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Culturally Responsive Teaching with Dr. Shaun Woodly (Ep 42)

/ Jason Sholl

Dr. Shaun Woodly has dedicated his professional career to education. He is a decorated K-12 teacher, university professor and author whose deep passion and research have allowed him great success as an educator and entrepreneur. He is the architect behind the educator movement “Teach Hustle Inspire” and has written the best-selling book “MC Means Move the Class: How to Spark Engagement and Motivation in Urban and Culturally Diverse Classrooms”. In both education and life, Dr. Woodly believes in having fun! He educates with love, enthusiasm, motivation and hustle! Follow him on Twitter @ShaunWoodly and visit his website https://www.teachhustleinspire.com/.

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Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Welcome to the Deeper Learning with WeVideo podcast. I am Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad. Today's episode is about a culturally responsive teaching and I've a phenomenal guest on, Dr. Shaun Woodly. Dr. Shaun Woodly has dedicated his professional career to education. He is a decorated K-12 teacher, university professor, and author whose deep passion and research have allowed him great success as an educator and entrepreneur. He is the architect behind the educator movement, Teach Hustle Inspire, and has written the bestselling book, MC Means Move the Class: How to Spark Engagement and Motivation in Urban and Culturally Diverse Classrooms. In both education and life, Dr. Woodly believes in having fun. He educates with love, enthusiasm, motivation, and hustle. I hope you enjoy the show.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Well, on the show today we have Shaun and I am super excited to learn from him. Hey Shaun, thanks for being on the show.

Dr. Shaun Woodly: Nathan, thanks so much. I appreciate the opportunity to engage with you today. Really appreciate you sharing your space with me.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Shaun, I mean, whenever I first connected with you on Twitter, I knew I immediately couldn't wait to have you on the podcast. You're doing amazing work. I love this mantra that you have in this Teach Hustle Inspire. I think it definitely speaks to me. I think it speaks to a lot of educators out there because teaching is such a rewarding, but such a relentless and such a challenging profession. And I think we all need daily reminders about why we're teaching, what inspires us, how do we hustle and so forth. So I'm just super excited to learn from you today.

Dr. Shaun Woodly: Absolutely. I appreciate it. I'm very happy to be here.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. Well, so I want to first kind of dive into this book that you wrote, and I love to hear more about why you wrote this book. I assume has a lot to do with this hustling and inspiration and what it means to teach. And I also know you have a fantastic background in culturally diverse classrooms so I'd love to hear more about this book and what led you to write this book?

Dr. Shaun Woodly: Sure. The book is called MC Means Move the Class: How to Spark Engagement and Motivation in Urban and Culturally Diverse Classrooms. The book is basically framing the idea of teaching in urban and culturally diverse classrooms using music and DJ as a metaphor. First of all, I grew up in an urban classroom. I taught in urban classrooms and now I work with teachers in urban classrooms. So it's really been in some way, shape or form a part of my life from the beginning. And it's something that I'm very familiar with and something that I understand the challenges that exist. And so understanding if you look really at the data, what the data will show you, the data show that students of color, essentially it reflects that they can't learn. That's what the data will show you looking at raw data resulting from different things.

Dr. Shaun Woodly: But when you peel back the layers, when you really come to understand, is that a lot of times, the way that we are taught to teach and the way that we are taught in school, going back to our own experiences in the classroom, it does not necessarily align with a lot of ways that students of color make sense of the world. There are some cultural barriers. So inevitably what you will see is starting from as early as kindergarten, there is a gap in how teachers are able to connect with students resulting in academic deficits. And what happens in subsequent years is that gap just continues to widen itself. So from kindergarten to around third grade, you're taught to read. And then from third grade going forward, you read to learn if you don't have those foundational skills, by the time you're in third grade, which is where the data talks about the school to prison pipeline, you are statistically more likely to either dropout and, or go to prison.

Dr. Shaun Woodly: And a lot of that results with those happening in urban and culturally diverse communities. I know very well, the potential that lies within those seats in those students. And so I took it upon myself to try to create something that would help to inspire and to motivate and help teachers to understand that, yes, you do have the tools. You just have to open the toolbox and use the right one. So I wrote the book in a way to bring light to make it attainable for educators, to be able to reach and connect with their students. Because I wholeheartedly believe that educators in these classrooms, they want to do the best that they can. They want to connect with their students. We just need to give them the right tools. So this is a compilation of some strategies and some ideas that I have that I've seen work, that I've researched that I've put into practice and again, using the metaphor of music and DJ.

Dr. Shaun Woodly: So what happened was, while in college, I definitely had the idea. I wanted to be a DJ. A lot of things that I did going back from high school had to do with music. And so at that time being a broke college student, I just didn't have the money for it. Fast forward to graduation. Now I'm teaching and working. So I have some regular income. And so I decided to invest in myself and get some turn tables. So what happened was I'm teaching full-time and I'm also working my way up to deejaying full-time. I'm literally doing both and growing in both professions simultaneously. And so there would be plenty of days where I would literally, especially like on a Thursday or Friday, leave the school and go to the club or leave the school and DJ a retirement party or on a Saturday, a wedding, those types of things.

Dr. Shaun Woodly: And it was so much fun. I tell you, but what started to emerge because I was growing as a teacher and growing as a DJ at the same time, some common themes started to emerge because think about it in these terms from a DJ, I am one person in that club or at that wedding or at that Bar mitzvah, whatever the social gathering be, I'm in a one to many environment, just like a teacher. If I'm in that same space as a DJ, I am the source of motivation because I am trying to get those participants, those crowd goers, to move.

Dr. Shaun Woodly: I'm trying to get those students in my classroom to learn I'm the reason that they are there to learn. Excuse me not that they are there, but the reason that they have to learn, and the reason that trying to convey different ideas and strategies in real time, just like a DJ playing different songs and making different decisions and changing things in real time to get a different response and take the crowd where I need them to go take my students where I need them to go academically.

Dr. Shaun Woodly: So, I kind of unearthed all of these commonalities, if you will, and put those ideas into the book to help teachers in four main areas of what I call achievement, alliance, artistry and awareness. And the achievement is about how we get our students from essentially, how do we close that gap, get them from where they are to where they need to be. The alliance is about relationship building, which is a foundational element in teaching students in urban and culturally diverse communities. The awareness is about being more self-reflective and being aware of socially, emotionally, our emotions and how that impacts what we do inside and outside of the classroom. And lastly, artistry the creative side of teaching, which a lot of us really don't tap into enough and are missing out on a whole different side of the profession that we can really enjoy because we are creational beings by nature.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Oh, Shaun, there's so much goodness to unpack there. I have a lot more questions now than I had when we started. That's because you have inspired me and you've got me like really curious. So of course I'm thinking back in my days as I was a high school science teacher, and so it was chemistry and physics. So it was highly conceptual, but also can be very abstract, especially when mathematics are involved. And I did figure out, unfortunately, the hard way after a few students telling you that they were bored in class, I needed to do things in a different way. And so I learned again the hard way that I had to figure out what my students were interested in. And I had to listen to the music that they were listening to and I had found out what are their interests.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: And so I could make class interesting and fun. And so what would you I'm taking care of my own personal experience, then maybe drawing upon that. What would you say to teachers that they want to make a difference on their students and they want them to learn in meaningful ways, but maybe they're not sure exactly how they can find out, let's say they have 25 students or maybe even a hundred within high school and they are not sure to find out each and every interest. What advice would you have for teachers who want to kind of incorporate student interest into learning? They feel overwhelmed with not knowing how to tap into every single student interest.

Dr. Shaun Woodly: Sure. It starts really before you even begin to do that. It's kind of, I don't want to let it go by of how important it is to recognize that you need to do that in the first place. You had the wherewithal to ask your students, which there's a certain level of vulnerability that is a part of that. There's a certain aspect of that, where you have to realize, okay, what I'm doing clearly is not yielding the results that I want. Let me talk to my audience, let me get to know them a little bit better so that I can respond in kind that level of awareness that you have to really now go outside of the strategies that you've been taught and, or know as far as your content area. It really, I don't want to understate how important that level of vulnerability is because all too often, what you'll see is this, I'm going to teach it my way or the highway in so many terms, types of thought processes.

Dr. Shaun Woodly: This is the way that it is. If they can't meet me where I am then so be it. And unfortunately that's where a lot of students get lost. But having that wherewithal to say, all right, you know what, let's stop here. What is it that I can do to shift this so that I can reframe this content in a way that makes sense as a teacher to my students is huge. It is so huge that in and of itself taking that huge first step is critical. After that point, what you can do is understand that you do not have to. And I want to emphasize this. Sometimes we feel like we have to take into account the 13 Or 14 different ethnicities of our students in the classroom.

Dr. Shaun Woodly: And the different varying interest of our students and all of those things are fine and good. But what you'll come to understand is that even below those surface level things that you see, the surface culture, what the students wear, the music that they listen to, the lingo and the slang that they use below that there are certain cultural elements that your students will have in common. And it's finding out those things that you'll be able to leverage. Unfortunately, what we have to realize is that it takes some digging. It takes some uncomfortable sometimes conversations to really find out how is it that you learn best? How is it that what makes learning fun for you and having those conversations with your students? You'll see some things begin to emerge, also understanding that you are trying in essence to really understand how your students make sense of the world and leverage that.

Dr. Shaun Woodly: Here's an example that I gave in my book, and it's a really simple example, but I think it will help provide some context. Culturally, if you think about an instance, like let's say, I show a math problem, a word problem, and it shows the overview of an apartment. And it says something along the lines of this particular family needs to, I don't want to give it away without, I want to put it in the right context. It says the Johnson's are shopping for a new sofa. And in order to shop for the right kind they need to find out the dimensions. And so in the diagram, you'll see that there are dimensions all over the apartment building. So it asks the students to find the perimeter of the Johnson's sofa. So essentially what they have to do with that is add side plus side plus side plus side and get their answer.

Dr. Shaun Woodly: What happened in this particular example is that many of the students got that question wrong when looking at this, and this is an exercise that I do with teachers in my workshops, looking at that, it asks you again, the Johnson's are shopping for sofa, help them find the perimeter. What can throw, excuse me, a lot of students off, especially students of color is that for many in urban and culturally diverse communities, that word sofa is not common it's couch. So when throwing that out there help them shop for a new sofa finding a perimeter. They don't even know what the sofa is, flipping that on its head in and re switching out one word, help the Johnson soft shop for a new couch by finding a perimeter, light bulb goes off. I say that to say, it's a matter of understanding, what is it that your students, how do they make sense of the world and leveraging that. That can be so critical.

Dr. Shaun Woodly: Also, it's about creating a safe space for your students to take risks. Are they comfortable in your classroom? Now I'm not talking about comfortable as in safe, from free from violence that's obvious, but I'm talking about in an emotionally safe space where they feel comfortable to say, you know what, I'm going to raise my hand, even if I may be wrong, but I feel comfortable enough in this environment to take risks like that. Is there a sense of community? Do each of those students have a sense of contribution and feel that they are valued and contribute in a way that helps everyone community is essential. It's absolutely essential. Especially working with students of color. How are they a part of a community? What are you doing proactively to create community instead of responding to certain things, more individualistic?

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Shaun, when you were talking about the example of the sofa and using the word couch, and I was thinking, it reminded me that you were providing almost like a culturally responsive differentiation for your students, that you were framing content in a way that made sense. And I think about times in my life where, I read a story problem and I didn't connect with it. And so I didn't travel down this kind of cognitive path because it didn't make nothing. It wouldn't make sense to me. I didn't connect with the content, but you made it super relevant by changing the context of the story or a few words that made sense, which goes a long ways. And I also wonder too, in thinking about the Tomlinson talks about differentiation, you differentiate the content and the process and the product.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: And so I was thinking in terms of differentiation with being culturally responsive, do you think also too, it's allowing students, so the content is hugely important, but also being culturally responsive in the processes that students are undergoing to make sense of the content and the evidence in the learning artifacts that they're creating. I feel like sometimes it's also the posture or the environment that you're creating, that you are communicating to the students. Like you get to choose how you're going to demonstrate learning. So if that is through music or through song, then you get to choose that. Or if it's through acting and drama and kind of the arts, then you get to go down or if it's through like programming or science or so you get to choose kind of that product. Is that also kind of a part of this culturally responsive framework is aligned them the freedom and the comfort to be able to kind of demonstrate their thinking and learning in their own ways.

Dr. Shaun Woodly: It definitely is a part of it. The demonstration of learning though is more so on the back end. The biggest portion of culturally responsive teaching is what's done on the front end as far as how the content is delivered, because it's really where one of the biggest gaps in performance is how content is delivered to the students because what happens is many times we teach in ways where the students still depend on us to learn and to make, especially in challenging situations to demonstrate learning if you will.

Dr. Shaun Woodly: Whereas you want to put your students in a position to be almost self-reliant and create those learning pathways so that they can figure out complex issues on their own and demonstrate it in a number of ways. It doesn't necessarily, although that can be fun and can be interesting, it doesn't necessarily have to be those things they can demonstrate learning in and more so. And I'm saying this kind of what the air quotes, traditional ways they can demonstrate their learning just like that, but it's a matter of how it's delivered so that they get the learning in the first place.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah, it makes so much sense. And I'm glad you provided that additional clarification, you have to be able, and I think just to go back to the theme of your book and being able to inspire students, we have to get students interested before they are able to dedicate the energy. They want to, they have to get invested and we know they can't expect it. We can say voice and choice all we want to, but if they don't care about it, then just like us as adults. If we don't care about a project, you can give us all kinds of choices, but we're not going to, we're not going to put forth unnecessary energy and effort to do it. If we don't find it inherently interesting and fun.

Dr. Shaun Woodly: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: That makes so much sense. So when they go here with you, do you know, as you were recording this episode, we are in the middle of a pandemic, or it's close to the end of November. And a lot of schools they've been either kind of blended or hybrid. Already many are going back to virtual. How does this kind of impact culturally responsive teaching in kind of a distance learning world?

Dr. Shaun Woodly: It's one of those things where it has a significant impact if, for nothing else, because of that. And this is not really necessarily culturally responsive, but it is but it's not access sometimes. And this is a completely it's related, but it's not related as far as just systems that have been put into place with certain neighborhoods that just don't have access to certain resources. So now you're, putting students that may have, only have access to electronic devices or limited access, you have certain students where they have one computer in the household and mom or dad needs that computer to work. So what am I supposed to do? Or you have brothers and sisters, but we have to share one laptop or one tablet, or we only have two, but there's four of us. See in those sorts of limitations are functions of other systemic aspects that have limited students.

Dr. Shaun Woodly: So that is related, but not as far as that, but really with the culturally responsive teaching, one of the biggest impacts is that sense of community, because at the end of the day, it's that student or those students essentially learning in a space that is by themselves physically. Yes, we're all on this zoom call together, but that you can't replace that face-to-face, that in-person feeling of being around one another. I think in my opinion, that's one of the biggest losses with that. But at the same time, I think of it in these terms, it's one of those things where we kind of just have to do what we can to get through it, knowing that we can come out of this stronger and better than ever. And more importantly, to be honest with you alive, that's where we're trying to get through this healthy so that we can get back into the classroom to continue to create that safe space for our students. We want to get them back there in the first place, but unfortunately this is just something that we temporarily have to go through, but it is just temporary.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. That's a good point. And I think too, as teachers, we have to remind students that this is a temporary kind of state we're in. Now, we're going to get through this together, and I'm here for you. And, I think a lot about the importance of social, emotional learning during this time. And I think as educators, we have seen the value, we've even had studying education we looked at Maslow's hierarchy of needs. I think we on a theoretical level understood, yes, students need to feel safe. They need to feel nurture. They need to have their needs in that before they can learn at high levels. But especially now, and even as adults we've experienced that. Whenever we're most stressed, we feel the least creative like when we are stressed we are thinking about those kind of fight or flight issues.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: We're thinking of things like I'm a survival mode right now. I don't see any value in doing my math homework right now. So I see a lot of SEL connections too. And I'm also kind of wondering there's going to be significant learning gap, or there's already a huge equity issues. As you know, we've uncovered, there's just terrible inequities with access to resources, to technology. And especially after this year, I mean, there's going to be huge learning gaps. There will be some students who've had access to books and to parents at home who can help. And then some students who haven't had that access. So what is your thinking around typically whenever there's a gap you want to when students get back together, we want to address those gaps.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: And so there's always kind of like pushing heavy content, getting back to foundational, getting sometimes, I hear the phrase getting back to basics, but we know that getting back to basics does not mean go back to traditional teaching where we're practicing all these problems and learning is not fun anymore. So I'm curious, what is your thinking about how do we kind of attack these learning gaps that will be present when we all kind of return but still do it in a way where there's no stress and hurry and there is no tension.

Dr. Shaun Woodly: That is going to really be one of those things where we are going to, as the educators in the classroom, take a serious self-inventory to make sure that we are in a good place, because those students are going to be feeding off of us. And we cannot preach and teach that type of mentality and mindset to get everything back to where it needs to be and have some sort of semblance of normalcy and everything is better now. And everything is okay. And social, emotional learning where are you with your self-awareness and how are you managing yourself if we're not doing that ourselves? So we have to be very cognizant and that doesn't start when we get back into the classroom.

Dr. Shaun Woodly: That's one of those things that we have to be aware of now, because we're not just teaching in a pandemic. We still are our parents, we still are family members. We still are contributing members of society that have so many other roles and responsibilities in addition to teaching. And then if we don't address those things, it's only going to compound by the time we actually get back into that face to face classrooms and face to face classrooms. So it starts with us.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. I so agree Shaun. It really does. And even, I think too or I wonder, as teachers, yes, we have to be strong. We have to display optimism and positivity. But I also think too, it requires some vulnerability on the teacher's part to kind of acknowledge Hey, this is a challenging time. This is tough. It doesn't necessarily mean we mask the challenging times with kind of a positivity. I think there's definitely a good balance of, Hey, this is possible. We have an opportunity to do some pretty awesome things, but also acknowledge this is a really tough time run. Yeah. I think vulnerability is definitely, and transparency is a part of that too.

Dr. Shaun Woodly: Absolutely.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Shaun, what else? I mean, is there anything else that you're thinking of right now, something that you were kind of hoping that I'd ask that I haven't guessed or any kind of concluding thoughts you want to share?

Dr. Shaun Woodly: It's just one of those things and you alluded to it. It's we're dealing with a lot and there's a certain level of vulnerability that is definitely going to be a part of this. And at the end of the day, as educators, we have to realize that these are uncharted territories that we are navigating right now. Give yourself some grace it's a lot easier said than done, but recognize that granted I've never seen your outline your course curriculum from when you were in college, but I know that I did not take Teaching In A Pandemic 101. So we're all trying to figure this thing out together and give yourself some grace, if you don't have the answers it is okay.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. Well, and I would say too, you're going to be a fantastic resource. So for our listeners who are just meeting you for the first time, how can they find you on social media and on the web?

Dr. Shaun Woodly: Sure, pretty much I'm at all things, Teach Hustle Inspire, teachhustleinspire.com . Instagram @teachhustleinspire on Twitter I'm @ShaunWoodly, just teach hustle inspires too long. So they wouldn't let me do it.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Oh, fantastic. Hey, Shaun is so great connecting with you. So great learning alongside of you. And I'm looking forward to continuing to collaborate with you and learn alongside you as we kind of navigate these crazy times. So thanks again, for your time, my friend, I do appreciate you.

Dr. Shaun Woodly: Thank you again Nathan, once again, I appreciate you opening up your space and I have enjoyed this conversation. I really did.