Bernard Hairston, Chief of Engagement for Albemarle County Public Schools, congratulates educators who completed their Culturally Responsive Teaching certifications. Credit: Credit: Gracie Kreth, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Albemarle County Public Schools on Saturday recognized educators pursuing certification in culturally responsive teaching.

For the third annual Diversity Conference, 83 educators gathered at Monticello High School to share experiences and ideas to better instruct and understand students.

“Students from different backgrounds process information and instruction very differently,” schools spokesman Phil Giaramita said in an email. “For teachers to be able to connect with these students, they need to adopt strategies and techniques that are relevant to students’ backgrounds.”

The conference honored nine educators for fully completing their training and 11 educators for completing a “microcredential” before attaining full certification. Albemarle is the first school division in Virginia to offer a certification in culturally responsive teaching, which requires a yearlong training process.

Adrienne Oliver, a member of the planning team and an eighth-grade language arts teacher at Sutherland Middle School, said she has “… a vested interest in seeing that all students are able to make both academic and social gains within this environment.”

“I love seeing people get jazzed about the work that we’re doing … to improve outcomes for all learners,” Oliver said. “I think the questions and challenges brought in or discovered today … inform the work we do going forward.”

Bryan K. Hotchkins, an assistant professor of Higher Education and a faculty fellow for the Institute for Inclusive Excellence at Texas Tech University, gave the keynote address at Saturday’s conference. He spoke about his research and gave specific advice to educators on how to be more inclusive and effective teachers.

Hotchkins was joined on stage by a panel of three mentees from 100 Black Men of Central Virginia who spoke about their personal experiences in the classroom.

The panelists — a sixth-grader, a high school senior and a college sophomore — answered Hotchkins’ questions about times they felt safe or unsafe in school, as well as what teachers in the past have done or said to support them.

Each student described various times they experienced microaggressions, such as being misidentified as an athlete. Hotchkins reminded educators of their individual importance to a child’s education from kindergarten through college.

“If we all do our jobs, they will continue to learn,” Hotchkins said.

Then participants broke out into professional workshop sessions led by certified practitioners for the majority of the day.

LaTisha Wilson, assistant principal at Greer Elementary School, is the first administrator to pursue certification through the county’s program.

“I have been working to build my role as a culturally responsive leader,” said Wilson, who will become principal of Stony Point Elementary on July 1. “I feel like the work I put into certification increased my own knowledge and is going to help me in developing more culturally responsive teachers, especially as I move into the principal role.”

Katy Schutz, a kindergarten teacher at Cale Elementary, said the program offers a path for her to evaluate and improve her teaching.

“All of our students come with their own unique culture, and as a teacher, I need to be able to support learning all of my students,” Schutz said.

Schutz said that once she adopted the culturally responsive teaching methods, her students’ performance dramatically improved.

“When I changed my instruction to honor the diverse ways of knowing and learning with my students, … I saw real academic improvement, even in 5-year-olds, which is sometimes harder to measure,” she said.