When a teacher is able to instill a growth mindset in his or her students, it can help temper the impacts of poverty, and lead to a lifetime love of learning. This common goal, however, is not as easy to achieve in our urban communities when some of our children cannot see beyond their current struggles. When 80% of America’s teachers are white and 26.3 million students are of color, students have less access to role models that look like them, and have less opportunity to be empowered through their education. Limited resources limit horizons, but the influence of culturally responsive teaching is able to encourage the development of a growth mindset in our urban children, bridging the exposure gap between urban students and their more affluent peers.
Reality is relative. My home state of Connecticut provides one of the starkest examples of racial and socioeconomic inequality, leading to one of the nation’s largest achievement gaps. In Connecticut’s wealthiest town, Darien, 92% of the population is white and the median household income is about $200,000 according to the U.S. Census. Just about an hour away in Bridgeport, the median household income is 5x less. In Darien, students have the opportunity to attend one of the best school districts in the country, with every resource at their disposal. They know that the world is their oyster. In the our urban centers, the realities of poverty are reflected in the lack of resources and teachers. It is easier for students to have a growth mindset when they have caring and qualified teachers who are able to move past the challenges that they face, to inspire them to work twice as hard in finding success. Children in affluent communities are better able to recognize their potential, a sentiment that has been fostered by their teachers, who look like them and know their experience, since the first day of school. The impact of stereotype vulnerability on urban kids reinforces the idea that their community binds them, leading to the fixed mindset that they are not able to overcome it. Seeing positive role models who look like them and are able to connect to their experiences show urban kids that they can grow and succeed.
One way to create a growth mindset for all of our students and all of our classrooms is through culturally responsive teaching. Culturally responsive teachers include student culture in all aspects of learning, empowering them to bring their culture and their capabilities into everything that they do. This manifests itself through high expectations, effective communication, and a bias-free perspective towards student differences. When students feel culturally empowered, they are able to learn about their and other cultures, become more engaged, and create a positive teacher-student and classroom dynamic. Cultural empowerment, fostered through teachers and school leaders, is able to create a growth mindset within each child.
It is the responsibility of our educators to empower each individual student, helping them find and develop their voice. When this happens, growth mindset is able to become classroom culture, leading to a more confident and engaged classroom.