Just Do It: How Colin Kaepernick Embodies the Impact of Culturally Responsive Teaching

My eyes lit up when I first saw Nike’s new ad campaign shining a light on Colin Kaepernick’s journey and spreading a message of hope and perseverance:

Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. #JustDoIt

As a passionate, culturally responsive educator, I saw this momentous slogan as a manifestation of one of the core tenets of culturally responsive pedagogy — critical consciousness. Often, well-intentioned educators believe that they are enacting culturally responsive teaching practices when they honor the cultural heritage of the students during recognized holidays or fill their libraries with books from culturally diverse authors. But the real rubber hits the road when teachers intentionally and consistently provide opportunities for students to challenge the dominant discourse of our nation that constantly tells them ‘no’.  

According to founding researcher of culturally relevant pedagogy, Gloria-Ladson Billings, “Not only must teachers encourage academic success and cultural competence, they must help students to recognize, understand, and critique current social inequities and their causes.”

Colin Kaepernick is doing just that. For two years, Colin has quietly, yet intentionally challenged the dominant narrative of equality and reminded us of the real narrative for people of color, which has been historically plagued by social injustices and institutional racism. I applaud any of the former teachers (in and out of school) who taught Colin how to take a stand and critique the current realities African-Americans and Latinos face. They have created a strong, passionate advocate who serves as a wonderful role-model for those who strive to have their voices heard. We all have the chance to teach and influence the future Colin Kaepernicks of the world — they are sitting right in front of us waiting.

To the current teachers on the front lines in our schools in communities that have been historically marginalized, I encourage you to use this campaign as an impetus to challenge your paradigm of culturally responsive pedagogy and be even more intentional about how you teach students to stand up for their rights and believe in something. This is a critical component of culturally responsive teaching that is often forgotten, and it needs to be at the forefront of our instruction. Teaching Tolerance, a project by the Southern Poverty Law Center, provides provocative lesson plans, discussion guides, and videos to support educators in going outside their comfort zones and tackling the difficult topics around race, social injustice, and intolerance that impact our students daily. Use these resources to ignite a transformation in your classroom — our kids deserve it!

Whatever you do, make a commitment. Commit to deepening your understanding of culturally responsive pedagogy. Commit to challenging your own biases and assumptions when it comes to serving our students of color. Commit to trying a new lesson that allows students to see their cultural identities as gifts. Commit to helping students navigate the systems of oppression so that they may rise above them. Your commitment matters. By committing to teach our youth how to push back against social injustices in a productive manner, we can create an army of change agents who will continue to change the world, even if it means sacrificing everything. #JustDoIt

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Ingrid Twyman

Ingrid Twyman

Dr. Ingrid Twyman is a former middle-school teacher, principal, instructional coach, and teacher residency director who served Latino students and families in the Northeast Los Angeles and Northeast San Fernando communities for over 16 years. As a current educational consultant, she is extremely passionate about building teacher and leader capacity to enact culturally responsive pedagogy and create cultures of equity.

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