Teaching is a profession where educators have the opportunity to help students reach their highest potential.

The work is so personal, that teachers — consciously or not — carry their cultural values, attitudes and beliefs into every space they enter.

Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota offers a Culturally Responsive Teaching graduate certificate program to help teachers think more critically about personal culture in the classroom and adapt to better teach all students.

This unique program teaches educators new strategies to help all students achieve high levels of success in the classroom. Learning to better teach a variety of people benefits the students and all teachers — whether first-time or longtime.

“I enrolled in the program because I needed a voice and a place to figure out how to wrestle with the challenges of a changing student population and different demographics,” said Kerri Town, a level literacy intervention trainer/coach in District #196 (serving Eagan, Apple Valley and Rosemount, Minn.). “I knew that I had a lot to learn on how to best meet the needs of my students.”

According to Rebecca Hopkins, dean of the Graduate School of Education, developing a teaching style that works for most students isn’t good enough. “This program is something that most principals and superintendents say is desperately needed in their schools,” Hopkins said.

The program not only helps teachers within the classroom, but in other roles as well, such as in educational committees and with colleagues. Sarah Skahan, a speech language pathologist at Westview Elementary in Apple Valley, Minn., said Saint Mary’s CRT program made her feel more comfortable and confident as a member of her school’s equity team.

“My colleagues see students of color coming into the speech language room wanting to connect, wanting to learn,” Skahan said. “They’re very motivated to grow. And my coworkers are wondering, ‘What is she doing? How is she having such a positive impact?’ They become more curious about what culturally responsive teaching involves and how they can bring it into their practice.”

The program was developed four years ago as a collaborative effort between Saint Mary’s and educators in the K-12 field. “We were engaging in a conversation around how can we be part of the solution to extinguish the achievement gap in the state of Minnesota,” said CRT Program Director Alissa Case.

The CRT program supplements teachers’ existing experience with training that enables them to understand and reach students from diverse cultural backgrounds. According to Case, K-12 teacher education curriculum is missing components for teaching equitably.

The program focuses on four key categories for growth as a teacher:

  • the ability to use multiple perspectives
  • racial and cultural consciousness and adaptability
  • identifying culturally responsive teaching pedagogy and strategies
  • understanding how race and culture impact data

One of the hidden outcomes of this certification program is that engaging in this work benefits the individuals’ thinking and relationships — inside and outside of the classroom.

“Overwhelmingly, that’s one of the biggest surprises to our learners,” Case said. “They say, ‘I came into this program to be a better teacher, and I feel like I’m coming out as a better person.’ Everything that they’re doing in their classroom has become so internalized that they carry it with them when they walk through the world.”

Learn more about the program at www.smumn.edu/crt.

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