How Applying Culturally Relevant Principles Can Lead to Higher-Quality Educational Content

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Jada Bradley, Senior Editor of Culturally Responsive Education

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Kevin Schroeder, Director of Client Solutions

Jada Bradley, Senior Editor of Culturally Responsive Education, and Kevin Schroeder discuss why it’s important for existing and new educational content to include culturally relevant principles, and how Westchester Education Services’ diverse team of reviewers help publishers and ed-tech companies achieve a high-quality outcome.

Episode Transcript:

[00:06] Nicole Tomassi: Welcome to Westchester Words education, Ed. Tech and Publishing. I’m Nicole Tomassi, and in this episode, I will be speaking with Kevin Schroeder, Director of Client Solutions, and Jada Bradley, Senior Editor for Culturally Responsive Education here at Westchester Education Services. They’re going to be discussing the importance of including culturally responsive education elements within materials. Kevin and Jada, welcome to Westchester Words.

Jada Bradley and Kevin Schroeder: Thank you.

Nicole Tomassi: So to get things started, Kevin, you had attended the National Council of Social Studies conference in Philadelphia in December, and that’s where you saw a lot of the stuff that we’re going to talk about today or got inspired by what you saw at that conference. Can you talk a little bit about what that conference was like and some of the takeaways that you had?

[00:56] Kevin Schroeder: Yeah. So, first off, I was a former social studies teacher, so it was right up my alley as far as interest level. And it was a great opportunity to walk the exhibit hall and attend sessions and meet with folks that are social studies, and that’s where their interest lies. One of the key takeaways I had coming out of the conference, based upon several of the keynotes, was making sure that educational materials are applicable for all students and not just the population that materials have always been written for. So it’s really looking at culturally responsive educational materials that meet all students and are made for all students. And some of the statistics that as far as the percentage of materials that are written with only Caucasian students in them and looking at how to make things accessible for all students, especially within the social studies realm. This is a very interesting area because there’s such a focus on historically looking at certain socioeconomic groups throughout history, instead of focusing on contributions of many different ethnicities and people throughout the course of the United States history. And so this was really a great opportunity. And what I took away was that the publishers that we’re working with and there’s a real focus on making materials accessible for all, and that’s really where the educational marketplace is headed, even if there’s obstacles in the way of that.

[02:28] Nicole Tomassi: Jada, I would like to bring you into this conversation because as the senior editor of Culturally Responsive Education, you and your team are the ones who are working with our clients to develop these materials. So can you talk about what that experience is like for your team as well as what clients are coming to us and asking for?

[02:48] Jada Bradley: Sure. So our team basically, we kind of have a two pronged approach. We will do reviews when clients ask us to review materials they’ve already written in the past, and we’ll also help them create new materials if that’s what they want. Some clients want both. Some clients just want one side, and we do all of that. So we’ll review things have already been published. And then if you want us to help you revise it and write something new, we can. If you come to us and say we need all new materials, nothing revised, just brand new, fresh from scratch content, we do that as well. And so we do get requests for both. We’ve done a pretty large project with one major publisher where we reviewed a lot of their materials in several areas. We did reading, science and math. So some people are surprised math. But we have a need to be inclusive in all areas of education. So your word problems have to be just as inclusive as your social studies paragraphs and your reading book passages.

[03:47] Nicole Tomassi: I would say that’s a very good point because I think a lot of times we’re probably looking more at when I say we like the general population looking more at English texts or social studies texts. And to your point, it’s across all subject areas and it’s across all age groups and learning abilities, right?

[04:08] Jada Bradley: Definitely. Race and gender are something that definitely come into a socioeconomic level. As far as the lifestyle that people in the text have, we have a lot of people who want to see more for instance, rural examples and not just city examples, because a lot of publishing, publishers, writers tend to think about the city sometimes more than they think about rural areas. We also do have to look at people of differing abilities. We just turned in a passage about Paralympic athletes. So we do cover the range of things. And so that when students are reading materials, and even teachers, not just students, because as a teacher, you have to teach material that may not relate to you. So the students and teachers and the parents, as an extension, would like students to see themselves in the material, find ways that they can relate. And then it’s easier to think about, for instance, the numbers in the math problem if the math problems don’t seem like they’re from some kind of foreign place that you don’t know anything about.

[05:02] Nicole Tomassi: Jada, how do you strike that balance where it’s making sure that every student can identify with the passages and also learn about people who are different in either background or socioeconomic status or whatever it might be?

[05:20] Jada Bradley: We work with a range of freelancers for reviewers, for example. We try and pair up freelancers for reviews. When they ask us to have more than one reviewer look at some material. We try and make sure that each section has reviewers from two different kind of backgrounds so that two different people are looking at it and maybe one person is stronger, let’s say culturally, and then another person is maybe stronger in disability studies. So those two people together are going to offer a combined view that gives the client an idea of how they can improve the material, for example.

[05:52] Nicole Tomassi: And Kevin, when you’re working with clients and they’re exploring what they need to do, either, say, with content that they’ve previously developed and is not maybe aging well, so to speak. How does that conversation go?

[06:06] Kevin Schroeder: This is something that Westchester really prides ourselves on doing, and so it’s very important to us. And so when I’m talking with potential clients and existing clients about projects or about potential projects, it’s really looking at where their materials are. And to ask the question, as far as your materials, are they applicable for all learners? Is that something that you want us to take a look at? It’s something we’re doing a lot of work with for other partners as far as reviewing things, doing rewrites for things. And so it’s something that we get a lot of requests on during conversations. But many times when I bring that up, it’s something that it may not be at the forefront of what they’re looking to do for that particular project, but I’m finding that it is top of mind, and I’m finding that a lot of times those conversations are being had at a lot of our clients. As far as they’re discussing reviewing materials. We have one client that we’re looking at, doing some consulting with and working with them on how to review some of their materials from a CRE lens.

[07:11] Nicole Tomassi: What would that process be? I guess this is where Jada’s team would come in about what are the processes and what are you looking for when you do a culturally responsive review? Jada, can you talk to that a little bit?

[07:25] Jada Bradley: Sure. And again, we try and meet clients needs. So we have our own rubric that we’ve developed in house that for some clients. When they come to us and say, we need someone to help us review and polish and improve this material, we offer our rubric. And if it’s okay with them, we have reviewers review things based on our own materials. Other clients, they have something, they have their own internal guidelines that they’ve already set up and their own parameters. And then we give those to the reviewers and have reviewers work within their system. So it depends on what the client needs are.

[07:58] Nicole Tomassi: Are you finding that more and more clients already have those guidelines in place internally?

[08:05] Jada Bradley: Yeah, I think more than when I first started. More of them do have someone on staff that does that work, or they’ve already had something developed, but then they come to us because in fact, we have one client. Their material went through a couple of different processes. I think we were the final one, but they went through several different processes to try and update their materials. But yes, more clients have that, but they don’t have a team of reviewers like we have that come from different backgrounds that we’ve kind of worked with and put together. So while they have someone who’s doing that in house, that person is not going to be able to review all of their material. And that person, as great as they may be, probably doesn’t I’m not going to brag. I’m great too, but I only have a certain set of experiences. The reviewers definitely have experiences that I don’t have, and they bring a knowledge that I don’t have, and I learned from them as well.

[08:51] Nicole Tomassi: It’s a matter of bringing multiple viewpoints to the material and highlighting where there may be gaps that need to be addressed and improved upon. Is that what I’m hearing?

[09:03] Jada Bradley: Yes, that is a very good way of summarizing it, because, again, no matter how wonderful you are and how much you know, you haven’t lived and studied the way that someone else has. And so we can definitely bring clients a lot of different perspectives that may be missing.

[09:17] Nicole Tomassi: You, Jada, were an instructor for students who are learning English, so I would imagine that’s a perspective that you also bring into the work, is that right?

[09:27] Jada Bradley: Yes, I did teach people who are learning English. I also have a master’s in Spanish translation, and then I majored in English as an undergrad.

[09:37] Nicole Tomassi: So you bring several different lenses to the work that you’re doing with the team, it sounds like.

[09:43] Jada Bradley: Yes, I definitely do.

[09:45] Nicole Tomassi: Well, that’s awesome. Kevin, is there anything else you’d like to add, at least from the client facing perspective, as far as the types of projects that we’re seeing clients bring to us or that we’ve been able to help clients with previously?

[10:01] Kevin Schroeder: We’re always able to work with clients as far as what their particular needs are. And so it’s really a matter of listening and finding out what they’re looking to do. But we’ve done a wide variety of projects, and I know we just got done with one that maybe Jada will want to talk a little bit with some biographies. That was a recent project we did. But we can work with clients in a wide variety of ways and really meet them where they are at with their particular project and products that they’re looking to work within. So it’s really kind of meeting, having discussions, seeing how we can help, and then with our diverse talent pool that we work with, we’re able to make projects come to life with our clients.

[10:49] Nicole Tomassi: Jada, would you like to give a little bit more information about the project that Kevin was referencing? Just broad brush strokes, if you will.

[10:57] Jada Bradley: Sure. It was for an online platform because as you know, we’re not doing so many textbooks anymore, so online platform where they had ideas for new biographies for people from underrepresented backgrounds, and then they also wanted to make sure that these biographies were high interest but lower lexile than the actual grades they were for. So it was a matter of not only finding the writers to write from the perspective of those backgrounds. That was a client requirement. They wanted writers to have something in common with the biography subject, and then they also wanted us to make sure that it was interesting, but not too challenging for people who are having a little difficulty reading at their reading level.

[11:42] Nicole Tomassi: It sounds like a very interesting project and I’m sure the client was very happy with the finished product.

[11:47] Jada Bradley: I think so. And it was great for us. And the freelancers who worked on it were very excited to have the opportunity to do that kind of work because as a freelancer, you take on a number of projects, but they were very excited to write about people from their own background.

[12:02] Nicole Tomassi: Anything on the horizon, Kevin or Jada in terms of either projects or what kind of projects you would like to see Westchester working on for clients?

[12:14] Jada Bradley: We still have some review projects that we’re working on and we’re also still creating some content as well.

[12:20] Kevin Schroeder: To piggyback off what Jada said, reviews are ongoing, we’re doing a lot of those. It’s something that we’ve seen really ramp up. I’ve been here for going on a full year and as I’ve been here, it’s something that we’ve seen a lot of demand for, and I’m imagining we’ll continue also seeing demand for working with clients and once the review is done, look at the materials and make revisions and help them with rewrites for that as well. So those are areas that I think will continue to grow over the next several years, right?

[12:56] Jada Bradley: And we’re always happy to create new content. Again, we do both, we review and we also create new content as well.

[13:01] Nicole Tomassi: Excellent. Well, Kevin and Jada, if there isn’t anything else, I’d like to thank you both for taking the time to come on Westchester Words and explain what culturally responsive education is and how it fits into all subject areas and can meet all learners where they are and bring them to where they need to go. So thank you both.

[13:23] Jada Bradley: Thank you so much. Nicole.

[13:29] Nicole Tomassi: Thank you for listening to this episode of Westchester Words. If you’re looking for previous episodes or want to read additional content that has been shared by some of our guests, please visit our website, and For an international perspective, check out our sister podcast, Westchester Words UK and International, available on the Westchester Education UK website, or wherever you stream podcasts, we love hearing from our listeners and welcome your emails at Tell us what you enjoy hearing on

[14:11] Nicole Tomassi: Our podcast or suggest topics that we can cover in future episodes. Speaking of future episodes, I look forward to having you join us for the next episode of Westchester Words when we’ll be having another engaging conversation about a topic of interest to the education, ed-tech and publishing communities. Until then, stay safe, be well, and stay tuned.

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