Part One: Why Community and Culture Classes?

“We need to be practicing all the time–but that practice needs to exist within the contexts of the communities we serve.” 

— Randall Lahann, Director, Nashville Teacher Residency

In this two part series, NCTR spoke to Nashville Teacher Residency (NTR)’s Program Director Randall Lahann on his team’s work in ensuring that their residents are culturally competent and focused on inclusion at all levels. This is what he said:

Let’s start with the basics. Why community and culture classes?

At Nashville Teacher Residency (NTR), we want our residents to understand their students’ lives outside of schools. We want to help them gain the skills they need to build relationships with their students. We want our residents to learn about the kids they will serve here in Nashville – who they are, how they live, their general experience outside of the school’s doors.   We believe that effective education starts with relationship building and that you can’t build those relationships unless you make a real, sustained effort to learn about who your kids are and how you can celebrate their diversity in the classroom.

Did you find it uncomfortable to talk about race, culture and inclusion given the sensitivity of the subject matter?

Sure.  It always can be a little uncomfortable when you tackle issues of identity that are tied to historical and ongoing issues of oppression, power, and privilege.  But I think that’s probably a good thing–especially for our white community members, including me.  But we identify as an anti-oppressive organization and, given the importance of building inclusive classrooms and the shameful impact of overt and systemic racism, that discomfort seems like a negligible price to pay.  I also think that conversations about diversity and inclusion go a lot better when they happen continuously throughout the year.  It’s the “very special episode” feel when you say, “OK, now’s the time to talk about race” that makes it feel extra dramatic because you haven’t set up these issues as ongoing and essential conversations and reflections about what it means to be a teacher.

What inspired you to look outside of your own staff (or your founding partner, Project Renaissance’s staff) for training partners?

We know that we are not the experts in bringing that important context and content to our residents, so we reached out to a number of partners who serve the poor and immigrant communities of Nashville, including Conexión Américas, the Martha O’Bryan Center, and the Oasis Center. We believe teacher residency programs can learn a lot from nonprofits and advocacy groups working in the community and outside of the school.  These are organizations that share our broad vision for a more socially and economically just Nashville, and their expertise in the communities we serve helps contextualize our residents’ work inside the classroom.

Any pearls of wisdom to share with our friends and partners that are early on in their own due diligence on training?

If you’re looking to have this kind of training, then our best advice is to have a ton of conversations.  I went to long-time Nashville education and public service experts and all of them said the same thing: choose partners that are excited to do the work.  Once we established a shared vision for what a more equitable Nashville should look like, we were able to find ways in which our work could overlap.

Read “Part II: Finding Community Partners to Support Your Cultural Competency Efforts”, the concluding post in our Connecting The Residency Program Experience To Your Community series, next week.