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Classroom Cultures: Equitable Schooling for Racially Diverse Youth

reviewed by Jason Salisbury & Manali J. Sheth

coverTitle: Classroom Cultures: Equitable Schooling for Racially Diverse Youth
Author(s): Michelle G. Knight-Manuel, Joanne E. Marciano & H. Richard Milner IV
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807759562, Pages: 160, Year: 2018
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Classroom Cultures: Equitable Schooling for Racially Diverse Youth by Michelle G. Knight-Manuel and Joanne E. Marciano invites educators and school leaders to learn how to support culturally relevant educational (CRE) practices based in the authors’ inquiry-oriented professional development (CRE-PD) model. The authors ground CRE-PD in extensive culturally relevant pedagogy and teacher learning research, as well as their scholarship working with 500 teachers across New York City schools. The CRE-PD approach engages with the complexities of the self-reflection, pedagogical development, and school culture change required to implement culturally relevant education for students of Color, particularly Black and Latino males. As such, the authors do not provide prescriptive “best practices” but rather, and more importantly, they offer “direct insight into practical strategies for creating and sustaining a culturally relevant schoolwide approach that positions school communities as sites of critical inquiry to create more-equitable learning opportunities for students” (p.2).  


Knight-Manuel and Marciano’s CRE-PD model is rooted in several important teacher learning principles and commitments. The book is founded on the belief that all teachers can learn and expand their capacities to provide Black and Latino youth with CRE experiences. Secondly, the PD model starts from the perspective that teacher learning and organizational change are social practices that necessitate the deprivatization of teaching and educational experiences. By building the PD strategies around a process of reflecting in iterative cycles on one’s own experiences and practices, learning from the experiences of colleagues and youth, and developing action plans for ongoing inquiry, the authors instill a learning stance that can enable educators to leverage a diversity of experiences, knowledge, and practices to purposefully build individual and organizational capacity. This is particularly evident in the way that the authors prioritize the assets and areas of growth of participating teachers of Color, a topic that is often overlooked in equity-oriented school professional development literature (Kohli, 2019).


Acknowledging that CRE-PD must substantively engage with differences of experiences and unequal power relations that exist within groups of Color, the authors also demonstrate that culturally relevant educational practices need to expand learning opportunities for all Black and Latino youth regardless of whether they are considered stellar students or are academically underachieving. Given the book’s commitments to Black and Latino male educational experiences and needs, the interchanging use of Black and Latino males, students of Color, culturally and linguistically diverse students, and Black and Latino students has the potential to make the particular inequities that Black girls, Latinas, Asian American students, Native American students, and Queer students of Color experience invisible to educator critical inquiry.


The Introduction provides a rationale for CRE-PD rooted in the inequities faced by Black and Latinx youth and a summary of the CRE-PD research study. Additionally, this chapter emphasizes the importance of developing literature-based shared understandings of culturally relevant education in local contexts as the necessary first step for embarking upon CRE-PD. Following a brief summary of the three goals of culturally relevant education (student learning and achievement, cultural competence, and critical consciousness/sociopolitical awareness) as defined by Gloria Ladson-Billings (2009), the authors provide possibilities for facilitating these initial conversations.


The organization of Classroom Cultures takes readers on a journey through the professional development approach, providing multiple entry points into considering how to support educator learning across five CRE practices: (a) understanding teachers’ racial identities, experiences, and culturally relevant pedagogical practices; (b) challenging stereotypes, supporting students’ strengths; (c) building productive teacher-student relationships; (d) facilitating culturally relevant peer interactions; and (e) college talk. The pedagogical structure of each chapter provides research-based scaffolds for educators and school leaders to inquire into individual and organizational assumptions and practices that constrain and expand possibilities for CRE.


Each practice chapter is framed by an overarching inquiry prompt, an opportunity to learn, and educator quotes that highlight tensions related to the culturally relevant education goals of the chapter. By putting educator quotes into conversation with CRE scholarship, the authors define the practice and examine the challenges that arise as educators build their capacity in CRE. The next step of the journey, “Everyday Practices in Context” provides a thoughtful classroom vignette that either illustrates the target CRE practice and how the teacher developed it or a non-example of the practice with a critical reflection about why it unfolded and how it could have unfolded differently. Each chapter includes multiple “Inquiry Focus” subsections that provide professional development prompts and activities, as well as illustrations of educator engagement with the PD, to build the readers’ capacities to engage in intentional reflections, discussions, and actions. Following the inquiry activities, the authors present examples of how the CRE-PD provoked inquiry into and changes in practice related to classrooms, school culture, and college access. Each chapter ends with fruitful prompts and actions to support individual and small group capacity in building towards organizational CRE development. Throughout these chapters, Knight-Manuel and Marciano address common questions and anxieties that come up when educators are asked to disrupt personal and school practices that negatively impact youth of Color.


Chapter Two supports educators in pushing past the existing discomfort of talking about racialized experiences, stereotypes, and privilege to encourage a school-wide culture of engaging with one another’s experiences and personal histories in the context broader systems. As the educators built their capacities to critically engage with their own racial and cultural identities, they became better equipped to engage with and be responsive to the identities, experiences, and histories of colleagues, students, and communities.


In Chapter Three, the authors share strategies for supporting educators in critically analyzing how stereotypes of Black and Latino males provide a window into individual and school practices that create barriers to success. Authors highlight the point that interrogating stereotypes regarding Black and Latino males is not about educators being good or bad, but is about taking up CRE to build on student strengths and support achievement amongst students of Color.


Chapter Four details how CRE-PD supported educators in surfacing and confronting assumptions around their capabilities of developing meaningful relationships with students of Color. The authors provide strategies to support educators of Color and white teachers to collaboratively understand how relationships with students are shaped by racial and ethnic backgrounds and can be cultivated to support student academic, social, and civic growth.


Chapter Five supports productive conversations and actions that can enable educators’ critical reflections about student of Color peer relationships, such that educators foster these relationships as culturally relevant resources for supporting students’ engagement in school. The authors particularly highlight the need to shift practices to support ideas of collective achievement rather than maintaining learning as an individualistic and meritocratic process.


Chapter Six asks readers to critically reflect on “college talk” or how and when educators talk with students of Color about the college-going process and the hidden messages often present in college talk. Knight-Manuel and Marciano demonstrate college talks are often too broad or place the burden for navigating the process and related barriers on Black and Latino males. By encouraging educators to compare and contrast their college-going experiences with those of students of Color, we can help them facilitate more culturally relevant college talk and activities.


In the Conclusion, Knight-Manuel and Marciano call “for educators to engage in ongoing critical reflection about their curriculum, teaching, school policies, and school structures by examining their work in relation to the tenets of culturally relevant pedagogy” (p. 107). Maintaining that achieving CRE within an organization requires an ongoing commitment to inquiry and action, the authors present valuable recommendations for educators and school leaders. To support Black and Latinx learning and achievement, the recommendations provide prompts, actions, and examples for inquiring into educators’ and students’ experiences, goals, and interests in order to inform curricular, pedagogical, and assessment changes. Next, recommendations present opportunities for educators to examine and challenge assumptions through engaging with youth and community strengths, colleagues, and various forms of data to work towards the process of becoming culturally competent. Finally, authors highlight that educators need to be able to disrupt inequitable structures before they can support youth in developing a sociopolitical consciousness. The recommendations seed inquiries and actions that support continuous learning about, and disruption of, sociopolitical policies and practices that impact students’ access to resources and opportunities. The authors also offer important suggestions that school leaders participate in learning experiences, provide extended professional learning opportunities, center a school-wide commitment to CRE, and embrace the discomfort associated with this type of personal and collective learning.


Classroom Cultures: Equitable Schooling for Racially Diverse Youth is a beneficial resource for district, school, and teacher leaders committed to supporting students of Color in their schools. Knight-Manuel and Marciano’s text provides readers with substantial scaffolded learning opportunities across schooling contexts to build educator and schoolwide capacity for more equitable educational opportunities.



Kohli, R. (2019). Lessons for teacher education: The role of critical professional development in teacher of color retention. Journal of Teacher Education, 70(1), 39–50.


Ladson-Billings, G. (2009). The dreamkeepers: Successful teachers of African American children, (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, 2019, p. -
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22822, Date Accessed: 7/16/2019 12:47:48 PM

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