Classroom vignettes shed light on cultural competence

By Aaliyah Baker and Nina F. Weisling
December 2022
In 2019, New York Attorney General Letitia James launched an investigation into a social studies lesson on slavery at a local private school. In this lesson, a 5th-grade teacher staged a “re-enactment” wherein Black students were cast as slaves in a mock auction and lined up in front of the class to be bid on by the other students (Kaur, 2019). Unsurprisingly, the attorney general’s investigation found that this situation caused profound harm to the students, especially the Black students. Pause for a minute, and let this situation — and its likely short- and long-term impacts — sink in. Although we don’t know the teacher’s background, motivation, or intentions, we know that she showed a distressing lack of cultural competence that had a devastating effect

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Reflection prompts

  • What are my initial gut reactions to this vignette and why? 
  • What are the educators’ assumptions or biases in the scenario?
  • What assumptions or biases are present in my own reflections about this scenario?
  • What questions would I ask of the characters in the vignette to better understand the perspectives of the teachers and students?
  • What questions should I ask myself to understand what has shaped my own perspective?
  • In collaboration with others, what questions can I ask or stories can I offer to push my own thinking and the group discussion around cultural competence in the classroom?
  • What next steps do I need to take to grow in my understanding of and ability to reflect on these scenarios with more nuance? What additional learning (and unlearning) do I need to do as a result of my reflections?


America & Moore. (n.d.). 21-day racial equity habit building challenge: Educator edition.

Delpit, L.D. (2006). Other people’s children: Cultural conflict in the classroom. New Press.

Due East Educational Equity Collaborative. (n.d.). Culturally responsive pedagogy (CRP) self-assessment and reflective conversations.

Gershenson, S., Holt, S., & Papageorge, N. (2015). Who believes in me?: The effect of student-teacher demographic match on teacher expectations. Economics of Education Review, 209-224. 10.17848/wp15-231

Good, T. & Nichols, S. (2001). Expectancy effects in the classroom: A special focus on improving the reading performance of minority students in first-grade classrooms. Educational Psychologist, 36(2), 113-126.

Hammond, Z. (2014). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain: Promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students. Corwin.

Hollie, S. (2018). Culturally and linguistically responsive teaching and learning: Classroom practices for student success (2nd ed.). Shell Education.

Huynh, V.W. (2012). Ethnic microaggressions and the depressive and somatic symptoms of Latino and Asian American adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 7, 831.

Karimi, F. & Willingham, A.J. (2020, September 10). What makes ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ iconic. CNN.

Kauer, H. (2019, May 30). A New York teacher made Black students act as slaves in mock auctions.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2002). But that’s just good teaching: The case for culturally relevant pedagogy. In S.J. Denbo & L.M. Beaulieu (Eds.), Improving schools for African American students: A reader for educational leaders (pp. 95-102). Charles C Thomas Publisher, Ltd.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2021). Culturally relevant pedagogy: Asking a different question. Teachers College Press.

Michigan League for Public Policy. (2020). 21-day racial equity challenge.

Milner, H.R., Cunningham, H.B., Delale-O’Connor, L., & Kestenberg, E.G. (2019). “These kids are out of control”: Why we must reimagine “classroom management” for equity. Corwin.

Muhammad, G. (2020). Cultivating genius: An equity framework for culturally and historically responsive literacy. Scholastic.

Muhammad, G. (2023). Unearthing joy: A guide to culturally and historically responsive teaching and learning. Scholastic.

Muñiz, J. (2020, September). Culturally responsive teaching: A reflection guide. New America.

NEA Center for Social Justice (2021). Implicit bias, microaggressions, and stereotypes resources.

NYU/Steinhardt. (2022). Culturally responsive curriculum scorecards.

Siwatu, K.O., Putnam, M., Starker, T.V., & Lewis, C. (2017). The development of the culturally responsive classroom management self-efficacy scale: Development and initial validation. Urban Education, 52(7), 862-888.

Taie, S. & Goldring, R. (2020). Characteristics of public and private elementary and secondary school principals in the United States: Results from the 2017-18 National Teacher and Principal Survey. National Center for Education Statistics.

United Way of Central Iowa. (2021). 21-day equity challenge.

Aaliyah baker
Aaliyah Baker ( is assistant professor, educational administration, School of Education and Health Sciences, University of Dayton, Dayton, Ohio.
Nina weisling

Nina F. Weisling ( is assistant professor of education, Carthage College, Kenosha, Wisconsin.

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