What is Culturally Responsive Teaching?

The Education Alliance at Brown University cites the work of Gloria Ladson-Billings, credited with the theory of culturally relevant pedagogy, in their definition of culturally responsive teaching as “a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning.” It is an approach to teaching that makes meaningful connections between school and the students’ cultural experiences, languages, and life outside of school.

What are the Benefits of Culturally Responsive Teaching?

Classrooms within America are becoming more and more diverse. This means that our classrooms are filled with students who have vast experiences, speak different languages, and follow different cultural norms outside of school. As our student population changes, we as educators need to pivot and expand the ways we reach our learners with diverse backgrounds.

Even more important is how we support our students’ growth and allow them to contribute to our classroom community. Participation of diverse learners in a class community brings a wealth of perspectives (and understanding of them), languages, and experiences that multiply the knowledge within the classroom and expand the minds of all learners.

The connections that culturally responsive teaching practices make allow students to “access rigorous curriculum, develop higher-level academic skills, and see the relevance between what they learn at school and their lives” (Understood.org). Culturally responsive teaching also cultivates a feeling of being valued and empowered within students.

How to Get Started

There are a number of defining competencies that exist in culturally responive teaching.

Identify Personal/Implicit Bias

The first step in being able to teach in ways that are culturally relevant to the learners in your classroom is to recognize the barriers we have that implicitly prevent us from seeing the cultural experiences of others objectively. Evaluating the characteristics of our own culture is one place to start. For example, listing ways that we identify ourselves can provide a base for examining our backgrounds. Doing this can help identify the stereotypes we’ve assumed, bias we’ve agreed with implicitly, and determine the scope of our own cultural awareness.

Spending time with those who are of different backgrounds and ethnicities than ourselves can expand our worlds. We must be proactive in seeking knowledge of other cultures by reading, listening to, or watching publications that present us with the perspectives of those who are different than us so that we can better understand ourselves and the students in our classrooms.

Examine Your Curriculum

Finding ways to make our curriculum relevant to our students is imperative. Students should be able to relate to the materials and information that they access. Drawing on student cultures to shape learning experiences is important in order to ensure student engagement.

In addition, bringing real world issues into the classroom for discussion and debate will allow students to use their voices, drawing on their own experiences and providing a window for others to see perspectives that they may not otherwise consider.

Lastly, take a critical look at the materials used to deliver instruction. Do the novels and textbooks used have diversity? Do they represent the views of more than one culture and side of history? For related arts teachers, does the art and music taught and created represent the perspectives of diverse groups? These things are important when creating an inclusive environment and supporting students of all backgrounds.

Student Voice

Encouraging and nurturing student voice is a critical component of culturally responsive teaching. Every person goes through their own life experiencing their own truth and moments that collectively become their unique cultural identity. Inspiring students to share the cultural norms their families respect promotes respect for student differences, gaining perspective, and developing empathy. It also facilitates relationship building and class connectedness, which lead to a strong sense of belonging and pride in their community.

Model High Expectations

Educators who value equity believe that all students can learn. Culturally responsive teachers believe that all students, given equitable access to curriculum and appropriate supports, can achieve high-level learning and success. They believe this despite race, economic status, and culture.

These educators also recognize that the institutional systems that have been in place historically have allowed students of lower socio-economic status or minority races to become marginalized, perpetuating stereotypes and prejudices within the education system. Culturally responsive teachers combat this history and work to restore justice and equity for these students through high expectations for all.

Collaborate with Families and the Local Community

Part of developing and maintaining a culturally responsive classroom is developing relationships with families and community. It is extremely important that this communication is in the native language of families at home. This allows families and teachers to develop trusting relationships based on respect and a sense of partnership. “Culturally responsive educators assume that parents are interested in being involved in their children’s education and they develop engagement strategies that are sensitive to the unique barriers faced by immigrant families, families of color, and low-income families” (NewAmerica.org).

It is also important that educators consider barriers to parental and family engagement such as limitations on transportation, work schedules, and language barriers. Helping to mitigate these circumstances is the role of a culturally responsive teacher.