The Power of an Alliance: Equity in Personal Regard

How do we become culturally responsive as a teacher? For the past two articles, we’ve been diving into building alliances, specifically using the TESA interactions put together by the Los Angeles County Office of Education. Building alliances is a key foundational component, and in my opinion, the first step towards becoming culturally responsive.

There’s no magic fix or wand to wave in the journey to cultural responsiveness or competency, but as you get to know your students, listen to them, and build that alliance with them, you will start to see the magic of learning happen!

As we’ve been seeing, equity (or inequity) in interactions with students can quickly build up or tear down an alliance. Two articles ago, in The Power of an Alliance: Equity in Responses, we looked at ways to give equitable response opportunities, and in The Power of an Alliance: Equity in Feedback, we took a look at ways to provide feedback in a positive, meaningful way that built alliances. If you haven’t read those yet, make sure to take a look! Intentionally in having equity in interactions is an important way to value your students, and it will change your practice!

Let’s now move forward to the 3rd strand of the TESA interactions – Personal Regard. Let’s take a look at each of the 5 interactions associated to personal regard.

  • Proximity
  • Courtesy
  • Personal interest and compliments
  • Touching
  • Desisting

Proximity – the teacher understands the significance of being near a student while they work. Having equity in proximity means we are giving students the same access to the content. When we are thinking about this through the lens of proximity, it means we are standing near students who need our physical presence, and we are showing trust to students by giving space when trust is needed. We are not spending all of our time by certain students and ignoring others.

Courtesy – the teacher uses expressions of courtesy in interactions with students. This is a big one for me. I wish I could tell you teachers weren’t rude to students, but some of them are. And it’s heartbreaking. Courtesy in interactions is something that should be expected, whether you are greeting students, correcting them, giving them feedback, or giving directions. Sometimes, as teachers, we get frustrated, and that’s understandable, but your students deserve to have courteous interactions. This shows respect and value, and those are core pieces of equity and alliances. If you are a parent, how would you want your child to be treated by their teacher? If there was a video camera on in your classroom where the feed went to parents, would the parents of your students be glad that you are their teacher? Think with me, if you will, about how you expect to be spoken to in local businesses, by your co-workers or administration, and by your family and friends. Now, reflect for a moment on how you have interacted recently with your most difficult students. Do these match? Interacting in a courteous, polite manner sets the culture for how students should interact with you and each other.

Personal interest and compliments – the teacher learns how to ask questions, give compliments, or make statements related to a student’s personal interest or experiences. Asking specific questions about their family (“Has your mom had her baby yet?”) or giving personal compliments (“Hey David, I like your hair cut!”) adds an important layer of connection and shows the students that you care about them on more than an academic level. Remember, your students from a collectivist culture will need to know this in order to build that alliance with you, and the alliance leads to learning! The saying, “They don’t care what you know until they know that you care” rings very true with students from a collectivist background or students of poverty. Getting to know them on a personal level is a primary way to show that you care and that you genuinely want to build an alliance.

Touching – the teacher touches students in a respectful, appropriate, and friendly manner. A personal touch releases endorphins and increases oxytocin, which lowers stress and adds connection. When you can appropriately give a high five, hand-shake, or a hand on the shoulder, it communicates very positive feelings towards the student. Knowing that many of your students of poverty may not receive that personal touch on a regular basis, it makes this type of interaction all the more important and meaningful in creating the alliance.

Desisting – the teachers is able to stop a student’s misbehavior in a calm and courteous manner. Students are not perfect. They will need to be corrected. They will make mistakes. How we redirect and guide them can help or hurt the alliance, and so much more. Being able to desist calmly deescalates a situation, teaches students how to handle difficult situations, and sets them up to rejoin the learning quickly. As a warning, be very careful about sarcasm. Some of us are sarcastic by nature (or habit), but sarcasm can be quickly misinterpreted and can lead to a division in the alliance.

Being aware of how we are interacting with students is so important as an educator. When we let our emotions get in the way of how we are responding to students, it can be very detrimental. Make a plan for buiding in equity in these interactions. Create systems where possible, and self-reflect often. Your students will thank you, and the alliances you build will be so worth it!

To learn more about culturally responsive teaching, reserve your spot for our 3rd Administrator Symposium: What is Culturally Responsive Teaching? this Thursday, 5/20/21 at 7:45 PM CST, or visit our website at!

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