Early Literacy Tutor Professional Learning Framework

A Commitment to Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Education

The Accelerator’s aspiration is that tutoring is one component of an education that creates students who:

  • Build academic competence and achieve academic success,
  • Build or maintain cultural competence, and
  • Build sociopolitical consciousness so that they are able to critique the larger norms, values, policies, and institutions that produce and maintain inequities.

These aspirations are grounded in the early scholarship of key figures like Gloria Ladson-Billings, Geneva Gay, Tyrone C. Howard and Jackie Jordan Irvine. Ladson-Billings’ six year study of teachers who were successful in educating African-American students is particularly instructive to us. Her research revealed the aspirations above as key to a successful teacher’s practice (Billings, 1995).

Research over the past 26 years continues to provide evidence of Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education (CR-SE) as efficacious for promoting positive student outcomes (Billings, 1995; Richardson, 2003; Willis et al., 2008; Ball & Tyson, 2011; Kinloch, 2011; Paris, 2011; Paris & Winn, 2014; Kinloch, 2011; Paris & Winn, 2013; Baker-Bell, 2020). CR-SE is shown to correlate with increased academic success as evidenced by higher test scores, increased attendance and graduation rates, increased confidence in intellectual abilities, and deepening civic and community engagement.

To arrive at this aspiration, the Accelerator suggests tutoring providers:

  1. Provide tutors resources from the Early Literacy Tutor Training Recipe Book and the Continuous Learning Resource Bank to help them work toward CR-SE education goals.
  2. Follow the suggestions in this Framework for implementing each mode of professional learning with a commitment to CR-SE, so that tutors can learn from the resources noted above. The suggestions included throughout the Framework help providers model seeing tutors’ diverse identities and cultures as assets in how they structure their training and ongoing learning. Within each of the sections of this Framework look for the following areas that specifically address CR-SE:
    1. Practice-based Formal Learning: The questions in Parts One, Two and Four of the Learning Cycle that ask tutors to reflect on how they are acting on a commitment to CR-SE
    2. Feedback and Individualized Coaching: The guidance for forming trusting relationships between coaches and tutors, a requirement for providers committed to CR-SE
    3. A Community of Social Learning and Support: The note on the important role a supportive community can play for tutors striving to act on commitments to CR-SE and a link to resources for building caucus and affinity group spaces
  3. Understand that staff cannot coach what they don’t know and commit the provider’s leadership and coaches to their own education on CR-SE, ideally before working with tutors on the same. The New York State Department of Education, with the support of an expert committee, created a Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education Framework that defined CR-S education as “grounded in a cultural view of learning and human development in which multiple expressions of diversity (e.g., race, social class, gender, language, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, ability) are recognized and regarded as assets for teaching and learning” (2019). The committee articulated four principles -- or ways that a commitment to CR-S education might show up in educational settings. We suggest you read how they define each principle and then use their recommendations for district leaders (2019, pp. 36-39) as inspiration for how leaders of tutoring organizations can act. We recommend the following key actions for tutoring organizations:
    • Create a Welcoming and Affirming Environment: “A welcoming and affirming environment feels safe. It is a space where people can find themselves represented and reflected, and where they understand that all people are treated with respect and dignity. The environment ensures all cultural identities (i.e. race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, language, religion, socioeconomic background) are affirmed, valued, and used as vehicles for teaching and learning” (p. 14). To build a welcoming and affirming environment for all tutors in your environment, we suggest:
      • Work to improve the recruitment and retention of a diverse tutor and staff workforce (i.e. tutors and staff who identify as people of color, LGBTQIA+, differently-abled) by strengthening pipelines and cultivating relationships with local and national partners (e.g. historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic association of colleges and universities, alliance organizations, community organizations, faith-based organizations, cultural centers, etc.).
      • Disaggregate data (e.g. tutor enrollment, training, performance, etc.) by sub-group, evaluate trends, and create a strategic plan to address disproportionality.
      • Stay current on wider social and political issues that affect communities served by the tutoring provider (e.g. hold regular meetings with community-based organizations and advocacy groups, create a community liaison role to gather information from the field, etc.).
    • Maintain High Expectations and Rigorous Instruction: “High expectations and rigorous instruction prepare the community for rigor and independent learning. The environment is academically rigorous and intellectually challenging, while also considering the different ways students learn. Instruction includes opportunities to use critical reasoning, take academic risks, and leverage a growth mindset to learn from mistakes. Messages encourage positive self-image and empower others to succeed” (p. 15). To act on high expectations and offer rigorous instruction for all tutors in your environment, we suggest:
      • Strategize instructional methods to disrupt any disparities in tutor outcomes that exist across lines of difference, highlighting and sharing best practices from the field.
      • Facilitate structures for tutor collaboration, i.e. peer observations, school visits, purposeful partnerships, mentors.
      • Partner with experts in the field (i.e. professional learning organizations, higher education, consultants) to identify research-based, instructional strategies that are most effective in advancing tutor and student academic success.
    • Use an Inclusive Curriculum: “Inclusive curriculum and assessment elevate historically marginalized voices. It includes opportunities to learn about power and privilege in the context of various communities and empowers learners to be agents of positive social change. It provides the opportunity to learn about perspectives beyond one’s own scope. It works toward dismantling systems of biases and inequities, and decentering dominant ideologies in education” (p. 15). To ensure an inclusive curriculum for all tutors in your environment, we suggest:
      • Ensure professional learning includes culturally authentic learning experiences that mirror tutors’ ways of learning, understanding, communicating, and demonstrating curiosity and knowledge.
      • Adopt curriculum that highlights contributions and includes texts reflective of the diverse identities of students and tutors and reframes the monocultural framework that privileges the historically advantaged at the expense of other groups.
    • Embed Ongoing Professional Learning: “Ongoing professional learning is rooted in the idea that teaching and learning is an adaptive process needing constant reexamination (Moll, et al., 1992; Gay, 2010). It allows learners to develop and sharpen a critically conscious lens toward instruction, curriculum, assessment, history, culture, and institutions. Learners must be self-directed and take on opportunities that directly impact learning outcomes” (p. 15). To provide ongoing professional learning for all tutors, we suggest:
      • Train and build the capacity of instructional leaders to support tutors in delivering instruction that is rigorous, student-centered, and promotes students as agents of positive social change.
      • Provide Professional Learning Communities and other professional learning structures to address bias, develop racial literacy skills, etc.