RLTA Study Group: National Teachers Academy


School: National Teachers Academy
TextCultivating Genius by Gholdy Muhammad
Study Group Leader: Laura Gluckman
Study Group Members: Carrie Both, Jessica Kibblewhite, Melissa Hauser
Goal: Our goal was about fostering deep engagement as it’s connected to structures,
stances, and practices like project-based learning and abolitionist/anti-racist teaching

This school year was all about trying to reimagine everything! How could we create learning
communities that were not solely designed around standardized learning targets? How could we
instead create communities that emphasized collectivism, interconnectedness, and collaborative
knowledge building as we were ALL trying to work towards a just recovery from this pandemic?

After a spring and summer of resistance movements continuing the fight for Black liberation, we
knew that doing the work of building deeper anti-racist pedagogies and practices in our school
was of the utmost importance. Our school-wide focus on deep engagement (which carried over
from the previous year) was fitting and definitely tied into this work, but our goal as a study
group was to combine the professional development we had begun around project-based
learning as well as what it means to build culturally relevant school communities. Gholdy Muhammad’s book Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy guided our study group this year in thinking through how to deepen student engagement by starting with where our students are at, in their identities, histories, and experiences. We have tried to create learning opportunities that help students learn more about themselves, build critical hope in these difficult times, focus on skills that can aid in their cultivation of intellectual and disciplinary identities, and engage them in taking action on critical

In the forward to the book, author Bettina Love writes “You must know who you are and why you
are important to this world, and learn how to be you…this is particularly true for our Black and
Brown children.” How true this has been, especially as we are cultivating our communities and
staying connected to seeing one another’s humanity even as we are learning – apart. Gholdy
Muhammad’s book taught our study group about the tradition of Black Literary Societies where
the central objective among participants was to counter the oppressions and injustices they
endured through the processes of meaning-making, communicating, writing, and collectively
inquiring about the world. Within these literary societies, literacy was connected to acts of
self-empowerment, self-determination, and self-liberation. Stemming from the tradition of Black
literary societies, Gholdy Muhammad defines literacy in her HRL (Historically Responsive
Literacy) framework as identity meaning-making, skill development, intellect, and criticality.

Throughout our time together this year, we have shared examples of how we have promoted
identity meaning making in our lessons and cultivated criticality in our units. As a group we
spanned mostly middle school grades with one member who is a kindergarten teacher, but it
was so wonderful to hear examples from across our classrooms of how we held critical
conversations about racial justice and taking action. Together we also focused on centering joy –
the joy we experienced in our teaching and the joy of our students. Gholdy Muhammad also
talks about joy as resistance and joy as another pursuit of the HRL framework. In our
discussions we continued to develop our own criticality, asking questions like “Why are school
leaders still mandating curricular frameworks that are not explicitly designed for students of
color?” and “How do we build the infrastructure for collectivism and collaboration?” and “How do
I diversify the definition of what literacy looks like in my science classroom and center our work
on the assets my students have when they are still developing reading skills?”

Our study group has given us the space and time to collaboratively grapple with what it actually
looks like to create a culturally (and historically) responsive classroom. In our discussions it
became important for us to focus on the moments of deep engagement we were seeing in our
classrooms as a result of our focus on identity and criticality with students. Noticing those
moments in our read alouds and in student discussions became a way for us to resist the
oppressive narrative of student learning loss and the deficit thinking we were hearing about
“what students have actually learned this year.” If we came away from this year knowing that our
students were asking questions like “If Earth is a living thing, does it regenerate?” saying “We
are supposed to be family and connected” and acting on the knowledge they learned about
environmental justice by proposing policies to local politicians, then this year hasn’t been a year
of “learning loss.”

In order to continue to combat that narrative and build on our goal of deep engagement through
anti-racist and culturally relevant practices, we plan to share a toolkit with the staff and develop
a PD on Gholdy Muhammad’s HRL Framework for the fall. In the toolkit we have included critical
questions that she presents to the reader in the book, we’ve created templates for lesson
planning with the Four Pursuits embedded (Identity, Skills, Intellect, Criticality), and a guide for
selecting Historically Responsive texts. Our goal is to also have each grade level team create a
“preamble” which will serve as a living document that guides the purpose of the teaching and
community building they will do throughout the year. The hope is that teachers will resist the
narrative of “learning loss” as we transition to a new school year, and that we will work to build a
school culture that promotes not only justice and healing from this past year and a half, but also
a new, more liberatory relationship to learning.