Strengthening the Framework of Culturally Responsive Teaching

Ellis faculty and staff participated in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) focused professional development together on Indigenous People’s Day. Centered on culturally responsive teaching practices, the Office of DEI hosted three sessions that included defining and understanding cultural competency through an Ellis lens, culturally responsive instruction, and highlighting and recognizing the DEI work that is already happening in Ellis classrooms.
Denise LaRosa, Director of DEI, led the first discussion on cultural competency. The goal of the session was to define what cultural competency means at Ellis and how it connects to our mission, vision, and strategic plan. From raising awareness on cross-cultural effectiveness to managing intent vs. impact, Ms. LaRosa honed in on how faculty and staff can lead courageous conversations at school, at home, and in the community. She also highlighted the importance of listening to and lifting up student voices and how understanding cultural competence shapes the school experience.

“It’s really important when engaging in diversity, equity, and inclusion work that everyone who participates has the language and the common knowledge they need to delve deeper into themes and issues moving forward,” shared Ms. LaRosa. “Cultural competency is the foundation for all DEI initiatives. This session laid the groundwork for faculty and will inform everything that we do together.” 

The second workshop was run by educators Dr. Epryl King and Dr. Janet Niethamer of RAMP (Raising Achievement in Monroeville and Pitcairn) on culturally responsive practices within classroom instruction. Dr. King and Dr. Niethamer shared strategies and tools teachers can use in their classrooms to incorporate new culturally responsive pathways. During the interactive session, teachers collaborated on ways they could implement new frameworks and strengthen existing ones in their curriculums and instructional practices. 

To end the day, the Ellisians for an Inclusive Community (EFIC) steering committee highlighted the engaging DEI work that faculty are already doing through a PhotoVoice activity. Faculty members submitted photos that represented DEI in their classrooms and were then encouraged to reflect upon and discuss how they can replicate and sustain these positive practices across grades and divisions. From images of students performing in the Upper School musical to pictures of books lining our library shelves, the photos submitted represented a range of authentic moments on campus. 

“One of the intentions of this activity was to celebrate, recognize, and honor the amazing work our teachers are already doing in this space,” shared Gina Kilpela, English Teacher and EFIC leader. “Diversity, equity, and inclusion work is not new to us as a faculty. Rather, we’re taking the next step. The goal was to reflect on ways we can expand and extend what we’re doing, and be more engaging and intentional in doing so.”

The Office of DEI will continue to engage in this work throughout this school year and beyond.  In January, faculty and staff will undergo professional development related to gender identity, and the EFIC is planning to launch another book study related to culturally responsive pedagogy. As we all commit to this journey, Ellis is determined to take a more strategic and intentional approach towards cultural competency.
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