kirkland smiles from his desk

PHOTO CREDIT: NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development

As schools nationwide shifted to remote learning last spring, the NYU Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools issued a series of resource documents, including “Guidance on Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Remote Education." Created to help school leaders “continue centering equity and support for the most vulnerable students as teaching and learning moved online,” the guidance bears repeating as many districts begin the new school year back online, says David Kirkland, NYU Metro Center executive director and associate professor of English and urban education. Kirkland spoke with ASBJ’s associate editor Michelle Healy about focusing on students “who are our most often overlooked” and the value of a “care-centered, joy-based, trauma-informed approach to virtual learning.”

(This interview was edited for clarity and length.)

Why is this guidance so important?

Because equity is important. And thinking about our most vulnerable learners in this moment when we can, and often do, overlook a lot of things, is important so we can spotlight these students’ needs. Equity emphasizes giving individual students what they need, when they need it, so they can advance to their full potential. It should not be sidelined, overlooked, or pressed to the margins during online learning. Our remote learning document is making a case for equity.

Where should school leaders begin?

Making education and resources accessible to all students is important, but technology isn’t the only thing needed. Focusing on the humanity of students, I think, is most important. A lot of healing work needs to happen, and not just for students who have experienced the most extreme consequences of COVID. Just having been shut in for long periods has had deleterious psychological and emotional effects. We must heal students, families, teachers, and the entire school. We can use restorative practices, mindfulness, meditation, healing circles, trauma-informed practices, empathy interviews. We can integrate activities that invite joy into the learning. We have good evidence to suggest that it’s okay to slow down to get education right rather than move forward while getting it wrong.

Other key points school leaders should keep in mind?

Be responsive to students’ individual and collective lived experiences, and during this time, that also means their experiences with the pandemic. Listen to students and families because those who are closest to a problem are also closest to the solution. Honor students’ cultures, backgrounds, and communities to foster positive academic outcomes. When it comes to teaching, we know that culture is not ancillary; it is not secondary. Culture is essential to the project of learning.

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