No matter how old you are, I bet you can think back to your days as a student and likely remember moments when you either felt affirmed and valued by your teachers, or perhaps misunderstood, or disregarded. We all know that teachers and the school culture can have a profound and lasting effect on us. Good teachers understand the massive and sustained impact — positive or negative — they can have on students’ lives. They know the importance of being cognizant of the inherent biases that exist in our culture.

They understand that those biases have shaped their own worldview, and they work to counteract the negative effects such could bring to their teaching. Good teachers understand that a student’s background and lived experiences will influence how they experience the school setting. However, in order to have this across the board, we must provide all educators with the tools they need to form true connections with students whose backgrounds and experiences may be very different from their own.This brings me to the Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards, which were developed by a diverse group of educators from across the state and unanimously approved by the Illinois State Board of Education.

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As a former teacher and university instructor, I was involved in training teachers during their student teaching experience. These standards will ensure we equip all our future educators with the best practices that veteran educators already use every day. They will put valuable tools at the forefront of the coursework and field experience of our teacher preparation programs.

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These standards are consistent with those set long ago by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, focusing on reflection, interacting with communities, and student learning. Many teachers across the country, and across Illinois, pursue National Board Certification to develop their craft. Administrators recognize National Board Certified teachers as not only having met rigorous standards but also for their dedication to the continual improvement of their teaching practice. For all these reasons, National Board Certified teachers are regarded as leaders and mentors in their buildings.

Yet, critics will have you believe that Illinois is pushing a new idea and using divisive rhetoric to detract from what they are – preparation for the reality of what they will see in the classroom, beginning on day one. Our student population is increasingly diverse, and it is important that teachers in all corners of the state are able to create classroom and school environments that give every student a sense of belonging. These standards encourage the embracing of multiple viewpoints, experiences, and perspectives; promote inclusiveness; and encourage critical thinking. This will ultimately foster classroom and school environments that are more, not less, inclusive of all students, regardless of one’s upbringings, religious background, or any other aspect of who you are.

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