Community Engagement: Incorporating Culturally Relevant Pedagogies into the Online Classroom - National Council of Teachers of English
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Community Engagement: Incorporating Culturally Relevant Pedagogies into the Online Classroom

This post was written by NCTE member Erin Berry-McCrea. 


COVID-19 has caused many of us to pause, to reroute our lives in a variety of ways. With this has come the challenge of reconfiguring how we should best approach our work and our research. The balancing act has been difficult, pushing many of us to our limits.

As I have thought about my research, my work in the higher education classroom, and my work with local teachers and communities in digital literacy education, I’ve considered ways by which I could still safely pursue community engagement efforts in light of the pandemic.

Community engagement is defined differently for different groups of people, and it’s important to evaluate and reevaluate the narrative that comes with it as we consider ourr projects. For the purposes of this post, I’m referring to Community Engagement from the perspective of collaborative and reciprocal progress toward a common goal.

The community that I’ve been working with recently has been middle and high school teachers of all different experience levels who are interested in addressing best practices for incorporating culturally responsive pedagogies into their online classrooms.

Here are some tips and lessons that have been helpful for me in navigating this new landscape and providing guidance to teachers:


Review Your Curriculum and Course Materials.

In order to ensure that you are making the right decisions for your students and their learning experience, take the time to look intentionally at your curriculum, lesson plans, and resources. Before you can make changes, you need to identify what is present as well as what is absent.

Use Backwards Design to Outline Your Plan.

Once you’ve determined what needs to be removed or added, you need to make a plan for how to do it and when to do it. Regardless of the project, think of what you want the end result to be, and work from there. If you outline your steps, one step at a time, you’ll be able to recognize what’s needed to get each task done to meet your final goal.

Be Strategic in your Revisions.

In some cases, a complete overhaul of content and resources is necessary, and when this is the case, you should partner with other educators, administrators, and members of your district to ensure that you can have productive dialogue and can receive support in using best practices to accomplish your goal. Even if a complete overhaul of your content and resources is not needed, it’s important to be immediately intentional about what you need to change and the best ways to accomplish this goal.

Provide Opportunities for Reflection.

In my own work as an ethnographer and qualitative researcher, I know the true value of consistent practices of reflexivity. Because of this, I encourage teachers, regardless of academic discipline or grade level, to journal about what they experience and feel and about the action steps and resources needed to meet their goals. 


Collaboration is at the heart of teamwork and team building. We don’t exist in silos—even during a pandemic—so our thoughts and ideas should be shared with each other in an ongoing process of learning. I am most grateful for the collaborative dialogue that I’ve hard with other educators and students because it’s helped me to view the world from a variety of perspectives that I may not have been able to experience.

In addition, here are links to some digital resources to help you with collaborating and teaching in more relevant and culturally sustaining ways:

  • Distance learning has forced us to cultivate new ways to partner and collaborate with other educators.
  • Claude Steele, author of “Whistling Vivaldi” shares insights on the importance of understanding the idea of “stereotype threat” and “social identities” when working with students and other educators.
  • Here are six questions to ask about your classroom and the impact that your learning environment has on your students.
  • There is clear value in being a culturally responsive educator in the face-to-face classroom as well as online.
  • Here is a list of 40+ books that can support you on your journey to becoming more culturally responsive.


Erin Berry-McCrea is a 2018 NCTE Early Career Educator of Color Leadership Award recipient for her community engagement work in Black millennial digital literacy, sociolinguistics, ethnography, and culturally responsive pedagogies. Dr. Berry-McCrea is currently a curriculum coordinator for NCVirtual public school in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is also an adjunct professor in the department of mass communication at North Carolina Central University. Follow her on Twitter @ProfELB and email her at


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