget how much growing we do alongside them; How we gain confidence in our teaching abilities; How we learn different ways to manage challenging emotions amongst our students; How we understand curriculum more clearly; How relating to our students gets easier; How our communication with guardians/families changes. As we teach our students to love and accept themselves and each other, we realize we are worthy of that same love. And it is important that we model self-love and self-acceptance. By fostering the development of a classroom community, where everyone feels like they belong, we realize we belong too. 

My hope is that by sharing my truth with you today, you will find the courage to discover and speak your truth. Share yourself authentically with your students, your family and friends because everyone deserves to be heard, be seen and belong. In my next post you will learn other ways to take action towards reconciliation.

More Than an Educator

Who are you? How do you identify? What makes you, you?

You are an educator. Maybe a parent, a son or daughter; maybe you’re a partner, or sibling; perhaps you’re an auntie or an uncle.
We play a lot of roles throughout our life’s journey. Sometimes these roles carry many specific tasks and responsibilities. Oftentimes these roles begin to blur and overlap.
You might be a teacher and a parent, bringing your own children to your school’s fun fair; or perhaps you’re a parent watching your child play a sport with a current or former student. Maybe you are transitioning from being taken care of by your parents to being the caregiver of your parents.

For many years, my sense of identity came from the roles I played in the lives of those around me: teacher, wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend. I strived to be the best at each of those roles. However, what the best teacher needed to do for her students, school, colleagues, principal or community didn’t provide me with adequate time or energy to also be the best mother or wife; or to fulfil any of the other roles I played. Perfectionism consumed me for years. The pressure that, in hindsight I realize I at least partially put on myself, led to burnout, resentment and strong feelings of inadequacy on all fronts.

As a new teacher, I often was reminded of the importance of ensuring self-care was a part of my routine. Sure, I went out with friends, had the occasional spa day or enjoyed family time on Saturday mornings; but what I needed extended beyond bubble baths and the occasional child-free shopping trip. What I needed was better day-to-day balance.
What I needed was the time, space and place to breathe. And I needed it everyday.

Breathing, meditating, reflecting, slowing down or stopping, provided me with the opportunity to truly care for myself. Mindfulness became the best mode of self-care for me. Mindfulness taught me that I am worthy; that I am enough. I reconnected with my “self” and relearned what it means to be me; Now I choose me everyday. I have learned to say no to things that drain me. I learned to no longer let myself down; and I continue to make efforts to let go of the guilt associated with feeling as though I’m letting other people down.

In being still and letting go of unattainable expectations I became much more than I was. I began to better understand all that made me me beyond the roles I filled in the lives of my loved ones. I became Amanda. Not mom, not daughter, not teacher; not anything else but myself. I reconnected with the Gardener, the Chef, the Yogi, the Painter, the Musician, the Writer.

So however you identify, remember to take time to be you, for you, everyday.

Here I Am

I am so grateful for the opportunity to contribute to The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario’s 2022-2023 Heart and Art blog. For many years I have worn more hats than I can count. “Writer” is not a hat I’d thought I’d see myself in, yet here I am!

As a student, my favourite subjects were mathematics and science. I swam competitively and played soccer, and did not consider myself the least bit artsy. However, once I was introduced to arts-based methods, and began using the arts as a way to express my thoughts, feelings and ideas, the more I found them to be beneficial to my reflective teaching practice and supportive of my contemplative practice. As the years went on writing became a concrete form of self-expression alongside the arts-based practices. Writing also provides me with the opportunities to track my thoughts and ideas and personal growth in a concrete way.

This year I hope to share some of my experiences and my learning as a long-time Ontario educator and ETFO member, and to inspire and support you, my readers and fellow educators as we navigate a brand new school year.

Whether you’re new to the profession or a long time educator, you have chosen a rewarding, yet challenging career. I hope by sharing some of my ideas and experiences, you will be inspired to incorporate new ideas into your teaching practice as you continue growing and learning on your journey!