My name is Allison Ebanks, I am a racialized educator of Caribbean descent with the Durham District School Board. As a passionate Equity Advocate, I have come to understand just how necessary it is for educators to confront their own biases, acquire cultural competence and have courageous conversations around privilege and culture.

As a child I longed to make connections with my teachers. I wanted them to understand who I was, what my goals were for my future and the expectations placed on me due to my cultural background. I never ended up making those connections leaving me disengaged and frequently misunderstood. Truth is, I needed a champion, someone who had high expectations for me regardless of the perceptions of others and the stereotypes of society.

Why wasn’t there a single teacher that looked like me?

Fast forward to today and the implementation of Culturally Relevant and Responsive Pedagogy (CRRP). CRRP is a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspect of their learning. Educators who implement CRRP in their classrooms create a classroom culture of high expectations, develop an understanding of student intersectionalities and create spaces where their cultures, histories and languages are deeply respected. Through the use and understanding of CRRP educators are able to make profound changes to the ways we can connect with students, families and our greater communities. For example, we can ensure that the content we are teaching not only covers the curriculum, but more importantly fosters student voice by delving into their own life experiences. By having our students reflected in what they are learning, we can heighten student engagement, achievement and potential.

This is a pivotal time in education, we have reached a period where equity and critical consciousness can no longer be ignored. The statistics show that our education system has gravely failed our racialized students by turning a blind eye to the intricacies of their cultures, life experiences and the lessons they have learned along the way. In order to connect with their experiences, educators are required to self-reflect and confront their own ideas of privilege and biases. We need to ensure that we are making meaningful connections with students by showing an interest in the things they enjoy and encouraging them to take risks and step outside of their comfort zones.

We can no longer practice the idea of “colour-blindness” but rather practice the ideas of cultural competence and critical consciousness. As stated in ETFO’s Re-think, Re-connect, Re-imagine, “Acquiring Cultural competence is when educators use students’ cultures and connections to communities as a vehicle for learning. Nurturing Critical consciousness is when educators provide opportunities for students to critique the cultural norms, values and institutions that produce and maintain social inequities”. By implementing these frames of reference educators are not only being responsive to their students but they are also developing their equity lens.

As educators, we need to take a good look at our own biases and the content we are using to teach our students.

Questions to ask:

  • Are my racialized students being represented in the materials I use in class?
  • Are my lessons supported by material that provides a variety of perspectives, not ones that perpetuate the existing stereotypes?
  • Am I taking the time to truly listen to my students to understand them, or just to be able to respond to what they are saying?
  • Do I have high expectations for all of my students regardless of their intersectionalities?
  • What are my own biases and perceptions of racialized students in my class, school and greater community?
  • Am I designing relevant and authentic learning experiences that enable students to see reflections of themselves in their daily learning to develop their self-confidence, voice and strength?
  • Am I empowering my students by teaching them the tools to be be social justice advocates?

It is our responsibility to ensure all students feel safe, accepted and supported?

As educational institutions, we need to take a step back and look at the educational environment of our racialized students in particular.

Questions to ask:

  • How are our students being represented in classrooms?
  • Is there a disparity between the levels of discipline students receive due to their race?
  • Are schools hosting events that build rapport with students and their families?
  • Are the intersectionalities of our students being represented and respected?

Durham District School Board

The Cypher: Black Male Empowerment Conference
The Cypher is held at Durham College and is in its 3rd year. This conference has more than 300 participants from from grades 8 to 10 in the Durham District School Board. Students engage in workshops around empowerment, mental health and technology while confronting the barriers to success that they face.

Empower Her… Roots Conference
As a response to The Cypher conference, students in Grade 6 to 8, from the Ajax and Pickering areas participated in this conference to support the well-being and achievement of excellence of our young black females.

Students had engaging conversations and workshops around self-esteem, mental health, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and student voice in order to build their confidence and leave them feeling empowered to be the leaders of tomorrow.

Written By: Allison Ebanks

Resources and Suggested Readings:

100 Strong Foundation- Summer Academy.

Durham District School Board: Afrocentric Perspective in the Classroom: A Kindergarten to Grade 8 Resource.

Durham District School Board Compendium of Action for Black Student Success.

Geneva Gay. (2002, Mar./Apr.). “Preparing for culturally responsive teaching.” Journal of Teacher Education, 53(2), 106–116.

Geneva Gay. (2000). “Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, practice, & research.” New York: Teachers College Press.

Zaretta Hammond. “Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain” Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students.” Corwin, 2015.

Human Right Commission. “Racial discrimination, race and racism (fact sheet).”

Paul Kivel, Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Social Justice. New Society Publishers, 2011.

Gloria Ladson-Billings. “But That’s Just Good Teaching! The Case for Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.” Theory Into Practice, vol. 34, no. 3, Summer 1995

Ontario Ministry of Education: Capacity Building Series- Culturally Responsive Pedagogy.

Re-think, Re-connect, Re-Imagine: Thinking about ourselves, our schools, our communities. Reflecting on White privilege. Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, 2015.

Dawn Samuel. “Working with Black Students and Their Families: Histories and Considerations.” Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, Spring 2019.

Allison Ebanks

I am a racialized educator of Caribbean descent with the Durham District School Board. As a passionate Equity Advocate, I have come to understand just how necessary it is for educators to confront their own biases, acquire cultural competence and have courageous conversations around privilege and culture.